Historically Gijduvan was a cultural, mercantile and religious centre in the region, though today little of this is on show. The city makes its money from cotton production, though there has also been a revival of traditional crafts (particularly ceramics), which are then sold in the tourist centres of Samarkand and Bukhara.
Gijduvan is around 40km north of Bukhara on the M37 towards Samarkand, so it is best visited as a brief stop en route between those two cities. All the public transport options between them pass through Gijduvan, and it is a small enough town to explore on foot. It is recommended that you stay at a hotel or guesthouse in Bukhara and visit Gijduvan on a day trip.
The finest ceramics in Uzbekistan come from Gijduvan, so it would be churlish not to come away with a plate or three. It is best to buy direct from the craftmen, and we can therefore recommend the Gijduvan Glazed Ceramics Centre (55 Kimsan; 572 7412; www.folkceramic.com), which includes a museum of traditional ceramics, a workshop where you can watch the potters at work, and a shop. Director and master potter Abdullo Narzullaev is a sixth-generation potter and learned his craft from his ancestors. He and his family give tours of the workshop in English, French and Russian, and their enthusiasm for their craft is infectious.
ULUG BEG MADRASSAH
The former prominence of Gijduvan is shown by Ulug Beg's choice of the city as site for his third, though least impressive, madrassah built in 1433 to honour a renowned Sufic saint. Eighty years later the last Timurid, Babur, met humbling defeat here at the hands of the Uzbeks. He escaped, never to return to Transoxiana. A majolica frieze running along its portal wall announces the madrassah as "a sacred place, a cloister equal to the gardens of Paradise". The building is thought to have served as more of a khanagha than madrassah, offering shelter to hopeful pilgrims who still come to pay homage and receive blessings from the forecourt mazaar.
TOMB OF KHOJA ABDUL KHALIQ GIJDUVANI
The mazaar marks the grave of local man Abdul Khaliq (1103-1179), a holy Sufic master of royal Turkish descent who taught pupils, including Nakhshbandi, to "speak little, eat little, sleep little ... postpone marriage as long as you can" and that "ornament is a mark of inner poverty". He went on: "Place no trust in this world and do not rely on worldly people. Let your heart be filled with melancholy and disillusion, let your body suffer and your eyes weep. Let your conduct be upright and your prayers sincere. Wear old clothes and choose a poor man as your companion." As founder of the Khodja khon Order, Abdul Khaliq developed the spiritual base for the later Nakhshbandi Order, including the silent zikr, a recitation of the names of God.
As you pass through the Gijduvan section of the M-37, the main Bukhara-Navoi Highway, find time to stop at the workshops of brothers Abdullo and Alisher Narzullaev. These sixth- generation potters make pialas, bowls and dishes in traditional floral designs of local browns and yellows. The brothers are happy to give a demonstration of their art, highlighting the techniques of needle-fine kharoshwork, unique colour glazing and firing in huge tandyr kilns. The billboard Art Gallery' announces Abdullo's Museum of Ceramics, at 24 Kimsan St, open all hours, www.bukhara. net/crafts/abdullo. His work is also on sale in Tashkent's Caravan Cafe, or Samarkand's Rukhabad Mausoleum or just to the north of Bukhara's Cap Makers' Bazaar.
This thin, fragile minaret, tapering through ten decorative bands of bricks and bows to an impressive 39 metres, is another creation of the Karakhanids, the unsung heroes of Central Asian architecture. Its lower Kufic and upper divani inscriptions decree that it was commissioned by local ruler Bukhari Ad din Ayud al Aziz II in 1196, making it just 70 years younger than Kalon Minaret in nearby Bukhara. The minaret lies just two kilometres north of the modern Royal Road, but is missed by many travellers eager to reach the delights of Bukhara, 20 kilometres away. From Bukhara public buses to Vabkent (Vobkent) can be irregular, but almost all buses to Gijduvan, Shafirkan (suzane embroiderers) or Samarkand go via Vabkent.