5 minute guide to Bukhara: Sufi saints and echoes of Persia in Uzbekistan’s historic heart

5 minute guide to Bukhara: Sufi saints and echoes of Persia in Uzbekistan’s historic heart

8 May 2019
Text and image: Emily Couch

Best Instagram spot: If your most faithful travel companion is Instagram, then the Chashmai Mirob Restaurant’s rooftop terrace, on Khodja Nurobobod Street, is the place for you. The food and drink are average, but you’re really there for the sweeping panoramic view of the Poi Kalan mosque, featuring an iconic 12th-century minaret. For that perfect Insta snap, head up to the roof at sunset and watch the turquoise domes glow in the twilight.

Most unique massage experience: Bozori Kord Hammam may have lost its once-colourful interior after six centuries of use, but it retains all of its atmospheric charm. Built in the 14th century, the doors at Bukhara’s oldest bathhouse remain open to anyone seeking to experience this ancient tradition. The typical massage-and-bath combination costs approximately $21 and lasts about an hour and a half. As you lie on hot, centuries-old stone, a professional masseuse will stretch your limbs in ways you never thought possible. But don’t worry, most of them give you a choice of “soft”, “medium”, or “hard”. If this is your first hammam experience, we recommend you go with the former.

Holiest spot: Born in 1318, Bahauddin Naqshbandi was the spiritual teacher of medieval emperor Amir Timur and founder of the Naqshbandia order of Sufism. Although his shrine outside Bukhara is considered the “Mecca of Central Asia”, the complex lacks the formality and solemnity one might expect. Between prayer and contemplation, adults and children relax in its shady green spaces. The shrine lies a 15-minute taxi ride away from the city centre and is a must-visit for anyone interested in the history of Islam.

Best local food: Away from the pristine restaurants of Lyabi Hauz (Bukhara’s main square), you’ll see that the city’s less picturesque streets are lined with make-shift cafes serving national cuisine, particularly that most Uzbek of dishes: plov. Don’t let appearances fool you: these places serve fresh and truly delicious food. Outside the cafes, you’ll often see chefs stirring the plov in large metal pots with aromatic steam drifting out onto the street. Beware portion sizes, though — locals usually eat in these cafes in groups, so plov servings frequently feed multiple people.

Best coffee: Although clearly oriented towards tourists, the Silk Road Teahouse on Khakikat Street should be on the list of any coffee aficionado. With the walls hung floor to ceiling with vibrant carpets and artwork, you can choose from a wide range of spiced coffees, made in the thick Turkish style (we recommend the cinnamon). As a bonus, every cup comes with a range of traditional Uzbek sweets.

Best shopping spot: If you are an art lover, the Poi Kalan Madrassah is the place to do your souvenir shopping. While Persian and Bukharan-style paintings can be found scattered about the city, the madrassah offers a particularly rich selection. Very often, it is the artists themselves selling their works and many are happy to discuss the technique, the stories depicted, and the history behind the intricate, jewel-like pieces.

Where to escape the tourist crowd: Bukhara Farmer’s Market lies off Sulaymon Murodov Street in the west of the city, adjacent to the city’s luscious Samoni Park and the famous Chasma Ayub Mausoleum. Despite its proximity to these sights, the market remains strangely tourist-free and abounds with locals haggling over anything from fresh non and crystallised sugar to plastic toys and ornamental ceramics. The market is a maze in which one could easily spend hours — think a single-floor, open-air department store. If you don’t mind being stared at by curious Bukharans, the Farmer’s Market is the ideal place for an authentic Uzbek experience.

Read more

5 minute guide to Bukhara: Sufi saints and echoes of Persia in Uzbekistan’s historic heart

5 minute guide to Tashkent: Central Asian delicacies, modernist marvels, and a metro to die for

5 minute guide to Bukhara: Sufi saints and echoes of Persia in Uzbekistan’s historic heart

Tashkent’s youth spread their wings as underground raves take root in Uzbekistan

5 minute guide to Bukhara: Sufi saints and echoes of Persia in Uzbekistan’s historic heart

See Central Asia’s unique Soviet architecture in all its brutal glory