Saturday, August 23, 2008

Aug 23 - Bukhara

Shabbat services began at 7 am, this time in the indoor sanctuary, with a true balcony for women. But we were not in a hurry, having already logged in more time in a synagogue this week than we usually did back in Atlanta. So, we dipped into the synagogue for shacharit between 7:30 and 8:15 am. We had to return to the hotel for breakfast, to straighten out our bill, and to receive the necessary OVIR stamp. Our Kiwi ladies were eating breakfast, and we saw their jar of Marmite, the national breakfast treat of New Zealand that accompanies them on all trips. We were not tempted.

When we got back to the synagogue a little after 8:45 am, they were already into the Torah reading. Here, the torah scroll is held upright in a case and an extra gabbai is on hand to keep things balanced.

Mike was offered the haftorah reading, which he chanted in his best impromptu Bukharan trope. In the blessing, in the best Sephardic tradition, they ritually announce our monetary contribution to the synagogue for this honor. We were publicly trapped. But it was OK. After all, we are willing to part with some money to help ensure the survival of this most unique form of Judaism. However, Mike totally blew the subsequent blessing for spouse and offspring, not mentioning their names when offered the opportunity to do so.

Services ended before 10 am. No kiddush here, no invitation for lunch. It was time to get back to being tourists, and to visiting those historic spots that make Bukhara a magnet for visitors.

First, we turned the corner between the hotel and the synagogue, and finally encountered the Jewish community center that we had missed so far. Not much use on Shabbat, however.

We headed toward the internet cafe for a little posting. On the way, we decided to negotiate over an 1995 Uzbek cookbook in three languages, Uzbek, Russian, and fractured English. Final price was 14000 sum. ($10.50 US) Now we know how to make 15 different regional variations of plov, if we can ever figure out the English.

Our standard internet place had connection problems, so after 5 minutes we gave up and moved on.

Our track was toward the 1807 Chor Minor, (4 minarets in Tajik) which sits in a maze of alleys a half km east of tourist central. Walking there, we decided to stop in the samsa place we had walked by several times already. This was the real deal, serving fresh hot flaky pastries filled with onions and minced lamb. 2 large samsa accompanied by a tomato sauce and some vinegar, served with a pot of tea, came to 1200 sum. (90 cents) Clearly we were back in just-folks territory.

Another few meters down the road, we noticed a tour bus parked on the side of the road, and some tourists walking out of the neighborhood. Like ants leading to the sweet crumbs, their path led us to Char Minor, which we then easily found.

We climbed to the rooftop base of the minarets, and got a nice view of the neighborhood.

It was time to patronize a real functional everyday internet cafe, so we kept walking to the east to the next major commercial intersection, where after a few questions, a friendly Uzbek guy walked a long block out of his way to show us the internet cafe, where we spent several hours. Here the price is 500 sum per hour, rather than 1000 sum per hour in tourist central.

Upon reading our e-mail, we found out that the hotel we had chosen in Samarkand had no vacancies. With the help of another internet user, we were able to phone for another B&B reservation for Sunday and Monday nights.

It was now 3 pm, and time for lunch/afternoon snack. Across the street was a grill shop, which served only grilled chicken. We unwittingly ordered one whole chicken, not one portion of chicken. This was the first real chicken meal for us in more than a month (not counting the chicken in the Chinese stir fries), and it was mighty tasty. We were the highlight of the afternoon for the patrons when a leg came off the plastic chair on which Mike was sitting, and he tumbled to the floor.

At 4 pm we walked west on a different neighborhood road toward the mosques and madrassas we had not yet seen. On this road, we were overtaken by a Swiss guy who turned out to have lived for several years in Dunwoody, a suburb of Atlanta. We saw him again an hour later, and spent a good time trading travel stories. He had just completed a two week tour of Tajikstan, and was ecstatic about the alpine lakes, mountain passes, and rural homestays. The ecotourism group of Tajikistan (META) had arranged his trip, but had done it in many incompetent ways. Unlike Uzbekistan, he encountered almost no other tourists there. The trip was a success for him and his three friends.

In this part of town, you walk through the unrestored Ulugbek Madrassa (1417) and the partially restored Abdul Aziz Khan Madrassa (16th century), across the street from each other. In both you can see the subtle juxtaposition of tiles and painted wall, each with the same pattern. The story of when tiles were available, and from where must be very interesting. In Turkey, these types of tiles were imported from Delft, Holland. Perhaps the same was true here.

The Mir-i-Arab Madrassa is undergoing a complete refurbishment of tile work and decoration. It is gloriously colorful and maybe a bit too picture perfect.

Each of these buildings contains items for sale. It is an open question as to whether these historic spaces should be filled with museums, as in Khiva, or with commercial activity, as here, or left vacant. The last choice may be idealistic in this economically challenged part of the world. The goods of the silk road no longer can sustain a country, and Big Cotton was an ecological disaster. Oil resources are not evenly spread in this area, with Russia and Kazakhstan having most of them. Tourists are the cash crop here.

At the end of the day, we tried unsuccessfully to find the Maghoki-Attar Mosque, Central Asia's oldest mosque, at a site containing Zoroastrian and Buddhist ruins. It was at one time shared with the Jewish community to be used as a synagogue in the evening. Quite a story, but no luck.

Afternoon services were due to start at 5, but the two or three times we walked by the synagogue after 6, it was locked tight. And that is how we ended up finishing our time in Bukhara at the non-tourist internet cafe. It is now 10 pm, and we are, for the first time on our trip, caught up on posting!

Back to the hotel now, to pack up for an early Sunday train to Samarkand.

1 comment:

sara said...

Enjoying your trip summary. Can't wait to see you back in Atlanta and hear all about it. Sara