Tag Archives: buxoro

VERY tasty almaty

I left Tashkent the day before the bombings and was teaching yoga last night in Almaty when they occurred. What can I say? The Uzbek government is nasty, nasty and you too might blow yourself up if you lived under it. No, I do not condone the events but I certainly fathom them.

almaty kitchenI’m sitting at Guka’s in her remodeled Soviet flat. A boy is walking around outside yelling into a megaphone: “Apples, tomatoes, eggplants, cucumbers, VERY tasty!” Guka is off with her brother to introduce him to his fiancé’s family. Her high-pressure day affords me some time to finally sit and write and maybe edit the Bukhara photos. Yes, again Bukhara. I cannot understand, much less explain, how I love this city.

An aside: I like to tell New Yorkers about the Bukharan Barber Shop phenomenon (offhand, I recall one in the 50th St. 1,9 station, one in the Columbus Circle station, and another on 18th St. just off Union Square West), which was even more prevalent in Manhattan in the 60s. I came across a recent article about it in the Washington Post while researching the embassy bombings. A Jewish Bukharan shoemaker fixed my camera bag on Thursday and handed me a copy of Time Out Tashkent to read as I waited (I used to work for Time Out). I couldn’t believe it! Too funny. I hadn’t seen it before and Ulugbek had never heard of it. It’s a rip off, of course, and the copy is horrible, but I was entertained and the shoemaker was happy to impress. He didn’t know where to get one, as it was a gift. Like everyone else in Bukhara, he wouldn’t let me pay him for his work, but asked that I come back to visit when I’m back in town. I will, with pleasure. What began with horror when my new (& I trusted Domke®) camera bag crashed to the ground after the strap loop unglued (it was glued?) in the heat somehow became yet another lovely Bukhara moment.

Such gushing kindness does not greet me everywhere. I want more.

by god or by ulug

Once off the train, I made my way back to the sixth wagon where Ulugbek awaited me. I looked for him, but he spotted me first. “Anechka!”


We hugged and made our way to the taxi stand, sizing one another up after the last four years. Oh, Ulugbek! This is such a strange and heartening friendship (no comments from the peanut gallery).

Ulugbek now.

He was fifteen when we met, and would turn twenty in a few days. Good word, he’s known me almost a quarter of his life. We became friends when my tour groups stayed at Lyabi Haus, his parent’s guesthouse, in 2000. I made sure to book in there as early as possible, as Bukhara wasn’t the same for me anywhere else. I didn’t notice him at first, but a woman who worked at the hotel tired of practicing Russian with me and soon pushed me off onto Ulugbek. Indeed, I was much more interesting for him than for her.

He was learning English and when he wasn’t helping out with the guesthouse, he studied all the time. He was fun, but fairly serious, and had a protective streak that I appreciated. I loved his family as much as I did Ulugbek, and when the two tour days in Bukhara passed and it came time to leave Bukhara for Samarkand, I was always miserable. Every two weeks, by the clockwork of the tour schedule, I got sick and depressed in Samarkand, which only subsided when I returned to my friends in Tashkent.

Ulugbek appreciated me. His generous attention and sincerity made me awkwardly aware of how pathetic my boyfriend was. That with a fifteen-year-old I felt more alive than my boyfriend finally shocked me awake. The boyfriend was not what I wanted and, by god (or by Ulug), I finally realized, he was never going to become what I wanted. The better I knew him, in fact, the less I liked. Ulugbek didn’t know or care these details, but was well aware that Mario had nothing on him. Ulug moved right in on the girlfriend of a guy twice his age. How could I not adore such chutzpah?

What impressed me even more about Ulugbek is that he remained friends with me after his dramatic attempt to be more than friends failed (an excellent story not fit for print). He remained civilized and even kept in touch by email. We weathered another disaster when he studied in London and I grew so worried about him there that I contacted his parents. It took a year, but he forgave me that too. And now, here we were again in Bukhara.

Ulugbek four years ago.

that nowhere place: the train from tashkent to buhkara

Jet lag didn’t trouble me falling asleep, but both Friday at Gulnara’s and Saturday on the train, I woke up around 2am and couldn’t drift back to sleep. In the top bunk, I went in and out of that nowhere place where I knew I was almost dreaming but not quite yet asleep. This went on until 6:30am, when Alisher’s wife got up and readied for Gizhduvan. Alisher reappeared and said to call tomorrow or the next day for my visit, and they were off. I tried to sleep some more, but the women on the lower bunks got up and started shuffling around, so I got up too, and waited for Bukhara. The train was late so I took some photos to pass the time.

Soon an Uzbek woman came in and sat down across from me. The woman watched me intently so I eventually asked her if I could take her picture. She smiled and called her grandchildren in. Ordinarily, I wouldn’t have bothered her, but she seemed to want the attention.

most alive and at peace

lyabi haus, bukhara

It was a fairly traumatic mistake to put Bukhara at the front of my trip. This town has always been my favorite, a place where I can relax and simply be. Maybe it’s my place that we travelers somehow look for when we head off once and again, the place I feel most alive and at peace. But these few days have felt more like visiting an old boyfriend, the perfect one who slipped away only because I didn’t recognize that his imperfections were my own and because I didn’t yet truly want what was offered. Was coming back even right? And if it’s so damn lovely, if it’s here and now, and I know, then what’s wrong? What is wrong is that I have to leave in three days. I feel as if I’d be perfectly content to nix the whole trip, sit here, and be. Sunday morning I arrived by train from Tashkent and as early as mid-Monday the thought of leaving Bukhara made me ill. My stomach rumbled.

I scheduled a fairly quick trip through Uzbekistan, before flying on to Kazakhstan. Even before I’d landed in UZ, I knew it wouldn’t be enough.

On the flight from New York, I was in the back of the plane all too near the line for the toilets. Mid-flight, standing a few seats down was an attractive middle-aged Tajik man who looked kind of familiar. At least, I hoped he did. I squinted at him and he smiled and squinted back at me. When he made it to my row, I asked him where he was from. He answered with requisite pride: “Bukhara.”

I explained, “Oh. You remind me of a ceramicist from Gizhduvan.” Gizhduvan is a town near Bukhara. I once took the tourists there.

At that, his face lit up and he grabbed my hand, “Yes, that is me!”

I’ve no idea how I recognized him after four years, but I did. I invited him to sit down and we chatted for a bit. He was returning from a festival in Santa Fe, which he quite loved. He said the city is much like Bukhara. I’m obviously going to have to get there, as I’ve never visited the American Southwest—ridiculous, as much as I love the desert.

For the remainder of the flight, Alisher took great care of me. He moved me to a middle aisle so I could spread out and sleep and gave me extra pillows and blankets. He also left me alone at times, which I quite appreciated. I do love my personal space, and we both needed a break from conversing in my miserable Russian. Before the flight was over he invited me to his home in Gizhduvan and said I should take the train to Bukhara with him the next night. I’d planned on taking a car the next day, but a train didn’t sound like a bad idea. I adore trains.

After we landed in Tashkent, he and his son waited for me amidst the taxi hawks outside the airport and made certain that Gulnara’s son Rufshan was there to retrieve me. I promised to call the next day, and Rufshan and I made our way to Gulnara’s.