Bukhara: The Surroundings
In addition to the city center it is worthwhile exploring the surroundings of Bukhara for a day or so. The necropolis Chor Bakr, the Emir’s Summer Palace and the revered Bakhauddin Nakhshbandi Ensemble all lie on the outskirts of the city and can easily be visited by taxi in a single day. The easiest way to do so is to book one through your hotel (which is what we did). However, hailing a taxi on the street or taking a bus are also a possibility. You can get to the Summer Palace by taking bus No 7 or No 70 from the Vokzal stop while the bus to Chor Bakr leaves from the Talija Bus Station. In order to get to the Bakhauddin Nakhshbandi Ensemble take bus No 60 from the Ark. If you take a taxi, bargain hard for a return and make sure that the driver waits as otherwise you might have trouble getting back to Bukhara.
Chor Bakr lies 5 km to the west of Bukhara in a small village nestled between fields. Although the necropolis lacks the grandeur of the main sites in Bukhara, it makes up for it by the nearly complete lack of tourists and souvenir stalls. The site has a certain rustic charms as the restoration lags a little bit behind that of the main sites (although they are definitely catching up) in Bukhara. Furthermore, there are some nice tree-shaded corners dotted around the site, where you can sit and cool down. The site is quite extensive, with a pond and a small minaret in a courtyard, surrounded by a mosque, a medressa, a tea house (khanagha) and a multitude of graves.
The first graves apparently appeared about thousand years ago, when the site was occupied by settlement of dervishes. In the 10th century CE, when Bukhara was ruled by Samanid Dynasty, Imam Sayid Abu Bakr and his three brothers, Fazl, Ahmed and Hamed, all direct descendents of the Prophet Muhammed, lived in Bukhara and where burried here, thus lending this site an immediate appeal to pilgrims. In 1560 CE, the Shaybanid Dynasty ruler Abdulla Khan II commissioned the mosque, the khanagha and the medressa that still makes up the heart of this complex. Over the years the necropolis gained in importance and hundreds of members of the Khan’s family and the local elite were burried here.
The Emir's Summer Palace
Located just north of the city, the Summer Palace of the last emirs of Bukhara is a fascinating fusion of Oriental and European features. Construction started in 1912 by the orders of the last emir of Bukhara Said Amlikhan. In this enterprise he had the full support of the Russian Bolsheviks who wanted him out of the Arc Fortress, esconsed in the Uzbek hinterland where he could do no damage.
However, this was not the first palace to stand in this place. The first one was built by the third-to-last Emir of Bukhara, Nasrullah Khan, who (at least in the west) is most famous for executing the two British Great Game players Conoly and Stoddart in 1842. Having been destroyed, nothing remains of this original structure. Several decades later, Nasrullah Khan’s grandson Abdul Ahad Khan rebuild the the palace in the mid-19th century on the same ground but this palace also shared the fate of its predecessor, the only remains being the entrance portal, a striking example of Russian-influenced architecture.
.The construction of the existing palace (1912-1918) involved the best Bukhara masters of the time, along with two Russian engineers Margulis and Sakovitch. The palace grounds cover 7 hectars and include 3 buildings all set in rose gardens and surrounded by courtyards. This Persian-influenced layout dates back to Timurid days.
The piece-de-resistance of the Summer Palace is the White Hall, with plasterwork by the famous Bukharan master Shirin Muradov. The chandeliers in the Hall were imported from Poland, the furniture came from Russia and the door locks and handles where shipped in from England. German tiles and fireplaces and Venetian mirrors are dotted around the other rooms of the palace, which include a chess room and a chaikhana (teahouse). The latter is decorated with luxury items of the day like an early refrigerator, photographs of the emir and a mirror that multiplies 40 times. No expenses were spared as the last Emir of Bukhara had developed a taste for European and Russian art while graduating from the military academy in st. Petersburg.
The other buildings in the Palace Complex, include a guesthouse for foreign visitors, a small zoo and the Emir’s Harem, which today contains a collection of suzanis from Urgut and Shakhrisabz. For a more detailed description of the Summer Palace see Bukhara’s Summer Palace: Sitora-i Mokhi-Khosa by Nilufar Nuriddinova.
The palace can be visited for about $1 between 9am-7pm (Apr-Oct) and 9am-5pm (Nov-Mar). In order to get there take the bus No 7 or the marshruta 70 from the Vokzal stop. The palace is at the end of the line.
The Bakhauddin Nakhshandi Ensemble
The holiest of all monuments of the Old Town of Bukhara is not situated, as you might expect, in the heart of this 2500 year old city but rather about 10 kilometers outside, in the village by the name of Bakhauddin. The mausoleum of Bakhauddin Nakshbandi is the burial place of one of Sufic Islam’s founders and holiest saints, Khazretti Mohammed Bakhauddin Nakhshbandi, who lived in the 14th century CE and was born nearby in the small town of Kasri Orifon. The shrine and the entire ensemble around it is one of the most revered places in the Islamic world.
The nicest part of the ensembe is the peaceful central courtyard, with the hauz, the trees and its painted ceilings and wooden columns. From this central courtyard you can wonder into the more sombre Necropolis, which contains the tombs of Nakhshbandi’s relatives. On the other side and other gate leads to the small minaret (apparently build with the stones of Nakhshbandi’s house) and the khanaga.