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12th – 14th May 2011: Bukhara – a beautiful lie and tourist theme park

July 12, 2011

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Ok, the title of this post is a bit harsh – Bokhara is a truly beautiful city. The architecture of the Medrasas and the Minarets is the stuff of legend – a mesmerising elegance oozes throughout the old town, and effortlessly harks back to its former glory in the time of the Khans. I couldn’t help but feel though that it was all a bit of a lie.

They Municipality have poured a ton of money into restoring the city – everything has been rebuilt to boast the former glory of the architecture. The old walls of the Ark have been reconstructed to their original finish and the Medrasas have been rebuilt as if they were new. The state of the restoration is most evident when you go around the back of the Ark, and you can see the new construction is almost 3 metres thicker than the original walls – like a thick layer of icing over the old cake. This for me was a great shame. Although it was beautifully clean and well presented, they had pasted entirely over what was the original fortifications. They had covered up the centuries of decay and created a shallow representation of a memory.

The tourist hoards of course love it, and they come here in their droves – the majority being tour groups of pensioners from France and the UK. I didn’t really know what to make of it all – while its great to get out and see the world, specially in your later years, I couldn’t help but feel Uzbekistan had become the alternative borgeouis tourist destination for people who felt that they wanted to do some more adventurous holidaying. The sanitisation of Bokhara meant they had an easy ride.

Maybe it was just the scale of the city, being quite small you felt that everything around you was catered to tourism. I would have loved to have been here before the restoration – the streets i can imagine would have been alive with markets and artisan crafts of a true and genuine nature- now the streets are filled with tacky boutiques flogging handicraft tat at inflated prices.

I did enjoy sitting on the square at Labeh House – the main square in the centre of the city. Bukhara is quite a peaceful town despite the heavy tourism and the central pool in the middle of the square is lined with Mulberry trees that are constantly shedding their fruit into the water – it makes for a great aural landscape at night, sitting in the silent square with a few beers listening to the fruit plopping into the water, watching the bats hunt for insects, all with the back drop of a bright blue-lit Madrasa. Our first night had us sitting here enjoying this very scene, and by the end of the night I was sitting with four Plov chefs from Tashkent who were enjoying the same atmosphere. They invited me to a Plov session tomorrow, and I happily obligied, eager to sample some Uzbek cuisine and grateful for a bit of Uzbek hospitality.

The next day myself and Julian went to meet them in the square, and we bundled into a car loaded with all the ingredients for a MASSIVE plov session. We went to Bobir’s friends restuarant where we could use their Plov cooker and took a seat. It was 1130, and the beer started flowing. Before 1pm I was drunk. We started making Plov, as Sou chefs to Shovkat and Abdu Vosit who were in command.

Plov is basically greasy Paella without the seafood – imagine some veg, a ton of meat, rice and Carroway seeds all cooked together in a giant metal bowl for 4 hours, and you get the idea. Its good, but the grease content makes you wish for something a little lighter. The grease at the bottom of the pan is supposed to improve your labido… I didn’t see it.

The food was served, and the crowd gathered – somehow over the course of the day we had increased from 6 to 15 – but there was plenty to go around. Then out came the vodka. Anyone who has drunk with Russians will know, its very hard to turn down Vodka. After every mouthfful of Plov a fresh bowl of the stuff was shoved in my face. By the end of the food i was blind drunk –as was everyone else.

Bobirs two young sons showed up, and were keen to practice their English. His dad joked to us about how they were circumcised not so long ago – he even motioned to show me his son’s freshy cut penis but I politely then insistently refused.

All the food and the vodka finished, we tried to pay but failed,our hosts insisting to foot the bill. They wanted to go to a club and pick up Russian girls(despite all of them being married) we were happy to go along for the ride. By this time it was dark, and we got to the club and were refused entry because our hosts were in flip flops. The club sounded dire anyway so i was glad to miss out. Most people went home after that, but Bobir was intent on drinking more. We had to reprimand him somewhat when he almost got into a fight with a tramp, then spent the rest of the night whooping after girls in the street and apologising to us for his behaviour. We sat in the main square like louty drunks, bought him a beer, and eventually peeled away and slumped back to the hotel.

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