I awoke my first morning in Bukhara before dawn, bundled up to brave the chilly autumn air, and walked out of my guesthouse without a plan. I wanted to take photos, but I didn’t know where to start. In the distance, the illuminated Great Kalon Minaret beckoned. I went towards it drawn by a mysterious force, like a moth to a flame.
I rounded the corner and stood gobsmacked: in a large square between the imposing Kalon Mosque and Mir-i-Arab Madrasa, the illuminated minaret towered above me. It was my first time seeing the stunning Islamic architecture of Central Asia and I was duly amazed.
For the first time in my life, I had something in common with Ghengis Kahn, other than awesome facial hair. When he looked at the minaret 800 years ago, he was so impressed that he ordered it spared as his invading troops sacked the city. One must presume this was a hit to morale: knocking down a 150ft tall tower would have been great fun for a band of pillaging warriors high on victory and bloodlust.
I am grateful he spared it. I spent every morning at the square with worshippers arriving for pre-dawn prayers, bread vendors setting up shop, and students going for early morning jogs. One morning, to my great surprise, a man walked through with four unruly goats.
The rest of Bukhara is a delight to visit as well. Everything of interest is within easy walking distance and the city is filled with cafes and quality restaurants. You can even drink a beer at sunset on a rooftop bar with a view of the minaret. In the evening, locals and tourists alike gather in the pedestrian zone in the center for drinks, dinner, card games, and socializing.
Bukhara succumbed to the Mongols but it seems to be holding its own against a more nefarious and relentless horde: package tourists. Although many of the grand buildings have been restored and some converted to tourist shops, the city retains its old-world charm even as travelers arrive in increasing numbers. And in the pre-dawn hours, as the sunrise glows on the horizon and the Kalon Minaret shines in the darkness, the city is every bit as magical as it was in the days of Ghengis Kahn, but with less pillaging and more espresso.
Bukhara Travel Photography
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