About Uzbekistan

Bukhara. Lyabi Hauz
12 April 2018

No, this is not Anglicism: Hauz is not originated from an English 'house', it means a pond or even a pool from which residents of Central Asian cities used to collect water in the past. In the same Bukhara there were once dozens of hauzes, but most of them were buried for sanitary purposes in Soviet times. Lyabi-hauz remained as the center of one of the five main ensembles of Old Bukhara, located in a pronounced diagonal from the southeast to the north-west: Lyabi-Hauz, Trading domes, Poi-Kalyan, Ark and Samanid Park. This diagonal, I suspect, was the road to Samarkand, along which the city grew from the foot of the khan's citadel. The next five posts will be about these ensembles and their environs, and here in this post in addition to Lyabi House I will show a piece of the Old City to the east of Lyabi-hauz with the Chor-Minor mosque, and also will tell about two hotels with which my stay was related in Bukhara.

The minibus from Kagan (Russian satellite town of Bukhara) brought me here to this rotunda of apparently Soviet times. Acquaintance with the ancient city begins from Lyabi-Khauz and not an Ark for a reason, because the square behind it is an important transport junction, and minibuses does not circulate inside the Old Town. Here, taxi drivers are waiting for customers around the clock.

And right from here you start coming across the ancient heritage of the city. There are so many of ancient monuments in Bukhara that I could not manage to find detailed information about all of them, except for the names - on the right is the portal of the madrassah of Ibrahim-Ahun, on the left the Dormulla-Hasan madrassa, occupied by the Kukeldash Hotel:

And behind its portal is the mosque Kokilai-Khurd. In the background is Lyabi-Hauz, the backyard of Diwanbegi madrassa and the portal of Kukeldash madrasah:

I walked along the canal, peering at the hotel signs, which occupy here literally every house:

Finally, I walked into "Rustem and Zuhra" hotel. Standard conversation: "How much is the single room?" "We have rooms form twenty-five dollars, with comfort, but I will give it for you for twenty, there are also rooms for fifteen dollars, but more basic in comfort, let me show you everything now." The hotel is a few shady yards with rooms on the second floors, where you get to through the loggia. I do not remember if I saw Rustam, but Zukhra, usually sitting at the table at the gate, creates a homely atmosphere with her only appearance:

The main disadvantage was that all the rooms here are at least double, that is, if there would be two of us I could share 20 dollars and pay only $10. The room is basic, but quite decent:

However, so it happened that I only slept here, while was spending much more time in the other, somewhat more expensive "Chor-Minor" hotel located in the alleys on the other side of the square-with-taxi-drivers. That is because on the first evening I met two tourists at the entrance to the Samanid Park - they recognized me and asked if I was Varandey. They were Dima and Galya from Petersburg, with whom I corresponded back at home. They flew to Uzbekistan at the same time as me, but we had different itineraries: I was moving from Tashkent from east to west, while they were planning to move from Urgench from west to east, and it seemed that we could not cross anywhere. But in the end something changed and our itineraries crossed in Bukhara, and later I also showed them Alma-Ata. Here they lived in 4-storey "Chor-Minor" hotel, which was rather unattractive on the outside and quite picturesque inside:

The hall that can be seen through all floors ends at the top with a dome:

The room even has a fireplace. If I am not mistaken the rate was only $40.

The owner of this hotel is the elderly Bukharian called Sultan, or rather the Sultan Baba (because he is already a grandfather), or if to be absolutely exact Sultan-Haji-Baba (since he made hajj to Mecca). Speaking in Tajik, very religious (a couple of times we waited for him while he was making namaz), for whom a customer can very quickly turn into a guest. And not only a hotel customer: if Dima and Galya became his guests, then I also became the one. Sultan-Haji told us a lot, took us to local cafes on the outskirts that only he knew, where he fed us with free pilaf and halisa and showed how they are cooked (see the previous part), and also had time to show Dima and Galya the holy places before meeting me. All this only for our sincere interest and for the opportunity to speak the same language. At the hotel he has a small museum, symbolizing a room in the house of a wealthy Bukharan, and according to him, the beams of his hotel are from the other much older building:

