September 13, Day 34 – Bukhara, Uzbekistan

Today we visited the Bakhaudin Nakshbah Complex. A mausoleum and mosque complex dedicated to Bakhaudin Nakshba a 14th century Sufi mystic and founder of the Nakshbandi order of Sufis. This mausoleum complex has grown over the centuries because every Emir (King) of Bukhara added something to the complex as a status symbol. Royal family members were buried here to be next to the saint (probably hoping that would make them closer to Allah). Added to the complex, inside the courtyard, were a beautiful pond and avian (covered gallery/walkway) plus a women’s mosque. Today this spot was used as a meeting place for dignitaries and for special events. The buildings had all been restored but the original artwork was left in spots for a comparison of the old to the new.


Locals came to this complex to pray and if their prayers were answered they would come back to sacrifice an animal. Our guide wanted to show us an animal being sacrificed but we refused to see this and walked past the sacrificial area. She said some tourists took pictures but I wouldn’t be able to sleep ever again if I watched something like that!


Just before walking into the Mausoleum there was an Imam sitting outside on a bench in a small courtyard. People paid him to pray for them. This was interesting to watch. One lady brought a box of donuts for him and everyone around just walked up and took a donut for themselves without even asking him.


Inside was the traditional metal flag and pole announcing the burial of a saint. There was also an old Mulberry tree trunk lying sideways in the outside yard of the complex.  People made wishes and walked underneath the roots and around the trunk three times for good luck and to clear themselves of all evil.  We all did this. Not sure if our luck was better because of the walk around or not?? Legend said that this tree was once the walking stick of the saint buried here. Some of the people even tried to break a piece of the bark off to carry with them as an amulet, for good luck.


Our guide explained Sufism to us, as the mystical sect or branch of the Islamic religion. The Sufi’s goal was to get closer to God (Allah) by disposing of their worldly possessions and pleasures. They meditated (prayed) and fasted. There was a special fast for 40 days each year. Whirling Dervishes were one branch of the Sufi sect.


She explained that there were 4 stages to Sufism.


  • Sharia: An exoteric law, this first stage was their initial preparation where they must follow the Muslim laws to the letter.
  • Tariqah:  An esoteric law or practice, during this second stage the individual must deny himself and submit completely to a spiritual teacher that he wanted to follow. The practice of Sufism revolved around a Murshid [guide] or Master, who was the teacher of the Tariqah or order of Sufis. This individual had Muridin or students, those who seek knowledge/nearness of god. A Murshid in Sufism was also known as: Sheik, Master, Pir, or Teacher.
  • Marifa: Intuitive knowledge [Gnosis], the third stage was said to be the stage of enlightenment where the individual renounced his worldly pleasures and material possessions. He spent his time speaking God’s name and of God’s qualities. The Sufi was said to experience spiritual ecstasies during this stage.
  • Haqiqa: Truth [Enlightenment], The last stage was described as truth and explained to us as follows: Someone who had no desires; he spoke but had no speech in his mouth; he saw but he was blind; he ate but he tasted nothing. He had no emotions. Wow, I cannot understand why any person would want to be like that!  In my mind, that described a crazy person. There are many articles on Sufism on the Internet if you are interested in exploring more about them.


Our guide in Turkmenistan said that Sufism was outlawed in his country because they could not be controlled and they were dangerous because they did what they believed Allah wanted them to do.  In my opinion, a person who did what was described above could easily be brainwashed because they did not think for themselves, they followed what they were taught to the letter. But to be fair, the articles on the Internet said otherwise, that if a person wanted to leave the Sufi way of live they could leave without any hassles or problems, therefore it was not a cult.


In addition to the 4 stages above there were 3 levels or degrees of Sufism. (Some articles on the Internet described 7 levels of Sufism, not 4 stages plus 3 degrees). The first level was called Dervish, (Derv) meaning door in Tajik (Persian). At this stage the Dervish walked from door to door asking for lodging and food. I missed the other 2 levels, sorry. Our guide said that the Dervish was allowed 2 sets of cloths, a donkey and a jug for water that was all. They relied on charity to survive. Why they were revered as mystical was a mystery to me but then again I admit I am still at level 1.


