As a child, I remember staring in wonder through the dusty window of an old antique shop in Calcutta. I had seen a beautiful crimson carpet that was glowing in the dimly lit shop. The lady who owned the shop told me it was an ancient Bukhara carpet, woven over a hundred years ago. The more it was used, the better its sheen became, she said. What kind of exotic thing was this Bukhara carpet? And what of the place it came from and the people who wove it?
Ever since, the names Bukhara, Samarkand, Khiva and Fergama (Babur’s birthplace) conjured up images of grand mosques, soaring minarets, magic carpets and beautiful gardens. When I finally went in search of these treasures, I found awe inspiring examples of the best Islamic art and architecture in Central Asia. Moreover, Uzbekistan is a charming place to visit. The weather is perfect in spring. Flowers are everywhere and fruit trees are laden with fruit, just asking to be picked and the people are charming and welcoming.
A Living Museum
Bukhara is a comfortable three and a half hour ride on the efficient Afrosiyob train from Tashkent. The old city is a World Heritage Site and is a living museum in itself. It had been occupied for a thousand years. Despite its stormy past, which saw many conquerors and plunderers taking over and destroying everything in their path, many buildings from the 9th to the 17th centuries still remain. The oldest of these is the Magori-Attar mosque with its intricate brickwork façade. Archaeologists have found that it was built over an ancient Zoroastrian fire temple, which was later converted to a Buddhist temple. Today, it is fittingly, a carpet museum.
There is much to see around Bukhara. The Kalon Minaret, at a height of 47 meters was the tallest building in Central Asia. The story goes that Chengis Khan was so impressed, he bowed his head in front of it and prevented his hordes from razing it to the ground, as they did everything they came across.
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