Meeting me at the Samanid Park, Dima and Galya suggested to hurry since Sultan-Hajji promised to take them to the roof of his hotel, from which open good views of the city. For some reason, all the mass observation platforms were closed on my arrival - Shukhov Tower, that Kalyan Minaret, so this was the only way to look at Bukhara from above. However, not much can be seen from there, and the main goal was to observe the sunset. Below is Chor-Minor Street, and the white building is not Dormulla-Hasan, but something else, although very similar:

Far away the sun was setting behind the cupolas of Bukhara, and it was really beautiful:

Silhouettes from left to right: Kalyan mosque (1514) with the same name minaret (1127), the huge Miri-Arab madrassa (1535) with two symmetrical cupolas, one of the Trading domes, most likely Zargaron (1570), the madrasa of Abdulaziz (1562) and Ulugbek (1417), and the latter also owns a pair of extreme portals, similar to another distant kosh. Well, all together it reminds such a chain of gates, higher and more majestic, which the traveler must pass as he approaches the mosque.

The roofs of the mahallas on the other side, in the distance they are replaced by the "private sector" of the New City:               

Chor-Minor or Four minarets in Uzbek, one of the most unusual Bukhara mosques, we will approach it at the end of this post. Please note that all its minarets are different, and moreover, these are not minarets at all:

And from the side Khokimiyat building (local executive authority) can be seen, according to the Uzbek tradition in the form of skyscraper. There is also a stadium (left) and two buildings of the Bukhara Hotel (on the right). People are usually unaware that there is a new Soviet part of Bukhara, which is also might be interesting for a visit.

Now let's go back to Lyabi-hauz along the same channel. Khoja Nasreddin meets you in the small park. Contrary to the popular belief, he was wandering not only in Turkestan, but throughout the Islamic world, and their own jokes about him are popular among Persians, Turks and Arabs, but he is still an important symbol of Bukhara. Specifically, here took the place one of my favorite stories about him. Once high-ranking official was drowning in a hauz. The people stood around and shouted: "Give your hand! Give us a hand! We'll pull you out!", but the official did not react in any way, continuing to flutter in the water. Then Khoja Nasreddin pushed through the crowd and said, "People, what are you doing? Don't you understand that this is a person who used to take rather than give, and he even does not know such a word!" - after which he said "Take my hand!" and pulled an unlucky official off the water. Alas, it is impossible to photograph Efendi without crowds of tourists from among the Uzbeks themselves - the Uzbeks love him and clearly understand from these jokes more than we, so we will consider them part of the composition of the monument:

Here is the hauz itself. Calling it Lyabi-hauz is incorrect, this is the name of the entire square, which can be translated as "The bank of the Pond" (literally - "The lip of the water reservoir"). The pond itself is called Divanbegi and was excavated at the beginning of the 17th century during the construction of two buildings of the same name on its sides. Its dimensions are 42x36m, the volume is 4,000 cubes, and at first it did not have drainage, as people used to take enough water for own needs. The oldest objects in the square are not houses, but the trees, including the dried peach tree, planted in 1477:

On the north side of the pond is Kukeldash madrassah (1568-69), which is again older than the hauz itself. Imho, this is the most absurd madrassah of Bukhara - the largest in the city (82 x 69 meters, can't even fit into the picture), but rather cumbersome and not rich in details. There is generally a reason for that, because its name can be translated as the Security Service Madrassah - "Kukeldash" (literally "the heartfelt friend", the most trustworthy person) was the title of an official responsible for the security of the ruler.

Actually, we have already seen one of the Kukeldash madrasas in Tashkent, and in this case Kukeldash is the same person: Nizam Kulbaba, the "right hand" of the mighty Abdullah Khan II of Sheibanid dynasty, subsequently the viceroy of Herat, and the poet (nickname Muhhibi) and patron saint. In Tashkent he was born, served in Bukhara, and that's how these two madrasas were built. Later, a famous Tajik writer Sadriddin Aini studied there, but in general the madrasah is even gloomier from inside than from outside.

