Our intrepid explorers – Mike and Jess – meet ‘a dealer’, get their heads around the US dollar-Uzbekistan Som exchange rate, and come face-to-face with ‘the truly beautiful’ Poi Kalon mosque.[Not a valid template]
In order to get to Bukhara we needed petrol. In order to buy Petrol we needed local currency. In order to get local currency we needed to get out some US dollars from the bank because Uzbekistan has only five ATMs, all of which are on the other side of the country. Oh, and different banks open on different days.
The only way you can get Som in Uzbekistan is by going to the local Bazaar. You can’t ask openly and instead walk around holding a dollar note in your hand until a local comes up to you and offers to change it into local currency. It all feels very surreal, like some kind of drug deal is taking place. Said ‘dealer’ even tells you to stay out of sight whilst he goes into his office to get some money. The exchange is done and you can now buy whatever you want in local currency.
You really do get a lot of notes in return for your dollar. A US dollar will get you 2700 Uzbeki Som, and 1000 is the highest note they have. Therefore exchanging 100 US gets you 270 notes. Of course each one is only worth about 40 cents.
With the money side of things sorted, we asked the hotel where we could get petrol, which led to another black market deal. In our Renault Clio, we followed another gentleman to his house where he filled the tank using five-litre water bottles of 91 Octane. Once again all very surreal but I guess nothing could shock us at this point. