If you sow the seed of good it will grow into seven ears and then yield seven hundred good deeds.
Northeast of Bukhara in the village of Kasri Orifon is one of Sufism's more important shrines (working hours 8am-7pm), the birthplace and the tomb of Khazreti Mohammed Bakhauddin (Baha-al-din, Uzbek: Bahovuddin) Nakhshbandi (1318-1389), the founder of the most influential of many ancient Sufi orders in Central Asia, and Bukhara's unofficial 'patron saint'.
Bakhauddin (The Decoration of Religion) was born a few kilometres from the present complex in the town of Kasri Orifon into a family of metalworkers, from where he took the name Nakhshbandi (Engraver of Metals). He came under the early influence of Abdul Khaliq Gijduvani and as a married man spent 12 years in the employ of Tamerlane's nephew Khalil Sultan after which, according to the Encyclopedia of Islam, he devoted himself to "the care of animals for seven years and road-mending for another seven". This last vocation is not quite as bizarre as it may sound, for Nakhshbandi espoused a life of hard work, self-reliance and modesty, encouraging all his pupils to learn a trade as he himself had done. His 11 principles of conduct were based on a retreat from authority, spiritual purity and a rejection of ostentation or ceremony, principles that were stretched to their limit by the Nakhshbandi brotherhood's early rejection of communism in the 1920s and subsequent tacit support for the basmachi revolt.
Entering the complex through the main, east entrance, you'll walk towards a 16th century khanaka covered by a huge dome, now a Juma (Friday) mosque. In front of it is a precariously leaning minaret. Two more mosques surround Bakhautdin's tomb in the courtyard to the left. The lovingly restored aivan here is one of the country's most beautiful.
The tomb itself is a simple 2m-high block, protected by a horse-mane talisman hanging from a post. Tradition says that it is auspicious to complete three anticlockwise circumambulations of the tomb. Back in the main courtyard you'll spot more locals walking anticlockwise around a petrified tree. Legend has it that this tree sprouted where Bakhautdin stuck his staff, upon returning from a pilgrimage to Mecca. He then added drops of holy water from Mecca to a nearby well. Faucets near the minaret continue to supply this well's water to pilgrims, who splash their faces with it and bring it home by the jugful for good luck.
North of the complex a long path leads to the tomb of Bakhautdin's mother, also a place of pilgrimage.
The shrine itself is steeped in superstition. Pilgrims circle and kiss and pray in front of Nakhshbandi's tombstone, tie rags, money and wishes around the tree said to have sprouted from his staff and cook offerings and sacrifices in the specially-built mass kitchens after these wishes have been granted. The site is also permeated with the holy Sufic number seven; in the seventh month the saint came into the world, in his seventh year he knew the Koran by heart and at the age of 70 he breathed his last. In the nearby museum a display of seven lambskins refers to the traditional seven tenge fee to the site and in Central Asian funerals male friends of the deceased jostle to carry the coffin for the expected seven steps.
The spiritual focus of any visit is the large mazaar encasing the black tombstone of the saint, traditionally known as the Stone of Desire, and the 20 graves of past pilgrims that include the Khans Abdul Aziz and Abdullah II. The holy courtyard is enclosed by the Abu'l Hakim Koshbegi Mosque (1720), now used as a women's mosque, and the Muzaffar Khan Mosque, built 150 years later. The architectural centre of the complex is the huge khanagha built in the same year as the tomb (1544) by the Uzbek chief Abdul Aziz Khan; a cool, cubed building equipped with 48 hujra cells and crowned by a huge 30-metre high dome.
In 1993, on the 675th anniversary of Nakhshbandi's birth, the complex was restored and revamped with Turkish and Pakistani money (including a personal donation of US$45,000 from ex-President Ozal of Turkey) and unveiled in a great show of international Muslim brotherhood. The event marked not only the reconnection of Uzbekistan with the international Muslim community, but also formalized the rebirth of official religion, a process that had started under perestroika and will continue to underscore the new Islamic orientation of an independent Central Asia. Further renovations took place in 2003 to celebrate the 685th anniversary of Nakhshbandi's birth.
The complex lies a ten-minute drive (bus No. 60 from the Ark) northeast of Bukhara.