The only good thing about it is the ceilings of the foyer, which by Bukhara tradition has one passage to the street in the center and two in the courtyard on the sides:

Lyabi-hauz is not the Sheybanid masterpiece, but the architecture of Ashtarkhanids period who ruled Bukhara in the 17th and 18th centuries and were descendants of the Astrakhan khans. This complex was built by vizir Nadir in the years 1619-23, and the complex included madrasah, hauz and khanaka. Diwanbegi madrassas stands east of the pond, where we came from, and differs by its irregular shape... but to me it seemed to be the most beautiful of the Bukharan madrassas:

First of all, because of the fairy-tale birds on the facade. Why this was allowed by the faithful Muslims, and even not Shiites (who do not have this taboo) - it is not clear to this day, especially since it is not the only similar images in Uzbekistan. Local Persians believe that this was because it was built by Persian Shiite masters, locals also say that if the facade face "not in the direction of Mecca, then it is allowed", but there are still tigers on the Sherdor madrasas in Samarkand built several years later. So how this might happen no one really knows.

It is believed that this is a semurg, or a hummo, a phoenix and a blue bird, the kindest creature on earth that gives happiness to everyone to whom its shadow falls, for which contemporary Uzbek ideologists use it a symbol of the Uzbek state and erect monuments on central town squares. Nevertheless, these semurgs are not absolutely kind since one can see how they drag fallow deers in their claws. In the photo above are the modest birds from side portals, and on the central portal the birds are larger and in addition there is a human face between them:

According to legend, divanbegi (vizir) Nadir built this building as a caravanserai, but Imamkuli-khan at the opening ceremony accidentally called the building madrasah, and the word of Khan, of course, is a law. According to another version, the Khan was deliberately disinformed by the imams who decided to take possession of such a luxurious building. Anyway, the visir was left without a business project, but in folk memory he became a patron and defender of Islam. I also heard that during the tsarist times a legend was popular in Bukhara that Nadir was an envoy at the courtyard of Catherine II, who sacrificed money for it (in fact, he could have been an envoy but only at the courtyard of Mikhail Fedorovich in a ruined country). In favor of the first legend is the fact that the portal of the building is through - the Bukhara foyer used to be built in line with "gulom-gard" ("Stop, slave!") or maybe "gulom-gyaur" ("Stop, unfaithful!"), in other words they served to sift those whose coming to madrasah was not welcome. Well, but now as you can see, the word of the khan is no more respected and Diwanbegi looks nowadays more like caravanserai than madrassah:

In the evenings folk performances are arranged here, and the through portal ... could not have come at a better time:

On the other hand of the pond is Divanbegi Khanaka (1619-20), that is, the dormitory of the Sufis, which for simplicity is sometimes translated as "a Muslim monastery" (which is wrong, but most closely to the true meaning). Now in it the museum of Bukhara ceramics, shown in the previous part:

Mihrab in the khanaka hall:

And the view from the back side:

The buildings on the sides of Lyabi Hauz Square ... the fact is that most of these buildings are built by Russians. From the west, adhering to the medieval trade dome Sarrafon and overlooking to the Lyabi Hauz with the backyard is the Russian-Asian bank built at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries, and behind the gates of the dome there is the three-story trading house of Savva Morozov (1912), which we will show in more detail in the next part:

Another pair of Russian houses, symmetrically adjoining to the apparently (?) Caravanserai. I can't say that there were a lot of them in Old Bukhara, perhaps around a dozen, and almost all of them exactly here. Indeed, the road to New Bukhara began from Lyabi-hauz, and from this gate Russian capital began to penetrate here.

Bukhara carpets are sold in the caravanserai. In the background, the dome of the Divanbegi khanaka:

And here a cyclist came from the side alley who looked suspiciously like a Jew:

There really is a Jewish quarter, but there are just several dozens of true Bukhara Jews left there. This is simply the most well-preserved and colorful part of the Old Bukhara, which was not touched by Frunze's artillery, since most of the few Bukharian communists were Jews.

A bottle of salt suspended over the hotel door - what for, interestingly?

