Wednesday, 22 September 2010

On the Silk Road: Uzbekistan Day 6 Bukhara

Ismail Samony mausoleum,
Bukhara, Uzbekistan
We started the day's sightseeing in Bukhara with a visit to the Ismail Samony mausoleum, a surprisingly simply brick cube shaped building which is the oldest in Bukhara. Once the surprise at the building's squat cube shape passes, the visual attraction is the texture of the brick work which is a basket weave pattern with other geometrical shapes formed out of handmade bricks.  It has special resonance for one member of our group whose great (x 3) grandfather embraced Islam on a visit to this building in the 1820s. We moved on to Chasma Ayoub a mosque erected on the site where according the legend, the prophet Job hit the ground with his sick and caused a spring to flow. Next stop, Bolo Houz Mosque which features an iwan (porch), the brightly coloured ceiling of which is held up by 12 metre high wooden pillars. During Soviet times the mosque was used as a workers' club but now if has returned its original function as a place of religion.

Through the back streets to see Chor Minor, a madrassa gatehouse built in the early 1800s. Its 4 minarets (they aren't strictly minarets, just towers) make it unusual.  The towers have been restored and topped with turquoise tiles.  On two of the towers the year of restoration is clearly defined in red tiles.

From Chor Minor we headed back to Lyabi-Hauz where we watched groups of people having the photos taken with the large statue of a man on a donkey. This mythical figure is 'Hoji Nasruddin'.who in different guises appears in humorous stories and cautionary tales all over the Muslim world. We indulged in a spot of Uzbeki ice-cream then headed to Kukaldosh Madrassa which was at one time the largest in Central Asia and has interesting brickwork inside though the interior is now just a souvenir shop like the next building we visited the Nadir Divanbegi Khanagha. It was impossible to appreciate the dome as the shopkeepers have their wares all over the floor and you can't get near it.

Next stop, and one I'd been looking forward to, was the Iskander Puppet Workshop where the puppet master explained the method for making the paper mache puppets and the roles of the 17 people who contribute to the making of each puppet. Unfortunately we won't be able to fit in a visit to the nightly puppet performance, that'll have to wait for next time.  However, I bought my own Hoji Nasruddin puppet who'll be coming home with me.

We then visited the master knife maker in the bazaar and thanks to Colin I now own a personalised super-sharp titanium kitchen knife that has a lion engraved on one side of the blade and my name engraved on the other. Colin has treated himself to twin hunting knives engraved with his name.

In the evening we went back to Nadir Divanbegi Madrassa to watch the cultural dance performance, which was extremely slick and professional with the music supplied by a wonderful group of local musicians.  All the dancers are skilled former ballerinas, the costumes are glorious.  The manager of the place is possibly the grumpiest person in Uzbekistan but never mind, the show was great.

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