Back at the hotel we quickly freshened up before Davron led the group on a tour of the Ark, a royal, fortified town-within-a-town and Bukhara’s oldest large complex of architectural note. The Ark is a much smaller version of the Topkapi Palace in Istanbul, a place combining royal residence with facilities occupied by people with political clout who in the past administered the Bukhara khanate. The complex has two mosques, the Reception and Coronation Court, a submerged treasury, a harem and the royal apartments. Most of the royal apartments are now a museum containing exhibits devoted to archaeology, ethnography and wildlife. There are also many old photos and portraits, some of the latter showing Stoddart and Conolly, the ill-fated British officers who, following imprisonment, were executed in front of the fortress on Bukhara’s main square, the Registan, in 1842.
Even in the Ark there were yet more shopping opportunities for those keen to buy souvenirs, but of more interest was the large number of people who had gathered in the Reception and Coronation Courtyard to celebrate Museum Day. A lot of children had dressed in brightly coloured traditional clothes to engage in singing and dancing. Proud parents took photos or videos of their sons and daughters. As for the displays in what had been the royal apartments, most looked as if they had been assembled during the Soviet era and nothing had changed since except some of the text describing the exhibits.
We returned to the hotel and, with just over two hours to spare before dinner, I rushed through the side streets to once again enjoy the magnificent ensemble of buildings surrounding Kalon Minaret. No one was playing football. Although the light was at its very best, even fewer people were walking about than the day before.
I continued to the area west and north-west of the Ark to visit a closed medressa, a mosque undergoing restoration and two medressas facing each other. The two medressas facing each other had some excellent ceramic tiles on the exterior. In one of the medressas someone kindly directed me to a flight of steps leading to the first floor overlooking the courtyard, and from the first floor a second flight of steps took me onto the roof. It was possible to walk all the way around the roof. Some of the views from the elevated position were very good.
Returning to the hotel through the side streets near Kalon Minaret, I helped a young woman carry her buggy down a very uneven pathway with steps that were beginning to break up.
Davron had arranged for us to eat our evening meal in a B and B in a magnificently restored traditional Uzbek house not far from the hotel. Before eating, we had the chance to watch as the family who owned the B and B prepared a vast stainless steel cauldron of plov with beef and quails’ eggs. The plov provided the main course of the meal and was outstanding. As usual, however, the plov was preceded with salads, pastries and soup, but the starters included a very good pasta dish like ravioli. The pastries were filled with ground meat or pumpkin. Because the meal included some dishes we had not eaten before and did not see again, and because they had been prepared in the family’s large kitchen in an enchanting house, this proved the trip’s very best eating experience. Wine and beer were available; at 8,000 som each, both cost less than in most hotels and restaurants.
Earlier in the day we were introduced to a new member of the group, a journalist. Saga was treating him to part of the trip so he could write an article for “The Mail on Sunday” in the hope his evaluation would inspire more people to travel to Uzbekistan with the tour company. We walked with him back to the hotel via Lyabi Hauz to soak up the atmosphere on a Saturday night. Most of the people in and around Lyabi Hauz were Uzbeks, tourists being as numerous as Bukharans. They ate or drank in the cafes and restaurants, bought a few things from men or women who had arranged cheap goods on the pavement, took photos of each other in front of the medressas or the statue of Hoja Nasruddin, or stopped to examine a souvenir costing less than for a foreign tourist.