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Exploring other sights

The blank walls of houses, such as we had seen in the surviving fragment of Tashkent's old quarter, formed the sides of every alley here. They were made of hard-baked mud mixed with straw, a material that sounds less durable than it is, well able to withstand any climate that does not include heavy rain, which is practically unknown in Central Asia. These walls were broken only by doors whose most perfect examples I had admired in the Tashkent museum; doors enclosing entrances so small that everyone but a child would have to bend low in order to pass through. They were not as finely carved as the ones in the museum and most of them had been painted a deep blue or green. Not one stood ajar, so it was impossible to peep into the courtyard beyond. The effect was not only one of privacy guarded obsessively, but of claustrophobia, too. For the alleys were narrow and the flat roofs high enough for nothing else to be visible but the sky directly above. And because these alleys twisted and dog-legged erratically, it was very easy to lose all sense of direction and return to a starting point without the slightest inkling that one had gone astray. It was like trying to find a way to the middle of some gigantic maze made of baked mud.

"Apples in the Snow" by Geoffrey Moorhouse

Deep in the old town is the tiny, decrepit Turki Jandi mausoleum (Namozgokh) favoured for getting one’s prayers answered. Its importance is signalled by the hundreds of other graves around it – allegedly in stacks 30m deep! Turki Jandi’s tomb is through the mosque under the taller, second cupola. A well inside the mosque contains holy water that locals drink from a cooler near the complex entrance. Have the chatty mullah show you the sections of original 10th-century Arabic script on the mosque’s doors, allegedly inscribed by Turki Jandi himself.

West of Taki-Sarrafon is the interesting 16th-century Gaukushan Medressa with chipped majolica on its unrestored facade. Nearby, the Museum of Art has a worthy collection of mostly 20thcentury paintings by Bukharan artists. It’s in the former headquarters of the Russian Central Asian Bank (1912). Look out for works by Zelim Saidjuddin, the Bukharan artist featured in Colin Thubron’s Lost Heart of Asia and Shadow of the Silk Road. Also nearby is a Photo Gallery containing mesmerising photos of Bukhara Jews, gypsies and city life shot by Bukhara Iranian photographer Shavkat Boltaev.

Across from the Ark on Hoja Nurabad, the interior of the 16th-century Hoja Zayniddin Mosque has a tremendous aivan and some of the best original mosaic and ghanch-work you’re going to see anywhere.

Southeast of Samani Park are two massive medressas, one named for the great Shaybanid ruler Abdulla Khan, and one for his mother called Modari Khan (‘Mother of the Khan’). The former is locked, the latter contains yet more craft shops.

Scattered outside the shakhristan (old town) lie a series of monuments marooned in Soviet socialist suburbia.

Faizabad Khanagha (1598-99)The huge Faizabad Khanagha (1598-99) dervish hostel to the northeast of the old town follows the established khanagha design with a cruciform hall open on all sides and hujra cells arranged on several floors. Its stepped facade and side porticos lend it a grace and symmetry left largely undisturbed by visitors. The building is normally locked. The next door chaikhana offers refreshment for flagging tourists.

Further south is the old Fathabad suburb of the town, a centre of pilgrimage and festivals up until the turn-of-the-century which was once dense with shrines and hostels.

In the days of the Uzbek SSR, the district was prosaically renamed Shark II (East II) and played host to the local railway station which had eventually crept its way into the old Town after decades spent loitering ten kilometres outside the city walls at Kagan. In the midst of the railway shunting yards stand two 600-year-old mausoleums.

The Saifuddin Bukharzi Mazaar MausoleumThe Saifuddin Bukharzi Mazaar is the larger and older of the two buildings and honours the tomb of local poet and holy man Saif-ad-din (1190-1262). Shortly after the saint's death a gurkhana (tomb) was raised over the richly carved wooden cenotaph and a subsequent 14th-century ziaratkhana (prayer hall) and 15th-century portico added a monumental austerity to the construction. In 1978 an earth tremor damaged the dome and the building had to be reinforced with iron braces.

 The smaller and more intimate Buyan Kuli Khan Mazaar (1358) honours neither poet nor holy man, but Buyan Kuli Khan rather a Mongol nobleman and descendent of Genghis Khan killed in battle in Samarkand in 1358. Its eastern portal is a saturated web of floral ornamentation and inscriptive calligraphy older than the Shah-i-Zinda in Samarkand, and the intense flashes of its violet and white majolica merely serve
to highlight its neighbour's modesty. Structurally, it also marks an early development from the single- (e.g. Ismael Samani) to the double-roomed monumental mazaar. The mausoleum is normally locked, but if your guide can get hold of a key it will open doors to a beautifully tiled chamber and secret passage. The building was recently preserved with British landing.