Our guide had a Sufi book called “Gayan” a book of Sufi sayings that I really liked. “A wise man without willpower is like a head without a body”. “Be true or false because you cannot be both”. “A life with a foolish companion is worse than death”. “Life is a journey of imperfection to perfection”. “No one can be human and not make a mistake”. “The desire to develop one’s personality is the real purpose to human life”. “There is no better companion than solitude”. “Wisdom is attained in solitude”. “When envy develops into jealousy the heart turns from sour to bitter”.


My two favorites were: “What science cannot declare, art can suggest, what art suggests silently, poetry speaks out, but what poetry fails to explain in words, is expressed by music”. And  “He who knows not and knows not that he knows not is a fool, avoid him. He who knows not but knows that he knows not, is a child, teach him. He who knows but knows not that he knows, is asleep, wake him. He that knows and knows that he knows is a wise man, follow him.”


Legend said that a Sufi teacher was retiring and he had to select the next teacher to replace him from his students. He gave each student a chicken. He then told them to sacrifice their chicken where no one could see them and then return back to him. All the students did as he asked except for one student who came back with his chicken. The teacher asked the students where they had sacrificed their chickens? They replied in the basement, down the alley etc. Then he asked the student with the live chicken why he did not sacrifice his chicken? The student replied that everywhere he went, God was watching him! This was the answer the teacher was waiting for and that student became the next teacher.


Next we visited a cemetery, which was unusual in that the family members were added to the same grave. As long as it was 6 months from the last burial, you could keep adding bodies to the same gravesite. The bodies were wrapped in a cloth, which I guess disintegrated in less than 6 months. (They must use natural fabrics with no plastic synthetic material. I know bad joke; I must be tired). That was why men in Central Asia wore turbans. If they died they had their shroud (turban) to be buried in.  Remember this was a nomadic and war torn area. Now that the people were settled and civilized (less fighting) there was no need to wear turbans. Today, most men wore skullcaps or ball caps.


Muslims did not cremate their dead because they believed in the Day of Judgment, when all people would be revived for judgment. They believed everything had a seed and should be buried, even people. (An apple seed turned into apple tree).  When the bodies were buried the tradition was to place the head north and the face turned towards Mecca.


The Muslims were very clean because their Islamic tradition was to wash their feet, genitals, face and hands five times per day (3 times for Shiites) before entering a Mosque to pray. Their prayers required them to kneel on the floor and bow down to touch their heads to the floor, which was good exercise and helped to keep their bodies flexible and limber.  There was a different prayer for each prayer time, which had to be memorized. Because the prayers were in Arabic, a language they did not always speak, this helped with their memories. I actually think the reason for this Islamic tradition was to keep people clean, exercised and their minds sharp.  I say this because I actually mean it and I am not being sarcastic in any way. Meditation, yoga and cleanliness are all good for us.


We drove out to a village called Nayman to visit a school and have lunch at a family home.  On the way to the village we stopped at a cotton farm. A lady who had been picking cotton since she was 13 years old demonstrated how they picked the cotton. She had socks on her hands to protect them from the prickly cotton pods, which had been all dried up by chemicals sprayed on the plant. By drying up the plant the pods opened up and allowed the pickers to pick a cotton bush clean with one picking. 150 kilos was the most that this woman had ever picked in one day. There were 50 pickers at this farm and they made $15 per day plus a hot lunch. The pickers brought their own bags, which held approximately 6 to 7 kilos. At the end of the day, the picker collected his bags and brought them in to be weighed and loaded onto a truck. They hoped to pick 100 kilos (or 50 kilos, I heard different amounts from different people) each day. It was very hot and hard work.


Our next stop was the village school. We visited a grade four classroom with around 30 kids. They were really cute. We told them a little about Canada and our families. They sang a song for us and asked questions. Then we took pictures and gave them gifts from Canada. It was a lot of fun for all of us.


Next we visited a family at their home. One of the specialties of Uzbekistan was pilaf or pov. A rice dish layered with meat, carrots, onions, garlic, chickpeas, cumin and sometimes raisins. (Plus lots of salt). The family taught us how to cook this meal on their outside stove fueled by dried up cotton plants. They also had a tandoor oven and showed us how to make bread. They used a metal stamp for piercing the bread. Traditionally, they stamped the bread according to the number of children they had. I have got to say that this was the best bread I have ever eaten in my life!  It was warm, flaky and crisp. It melted in our mouths. Yummy! One of the women cooking our lunch was the principal of the school we visited. She turned out to be the daughter of the family hosting us for lunch.


