Bukhara – Why No Information on the Harem?

So my guide, Nilafur, had to send a replacement because her voice was so bad this morning. Nilafur had been battling a cold and apparently overdid it with me the day before. So Farangiz would be my guide for the short half morning tour. We met Erkin who would be driving us to the first two sites outside the Bukhara city limits and then we would walk for the remainder of the morning.

Baha-ud-Din Naqshband tomb

First up was a visit to the Syed Baha-ud-Din Naqshband mausoleum about 15 minutes outside Bukhari. Naqshband was the founder of what would become one of the largest and most influential Sufi Muslim orders, the Naqshbandi. He is revered in the Muslim world and his mausoleum and the surrounding complex, built in 1544, is something of a shrine.

Once we arrived, we walked in through the massive entrance and past a small garden filled with mulberry trees (used to soak up the water in the very sandy soil in Bukhara that can cause foundation issues). The mausoleum was on the right side of the garden. We had to pass under an arch and then entered a large courtyard surrounded by a raised covered viewing area. The crypt was toward the front of the courtyard. Now it was clear this place was revered because it was the first time that I saw people of the Muslim faith outnumber tourists.

Remains of Naqshband’s ancient mulberry tree

We wandered around the mausoleum and then took a walk out the backside of the courtyard, past a mosque, madrassa and a pond to the remains of an ancient mulberry tree that is said to have sprung up overnight after Naqshband put a stake into the ground. And while I found this hard to believe, there were apparently plenty of people who believed because the remains of the tree were black in spots from people rubbing their hands over the wood.

Probably the last picture of this guy

As we started our walk back past the pond towards the car, we encountered a ram and a sheep tied to a pole. Uh oh. I figured I knew what that meant, but thought I would confirm it. “What’s going on with the animals?” “People bring animals here to sacrifice in order to receive blessings.” Ah yes … suspicions confirmed.

We wandered over to take a look at the remains of an ancient cemetery and by the time we returned the animals were gone. I looked around and saw a man leading them down a road … Uh bye guys ….

Entrance to the summer palance

So we got back in the car and drove to the next site, the last emir’s summer palace, Sitorai Mohi Hosa. (The last emir was run out of the country by the Soviets in 1920 seeking refuge in Afghanistan.). Anyway, the summer palace consisted of a three building compound, including the Emir’s residence, a guest house and the harem. The buildings are now filled with museum pieces.

Portion of Emir’s residence
Dining hall in the emir’s summer palace
Tea room in emir’s summer palace

We walked through the Emir’s residence, which I thought was by far the nicest building (what a surprise). We saw a dining room, chess room and what was easily the nicest room, the tea room. This room had windows on three sides (a rare occurrence in Muslim countries since buildings are usually designed without exterior facing windows in order to hide the women). The décor was beautiful and the room had a warm, cozy feeling.

After the Emir’s residence, we walked across a courtyard to the eight room guest house, which now features a historical retrospective of Uzbek clothing. While it was nice to see the clothing, I did not find the guest house or the clothing particularly interesting.

Guest house at emir’s summer palace

The final building was about a two block walk away from the guest house and Emir’s residence: the harem, where the Emir’s wives and concubines lived. Beside the residence was pool where the women could swim and a large platform where the Emir and his wives would meet to discuss their family. (Legend has it that the Emir would throw an apple from the platform to a particular woman in the pool and that is how he decided who would be spending the night with him. How romantic!)

Harem and pool at emir’s summer palace
Tower at emir’s summer palace

And the bad news …. the harem building wasn’t particularly interesting either. There was no historical information about the harem or the building; rather, the building was filled with samples of Bukhara embroidery. I was bored out of my mind, but listened patiently as Farangiz did her job and explained the various needlework styles and techniques. (Damnit, I wanted to know about the harem and the palace intrigue!)

We left the summer palace and drove back to old town Bukhara where Erkin dropped us off for our short walk (through the rapidly rising temperatures) to Char Minar, the gatehouse of a madrassa built in 1807. The madrassa no longer exists, but the gatehouse and its four “minarets” have been renovated and are in good condition.

Char Minar

After paying 4,000 som (about $.50), we were able to climb up inside the gatehouse to get a closer look at the minarets. However, after examining the minarets more closely it appeared to me that the four towers were never used as minarets since minarets are supposed to have staircases permitting muezzins to climb up to announce the call to prayer. And having climbed up the narrow staircase to take a look at the inside of each minaret, there was no evidence of any ladders.

On the roof beside the dome at Char Miinar

I will say, however, that the little gatehouse situated in an old neighborhood in Bukhara had wonderful character. It was surrounded by mulberrry trees and lovely little gardens and was entirely peaceful because the narrow roads did not permit any tourist busses. So score one for Char Minar.

An alley in old town Bukhara

Firgangiz and I walked a few short blocks back to my hotel where I thanked her and said goodbye. By now it was after one and I was rather hungry. I set off towards the center of old town with the intention of finding some off the beaten path restaurant and I believe I succeeded. Rather than following the main path through the old town, where all the tourist restaurants are located, I started walking up and down the narrow alleyways and stumbled across a building from which I could hear music. It turns out that the building was the former 19th century Abduraxmoni A’lam Madrassa. It was fronted by a little pond and had a first and second level. Once I walked into the building I entered a gorgeous courtyard that had been converted into a little restaurant. It was perfect.

Abduraxmoni A’lam Madrassa (now a restaurant)
The courtyard at the restaurant

I sat down and ordered tea. The only other people in the restaurant were a Russian couple, and as it turns out, they were as friendly as they come. They started talking to me and eventually told me to come and sit with them. Yuri and Anastasia had just arrived from St. Petersburg (which explains their friendliness – I found people from St. Petersburg incredibly nice) and were just finishing their lunch. They both recommended the beef skewers so I took their advice and ordered the skewers and a tomato and cucumber salad. Excellent recommendation. The food was fantastic and the company just as good.

We chatted about Uzbekistan and St. Petersburg and as I was finishing my lunch, Yuri and Anastasia picked up to leave. They were off to the bazaar, so I gave them some information and wished them a good trip.

Outside my room at my B&B (converted madrassa)

After the lovely lunch, I wandered over to a tea room for some tea and sweets before calling it a day. I walked back to my fabulous B&B (which is a converted 19th century madrassa) where I sat on the lovely little second floor sitting area surrounded by antiques and enjoyed more tea. It was a lovely way to end the day.

Author: lawyerchick92

I am a lawyer by trade, but long to be a full time traveller. My life changed for the better when my brother donated a kidney to me on October 14, 2002.

2 thoughts on “Bukhara – Why No Information on the Harem?”

    1. I wish. Still pissed I missed out in Ireland. Only some candy covered peanuts, walnuts and raisins and some kind of candy that was waaayyyy too sweet even for me.

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