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The Road Less Travelled: Bukhara

by Huw Owen

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Don't tell me you've never heard of Bukhara? Actually many people, even among that niche that wants to explore Central Asia and the Silk Route, don't know it very well.

Kalon Square

Samarkand is a byword for the exotic, remote city of the trading routes, besieged by Mongols and full of crumbling 500 year old buildings. But Bukhara has more to offer the traveller looking for visual evidence of this legacy. Indeed at dusk the Old City is like a film set. Walking through the old streets to the south of the fabulous Kalon Square, with local women and children in traditional silks taking the early evening air, is a moment of magic in a region truly blessed with them. But travellers seldom go there. They appear at Kalon Square at their appointed time, take their photos, then they leave. Bliss for the independent traveller who can wander off at will.

Another lovely slice of escapism is the roof terrace of the Café Minzifa. The owners have a lovely guesthouse in the old Jewish Quarter - which we thoroughly recommend - but the café takes some beating for location and view. It's to the southwest of the Lyabi Hauz (the perhaps over- touristed focal point of the Old Town) on Arabon Street and looks out over the roofs of Bukhara. Go at sunset and reward yourself for all that walking with a cold beer.

In terms of the sights of Bukhara, they are many and varied, but bear in mind that once you have your bearings and understand the basic information of the history and architecture free time is just as rewarding as guided time. You should therefore set aside some time to explore by yourself. If your wanderings take you to the Ismail Samani Mausoleum, then you've found one of the great buildings of Central Asia, a landmark of its time, and for all time. The best thing about it, especially outside peak times (09:00-10:30, 15:00-16:30) is that it is often overlooked and so relatively quiet. This may change as more travellers reach Uzbekistan, but until then enjoy your moment with it. Behind it you can see the remains of the old city wall.

Explore Mir-i-Arab Medressa

We also have to mention the Mir-i-Arab Medressa, in Kalon Square, which is magical at any time of day, but particularly so around sunset. Watch the subtle shades of blue on the tiles darken as the sun goes down.

Make it happen

Our local tour operator partners in Central Asia can put together tailor-made itineraries taking in Bukhara as part of a wider tour of Uzbekistan, or of Central Asia. We would recommend a minimum of 3 nights there. Visas are easier to get than you might think, but use a visa agency to help you (it's worth the investment). You can fly easily in and out of Central Asia from various airports worldwide on Turkish Airlines. Check out our Uzbekistan country page for more information. All trips created by our local travel companies are 100% bespoke and unique to you. To speak to someone in the TravelLocal office, please call +44 (0) 117 325 7898.

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