We will explore the south (the Jewish quarter) couple of chapters later, in the next chapter we will cover the west (Trading domes), but now we will proceed to east, since Lyabi-hauz is located not at the very edge of the Old Bukhara. From the same square with taxi drivers and the rotunda passes the Baha'uddin Nakshbandi Avenue, leading to Kagan (where the train station), the airport and the necropolis of Bahauddin himself. That is, for the majority of arriving in Bukhara, here is where the Old Town begins:

Along the street and the canal on its northern side there are several rather unpretentious madrassahs of the 19th century - for example, here one of them - Said Kamal madrassah:

And here another madrassah though not sure about the name, not everywhere I guessed to take pictures of the plates. But what still puzzles me is why there are so many madrassas in Central Asian cities:

Behind them are Chor Minor mahalla, where there are still a lot of mud-houses:

Suddenly, I come across a couple of mausoleums, in the one in the distance according to the plaque rests the holy imam who lived in 1132-1212. That is, the Mazars were apparently standing on the Great Silk Road, periodically vanishing and and being rebuilt (the ones that we can see now are unlikely to be older than the 19th century) until they were absorbed by the city.

Alleyways, alleyways ...

One day a thief intruded into one of these houses and started to  dig into things without noticing the sleeping hosts. The wife woke up and poked Hoja Nasreddin, whispering that the thief was in the house. Nasreddin also answered his wife in a whisper: "Do not scare him! What if he manages to find something?"

And somewhere in these alleyways there is a four-towers mosque with its own hauz. "Minor" or "Minar" is not a "minaret", in principle it means a "tower", by this word even the Tashkent TV tower is called in Uzbek, and the Chor Minor towers have never been minarets. The real name of this ensemble is Khalif Niyazkul Madrasah, known since the 17th century, and according to one version it had such an unusual architecture for no special reason (in those days it was located outside the city, that is, it was not necessarily supposed to have the shape of a quarter with a yard) and had a hauz, a tiny hostel and mosque, that also served as an educational class and hall of ceremonies. According to another version, by the 19th century the old madrassah was deserted and demolished, except for the entrance gates, to which in 1807 four towers were added, symbolizing the Bukhara dynasties of the Samanids, Sheybanids, Ashtarkhanids and Mangitovs. In fact, as it often happens here this construction has some mysteries hidden:

Despite the uniqueness of such building for Central Asia, similar constructions can be found in the countries to the south - for example, there is their own Charminar in India. Gates with bases of wooden columns:

Inside is a shop. I already mentioned before about the complex relations between the state and religion - many mosques and madrasas closed in Soviet times have not yet been opened up:

You can climb up. The room on the second floor is now empty, but retains the remains of the decor:

View from the window on the lane with one-eyed window in the distance:

And nothing particular interesting on the roof:

Far away is Kalyan overlooking the city and the blue domes of Emir of Arab madrasah (Miri-Arab). We are heading there...

More news about Uzbekistan
Samarkand: history and crafts

We will post a series of articles about Samarkand, to give you an opportunity to see it from the other side, a non-traditional view from the other perspective to allow you to understand how the city lives, what makes it great for visit, what and why you should not miss while you are there and much more information that you unlikely find in a glossy guidebooks. In the first part we’ll cover history, crafts, traditions (including cockfights) and people.

30 December 2017
Bukhara. Part III: Trading Domes

For Europe of the 19th century covered markets and passages were quite a big achievement; in Russian cities covered markets began to replace open air bazaars only at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries. While in Asia with its summer heat and unbearable winter winds, they have been a prose of life for centuries

12 April 2018
Bukhara. Part VII: Jewish Quarter

The first Jews appeared in Central Asia even before Bukhara was founded, about 2500 years ago, when the Persian king Cyrus the Great crushed Babylon and allowed the Jews captured by Nebuchadnezzar to return to their Judea. However, there were also those who settled in Babylon and who believed that it was better to stay in Persia, which became the strongest power in the world. The first Jews appeared in Central Asia even before Bukhara was founded, about 2500 years ago, when the Persian king Cyrus the Great crushed Babylon and allowed the Jews captured by Nebuchadnezzar to return to their Judea. However, there were also those who settled in Babylon and who believed that it was better to stay in Persia, which became the strongest power in the world. 

15 April 2018
Did you know?

Uzbekistan is one of only two countries in the world to be ‘double landlocked’ (landlocked and totally surrounded by other landlocked countries). Liechtenstein is double landlocked by 2 countries whilst Uzbekistan is surrounded by 5!

