Taking the Side Roads
One of the best pieces of advice I received before visiting Bukhara was to keep away from the main streets and explore the side roads. So, we moved away from the central hub and ventured down the dusty roads. They seemed empty and abandoned. Along the side streets away from the tiled architecture of the silk road, everything looked the same – dirty brown. Old brown houses were held up by wooden support beams that were also covered in dust. We passed a small, simple mosque, a few individuals were hurrying inside as to not be late to prayer, and then we were alone again.
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a flash of bright turquoise peeking out above a narrow monotone alley. Instantly drawn to the color, we turned and headed straight for it. Standing alone in a dirty open space was a four-pillar structure. At the top of each pillar, a turquoise dome rested. It was a small and relatively simple structure compared to some of the madrases, but it was lovely.
The Chor Minor was an old gate for a madrasah that no longer exists, and each pillar has a different motif representing the four religions known in Central Asia at the time, Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, and Zoroastrian. One pillar had a fake stork nest on top, a common sight on many of the mosques, madrases, bazaars, and structures. Storks were a familiar and regal bird in the area and often made nests on high structures. Sadly and somewhat oddly, we didn’t see any real nests. It was almost as if the storks have long been gone, and the fake nests are an attempt to remember the days of rich biodiversity. A woman was selling her wares out front, but we just admired the building from a distance before cutting back toward the tourist highlights.
We continued our back alley adventure. The roads seemed to become narrower and narrower, but they were still hauntingly quiet. A lone older man sitting against a cement wall flashed a golden toothed smile at us, encouraging us to stop to talk to him. He knew his geography quite well, naming all of Australia’s major cities. When I told him I was from Alaska his eyes lit up in awe. I could tell he wanted to talk to me to find out more about Alaska, but his English vocabulary was minimal, and instead, he just put his arms around his body and began to shiver and exclaimed, “SNOW!” I laughed, saying, “yes, it is cold and snowy in Alaska.” After exhausting our hand gesture dictionary, we continued on our way, wishing him well.