Saturday, August 23, 2008

Aug 22 - Bukhara

Mike skipped services this morning, and slept in. Carol tried unsuccessfully to take a shower at 7:30 am and discovered that the hotel had no water pressure for our second floor - not a great discovery when you are covered in lather. (Mike waited until after breakfast when the pressure started to recover.)

We shared breakfast with two women from New Zealand who were traveling our route in reverse with a car and driver. They were sticking to a very full schedule, paying in USD for everything in China and Central Asia. It is nice that somebody else still uses US currency.

After breakfast, we went to the Internet Cafe for an hour of posting, and sat down next to Derek. When we all finished, we decided to travel together to see the B. Naqshband Mausoleum and the Emir's Summer Palace together. We left the cafe about 11:15 am.

Naqshband was a sufi mystic, highly revered in Uzbekistan, and Bukhara's unofficial patron saint. His mausoleum is a place of pilgrimage for many. We traveled 13 km east to the village where the mausoleum. We shared the mashruta with a local family who spoke in Russian but said they were of German ethnicity. Like many other local people, they asked our ages very early in the conversation.

Shortly before reaching the mausoleum, we passed a local band singing and playing lustily as they walked down the road. This was a wedding party, we were told. Carol would have jumped off the bus to join them, if possible.

We got off the bus a little after noon, and joined the Friday crowds. The first destination was the mausoleum itself. It is traditional to complete three counterclockwise walks around the fragrant garden leading up to the mausoleum. We watched worshippers drink from holy water drawn from a pond near the mausoleum. Derek remarked that his Tajik friends told him to keep well away from contact with any kind of holy water; people were filling up and carting away large bottles of the stuff.

As we walked on toward the mosque, our mashruta friends presented Carol with an amulet they had purchased.

Derek is very knowledgeable about the various sects of Islam and the interactions between sufism and other branches, since that is an important part of what he is currently studying. He helped us understand the fluid role of sufism in Uzbek society - a part of every Uzbek's understanding of Islam, but not necessary a defining or controlling element of that character. He also told us that the women we have seen in Kyrgyzstan who cover their faces completely with a loosely woven brown scarf are of Pakistani origin. They have migrated to Kyrgyz cities because Kyrgyzstan has relatively free economic investment rules; the immigrant Pakistanis, who have the money, help the Kyrgyz open new businesses.

Around 1:30 pm, it was time to go across the street for a little lunch of laghman, salad, and tea. We relaxed and talked about Derek's studies and his Polish heritage. His tip: try the Trader Joe's pilsner.

By 2:45 we were on our way. The 130 mashruta went almost the whole way to the Summer Palace, and the driver decided to take us the last 2 km. It was out of his way, but he must have been feeling in a good mood. It was another example of the kindnesses we were receiving from Uzbek people.

The Emir's Summer Palace is an over-the-top kitschy example of what too much money can build. Gilt, mirrors, majolica to the max. Nowadays most of the rooms are filled with merchandise, of course. But still a nice time in the country.

Two buses took us back to the Ark, a huge complex in Bukhara, almost as recognizable a part of Bukhara, as the Registan is of Samarkand. We took no pictures because Mike sprung for 4000 for the 14 postcard shots of Bukhara, which of course includes the Ark. From there we walked through tourist territory back to the hotel.

It was now past 5 pm. Derek had to get ready for his 7 pm train trip to Tashkent. So we parted ways at the hotel.

At 6:30 pm, there were Friday night services at the synagogue. After some relaxation and a little more clothes washing, we walked over and attended the services. The highlight of the service for us was the vases of fresh mint that you stroke and smell to evoke the pleasure of Shabbat. Does this remind you of any previously mentioned Islamic customs? It felt like a counterpoint to the spices of Havdalah. (This practice is not unique to Bukhara - we saw the presence of mint and other fragrant plants at the Western Wall in Jerusalem on Friday night.)

The lowlight of this service was an amazingly offkey rendition of L'Cha Dodi by three teenage boys - and no, this not some exotic Bukharan melody. Carol thought that the combination of their singing, accompanied by some tempo-challenged members of the congregation rivaled anything that an Uzbek Charles Ives could write. We have our own off key loud singers in our own congregation in Atlanta - for this we had to travel 7000 miles?

Services ended about 7:45. Unlike Jerusalem, we were not invited to anybody's dinner.

We spent some time posting to the internet, then back to the hotel and to bed at 10:30 or so.

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