Did you know that Uzbekistan lies in the very heart of Eurasia, the coordinates for Uzbekistan are 41.0000° N, 69.0000°

Uzbekistan is home to the Muruntan gold mine, one of the largest open pit gold mines in the world! The country has 4th largest reserves of gold in the world after South Africa, USA and Russia

Uzbekistan is the world capital of melons. They have in excess of 150 different varieties, which form a staple part of the local diet, served fresh in the summer and eaten dried through the winter.

It is Uzbek tradition that the most respected guest be seated farthest from the house’s entrance.

Tashkent’s metro features chandeliers, marble pillars and ceilings, granite, and engraved metal. It has been called one of the most beautiful train stations in the world.

The Uzbek master chef is able to cook in just one caldron enough plov to serve a thousand men.

When you are a host to someone, it is your duty to fill their cups with for the whole time they are with you.  What you must not do, however, is to fill their cup more than half-full.  If you do that as a mistake, say it is a mistake immediately.  Doing it means you want them to leave.  Wow!  Amazing, right?

To Uzbeks, respect means a whole lot.  For this reason they love it if, even as foreigners, you endeavour to add the respectful suffix opa after a woman's name; and aka after a man's.  Example: Linda-opa and David-aka.  You could also use hon and jon respectively.

Having been an historic crossroads for centuries as part of various ancient empires, Uzbekistan’s food is very eclectic. It has its roots in Iranian, Arab, Indian, Russian and Chinese cuisine.

Though identified with the Persia, the Zoroastrism probably originated in Bactria or Sogdiana. Many distinguished scholars share an opinion that Zoroastrianism had originated in the ancient Khorezm. Indeed, today in the world there were found 63 Zoroastrian monuments, including those in Iran, India, Afghanistan and Pakistan. Thirty-eight of them are in Uzbekistan, whereas 17 of these monuments are located in Khorezm.

One of Islam's most sacred relics - the world's oldest Koran that was compiled in Medina by Othman, the third caliph or Muslim leader, is kept in Tashkent. It was completed in the year 651, only 19 years after Muhammad's death. 

Tashkent is the only megapolis in the world where public transport is totally comprised of Mercedes buses. And due to low urban air polution it is one of the few cities where one can still see the stars in the sky.

You would be surprised to know that modern TV was born in Tashkent. No joke! The picture of moving objects was transmitted by radio first time in the world in Tashkent on 26 of July 1928 by inventors B.P. Grabovsky and I.F. Belansky.

Uzbekistan is the only country in the world all of whose neighbours have their names ending in STAN. This is also the only country in Central Asia that borders all of the countries of this region

Uzbeks are the third populous Turkik ethnicity in the world after Turks and Azeris (leaving both in Azerbaijan and Iran)

Did you know that there was silk money in Khiva? Super interesting right? Of course, but the best part of having silk money was that it could be sewn into your clothing.

Famous Islamic physician Ibn Sina (Avicenna in the Latin world) who was born near Bukhara was the one of the first people to advocate using women’s hair as suture material – about 1400 years ago.

Uzbekistan has a long and bloody history. The most notorious leader of Uzbekistan was Timur (or Tamerlane) who claimed descent from Genghis Khan. His military campaigns have been credited for wiping out some 5% of the world’s population at the time.

If you have thought that some of the Islamic architecture in Uzbekistan resembles that from Northern India, then that is because Timur’s great great great Grandson, Babur Beg, was the founder of the Moghul Empire that ruled much of India for almost four centuries! Babur’s great great Grandson was Shah Jahan, who built the Taj Mahal.

Uzbekistan was once a rum producig country. There is still a real arboretum in Denau (city near Termez on the border with Afghanistan), grown from a selection station that studied the prospects of plant growing in the unusual for the Soviet Union subtropical climate of Surkhandarya region: only here in the whole of the USSR sugar cane was grown and even rum was produced!

Uzbekistan has been ranked one of the safest countries in the world, according to a new global poll. The annual Gallup Global Law and Order asked if people felt safe walking at night and whether they had been victims of crime. The survey placed Uzbekistan 5th out of 135 countries, while the UK was 21st and the US 35th. Top five safest countries:

  • Singapore
  • Norway
  • Iceland
  • Finland
  • Uzbekistan
Exchange rates
100 RUR
13565.52 UZS
100 USD
1267588.04 UZS
100 EUR
1352840.55 UZS
100 GBP
1587020.78 UZS
Weather in cities