We walked through the courtyard with lots of fruit and vegetables growing.  They wrapped their grapes with newspaper to keep the birds away. I might try this at home because the birds ate all my cherries this year.  The weather here started to get cold in November and was really cold in December and January then started warming up again in February. Luckily for them they had a long growing season for their fruit and vegetables. It was in the high 20’s today, in mid September.


Driving back to the hotel we noticed huge lineups for cars waiting to get gasoline from a gas station and the next few gas stations would have no cars at them.  We were puzzled about this until our guide explained the situation.  The owners of the stations made contracts with the government agents for their fuel. The owners would pay extra to get more fuel or a longer contract. Some gas stations ran out of fuel and others who paid more did not. Also there was no price listed for the fuel at the stations because the owners had to recoup the extra money they paid for the fuel contract so prices varied. Sometimes a car could get fuel from a closed station if they were able to pay a premium to the owner. We did this and parked our cars on the street behind the station. The man pumped fuel into the cars by pulling the hose through a crack in the fence!


The average salary for an Uzbek was 200 – 250 US dollars per month. Many Uzbeks worked 2 or 3 jobs to support their families. 65% of the 30 million people that populated Uzbekistan were under 30 years of age. Life expectancy of both male and female Uzbeks was 72 years of age. Families had to be resilient and self-sustaining to survive. They grew their vegetables and usually had no refrigeration. Potatoes and carrots were stored through the fall and winter by burying them. Melons were stored in straw and onions were dried out in the sun and then stored on shelves in the attic of the house below the roof.


A tradition we had noticed throughout Central Asia was that both the girls and boys had shaved heads until they were around 6 years of age. They believed this made the girl’s hair grow in thicker and stronger.


Our last stop on this very full day was at the Summer Palace of the last Emir in Bukhara. The last Emir was not supposed to be the Emir, his older brother was in line for this position but he died before his father, leaving the second son to be Emir.  While listening to the last Emir’s story it sounded like he was a good person but too soft to fight the Islamic Leaders. The Muslim leaders did not support the Emir’s leadership and fought it at every opportunity. This Emir had studied in Russia and tried to bring changes to Bukhara simulating what he learned in Russia but the Islamic clergy was very conservative and did not support his efforts. They actually started unrest with their Muslim followers to stop the Emir from bringing in any changes. During WWI the Emir did not send his countrymen into war. Instead he sent money to Russia to support their efforts and to fight on his behalf, saving many Bukhara lives. The Emir opened the first factory for paper money in Bukhara but the Imam protested.  The Emir acquiesced and went back to using heavy coins as money. Ironically Russia then overtook Bukhara moving the Emir to the Summer Palace.


This palace was located outside of Bukhara and was meant to keep the Emir politically impotent but in luxury while the Russians took control of Bukhara in the early 1900’s. There was a two-story harem building within the complex and legend said that the Emir would watch the harem girls swim in the pool and throw an apple into the pool. Who ever caught the apple would sleep with the Emir that night.


This last Emir of Bukhara fled to Afghanistan in 1920 when the Soviets came to Bukhara leaving his 4 wives, 3 sons and 4 daughters to survive on their own. He managed to leave with his treasury but forgot his family who were sent to Moscow. But to be fair, he did not have an army to fight the Soviet invasion he only had his two bodyguards allowed by the Russian protectorates. He really had no choice but to escape when he did. He eventually got his wives and daughters back to live with him in Afghanistan but not his sons. There was a book written in 1956 on the history of Bukhara by Richard Fry, which was said to detail all of this information.


My favorite room was the white hall decorated with white ganch designs over mirrored wall panels. A delicate and effective décor with the walls and ceiling all white on white, I found it to be quite stunning. The other rooms were very colourful with murals on the walls. They added egg white and camels milk to make the colours last.


In 1927 there was a woman’s revolution because they had to wear heavy cloaks and horsehair veils to go outside. This added an extra 10 pounds of weight and made it 10 degrees hotter under the clothing during their hot weather.  The women did not like it, especially after the Russians took control of Bukhara and the Russian women did not dress that way. The Uzbek women rebelled burning their veils and cloaks in the street. Many of these women were actually killed by their husbands or family for this act of rebellion, but they won the war because the women today no longer dressed that way.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Anti-Spam Quiz: