Thursday, April 9, 2015

Bukhara. The Ark.


Once you see a photo of the unique corrugated brick wall of the Ark, it's forever seared into your memory.  So, standing in the iwan at Bolo Hauz and looking across the street, I knew exactly what I was seeing and where we were going to next.



Once you cross the street, from Bolo Hauz, there's a large plaza area surrounding the Ark.  There weren't all that many people around though I imagine that on a weekend day, this place could be pretty crowded given its proximity to the park and its central location in the old city.  The only person out, fishing for tourist dollars, were a couple of men with Bactrian camel in tow.  They were looking for those tourists willing to pay a lot of soms for the opportunity to ride the camel and have their photo taken.  Both Pat and I have ridden Bactrian camels so neither one of us was interested.  I stopped for a few seconds to watch one of men parade the camel around the plaza with an Asian man riding atop.  I should have snapped a photo. :-)


Inside the entrance, Sukhrob bought our tickets. The Ark is a museum these days.

A window opening in the wooden entry door.

Old cannon balls.  The Ark was a fortress.

Looking back down at the entrance and the ticket booth.

From the entrance, we walked up to enter the main part of the fortress.  Along the way, we peeked inside the windows of several rooms.  According to Suhkrob, these rooms were prison cells.  Criminals were placed here so others could see them on their way in and out of the Ark.  In essence, it was like a walk of shame for the prisoners.


Another view back down towards the entrance.  Prisoner cells on the right.  Artifacts from the Ark displayed on the left.

Our first stop was at the Ark's main mosque.



The prayer hall was small and again interior decorations were far less extravagant than what we saw in the mosques in Samarkand.  The Bukharan style is definitely much more restrained than the style championed by Timur in Samarkand.  And there's more use of wood here.  In  many ways, the buildings have a much more warm and inviting feel to them.



The mihrab, positioned in the direction of Mecca.




Inside the small prayer hall were several display cases showing items from the Ark's heyday like this manuscript of the Koran, dating back to the late 19th - early 20th century.


Next, we went to the Courtyard of the Prime Minister (aka Vizier) in which both his summer and winter homes are located.


We started with a quick visit to the museum.



More artifacts from the Ark.


The most interesting display for me was this small case showing items from Bukahara's Jewish community.  Following the break up of the Soviet Union, many Bukharan Jews migrated to the US, settling in the borough of Queens in New York City.


Text from the Torah.

Another interesting display showed items typically used in a Bukharan home.  According to Suhkrob, the items are still in use today, mainly in village homes.  One is the table on the left.  It hides a small wood burning stove beneath.  The idea is to sit around the table, with your legs under the blankets, to keep warm. The stove also will keep a tray of food warm.

The other interesting item was the baby cradle - that's the object on the left in the photo below.  The cradle is designed to be rocked back and forth.  It's draped with tented cloth to provide some darkness.  To prevent the baby from falling out, the parents will literally strap the baby to the bed. And for convenience, there is a hole, under the baby's bottom so no diaper is needed :-)


Outside, we followed Suhkrob to the small courtyard.  Here is where the Prime Minister's two homes were located.  Literally, to go from his winter home to his summer, he would literally just walk across the courtyard!


On the south side was the summer house with its windows facing north.  The windows on the winter house face south to capture the heat from the sun.


Next, it was off to the Reception Hall which was used primarily for official ceremonies. 


If I remember correctly, Suhkrob also referred to it as the White Hall because that is the predominant color used in the decoration.  It's remarkably plain.  As with the other places in the Ark, the hall has been restored.

On the other side of the entry portal was a large slab made from brick.  I think this was to obscure the view of curious passersby.  I wondered why they just didn't build a door??


 Inside was a large plaza, surrounded on three sides by a covered platform.


I'm beginning to notice that it is not uncommon to find a vendor, selling their goods, inside any historic landmark.  I don't know what the rules are but it would be so much better if there was a place set especially for them so tourists can take in the historic views without seeing souvenirs displayed here, there and everywhere.  I do have to say though that for the most part, the vendors do leave you alone unless you approach them first.

The one exception I will make to the *I'd rather not see goods for sale inside a historic site* is this place.  The wall hangings actually provided a nice pop of color and interest to this otherwise, very plain space! :-)



I love the fact that they don't carve the same design into all the wooden columns.



The Ark is a popular spot for both locals and tourists.  A group of Uzbek men entered the hall shortly after we did.  The stood to pose for a photo.  I love the tradtional charcoal gray and white Uzbek tubeteika (aka skullcap) that is worn by men.  While you see the occasional man walking about with one on, this was the first time I had seen a group of them.  I decided to snap a photo.  Forget the men.  Admire the cap! :-)


From the Reception Hall, we went to an area where we could look over the fortress walls to the plaza and street below.



This part of the fort used to be one of the Ark's lookout points.


Now, it's just an empty area with a few carts,  which looked to me to be quite new, on display.  As expected, there were a couple of vendors who had taken up shop in one of the Ark's buildings.


After this we were done.  We backtracked to the entrance and headed out.


The walls of the Ark are massive.  You really don't get a good sense of that unless you have something standing next to them.  These two young men did the trick for me so I snapped the photo.


Turning the corner, I could see the minaret and turquoise dome of a mosque.  That's where we'll spend our afternoon.


But for now, it's time for lunch.  Apparently, Shavkat had briefed Suhkrob on Pat and I.  Shavkat gave us a good review, telling Sukhrob that when it comes to food, Pat and I are just like them - we eat local food.  So, for lunch Suhkrob wanted to know if we were okay with eating at the teahouse, located inside the park.  Of course we were.  It was a beautiful day to eat outside so we lunched al fresco.

Sukhrob that the teahouse's specialty was plov and since we hadn't tried the Bukharan version, I opted to go with it.  It wasn't bad.  So far, my favorite plov is still the one that we had with Maria and Mavlon in Tashkent.


Can't have a traditional Uzbek meal without non and salad.  Truthfully, I'm reaching my limit on the cucumber tomato salad.  We shared the usual pot of green tea.


Over lunch, we got the opportunity to get to know Suhkrob better.  He loves being an archeologist and I think this is a great country to have that profession in - there's so much to be uncovered, discovered and learned.  His studies have taken him not only around Uzbekistan but to places like China.  He reallyl enjoyed his visit to Beijing.  We joked over how hard it must have been for a Muslim to eat in a pork loving country like China but apparently, he and his colleagues discovered a Muslim restaurant that they all fell in love with.  Like so many of us, he just wants to make a good enough living to support his family; he has a wife and two young daughters.  He's a very nice guy and we're enjoying his company. 

The food came and I pretty much gulped it down.  I'm too excited about seeing the rest of Old Bukhara to really care about food so for me, this was another simple lunch that filled the belly.