About Sheikh Sayf ad-Din Boharzi and Khan Bayankuli

Seyyid al-Khak va-Din abu-l-Maani Said ibn al-Mutahar ibn Said al-Boharzi (1190-1261) was a student of Nadjim ad-Din Kubro who had founded the Sufi order "kubraviya" and had chosen Bukhara to be the centre for the preaching of his followers in this religious stream. According to the legend, sheikh had turned Berke, the khan of the Golden Horde into Islam. In the middle of the 13th century Boharzi became the head of the Bukhara madrasah that was established by a Mongolian muslim dignitary Maksud-bek. After his death the sheikh was buried in Fatkhabad, Bukhara.

One of the successors of Sayf ad-Din Boharzi was khan Bayankuli who died in 1358. Historical facts claim that in 1346 the ruling authority in the western part of Mongol Ulus (Empire) included Bukhara as one of its cities, had been conquered by emir Kazagan. Formally he had put Bayankulikhan on the throne and had ruled on his behalf. When the power was passed to Kazagan's son, emir Abdallah, he executed Bayankulikhan. According to the legend, one of the reasons was Abdallah's desire to possess the right to marry Bayankuiikhan's wife. The khan was buried in his mentor sheikh Boharzi's memorial.

The aggressively modern Hotel Bukhara marks the Soviet centre of the towGrieving Mothern, whose fallout takes control wherever the huddled and cramped old town peters out. To the north lies the World War II Memorial 'Grieving Mother', eternal flame and huge plaque detailing the names of Bukhara's 18,000 fallen. To the northwest lies the former site of a similarly fallen Lenin, replaced with the Uzbek national insignia. In the 1990s, the butchered parts of the leader rusted in shunned neglect, like just another victim of the Emir, in the city library garden next to the hotel.

A few hundred metres due east of the Hotel Bukhara lies the Bukhara Gold Embroidery Factory at 14, Muminov Kuchasi, where Uzbek women perform, and sell examples of, this once exclusively male craft.

Namazgokh Mosque (Nomozgokh) (1119)To the south, M. Ikbol St runs east-west past the Gulistan Hotel and the Namazgokh Mosque (Nomozgokh) (1119), located deep in the heart of the former Shemsabad gardens. The mosque is a holiday mosque, used during the great Muslim festivals of Ruza and Kurban Hayit, when men from both the city and its surrounding kishlaks would congregate for mass celebration and prayer, and thus its construction is quite different from the normal mosque design. Because of the large numbers involved, a namazgokh mosque had no side walls, merely a single huge mihrab wall to orientate the congregation and a minbar from which an imam addressed the crowd. The original Karakhanid mihrab wall with its finely carved terracotta plates still stands as a rare pre-Mongol survivor, but the colonnaded gallery and glazed polychrome tiles of the portal were only added in the 16th century.

Further west at the next road junction stands the Jubor Madrassah, a functioning female madrassah where some 70 young Uzbek and Tajik girls learn embroidery, etiquette and the Koran, and the Volidoi Abdul Aziz Khudaydad Mosque, a recently re-opened 17th-century district mosque. From here follow Jubor Street southwest for a few hundred metres to ponder the site where the Soviet Army first Sheikh Jalal gatesentered the holy city of Bukhara, the old Sheikh Jalal gates. Alternatively head north up Khavzi Nav Street into the old Iranian section of the town and then turn two blocks west to the restored Kaliph Khudaydad Ensemble. This crumbling 18th century collection of a mosque, khanagha and lovely submerged sardoba (covered pool) has been undergone loving restoration by a renegade band of old men who, impatient with the pace of Islamic reconstruction, have taken the initiative. Sardobas were once a matter of life and death to this desert oasis and were scattered throughout the town and its caravan routes. A second example, the Sardoba ishan-i-Imla, lies a few hundred metres away marooned behind a schoolyard fence.

A five-minute walk north of the Ark leads to the Khazreti Imam Cemetery, where engraved reflections of the deceased lead the way to the high dome of the central mosque and associated hauz, tacharatkhana, and six hujra cells. The open-air tomb of Khazreti Imam lies on a northern bank, next to an underground chamber heavy with the scent of Zoroastrian beliefs and adorned with the symbols of sainthood.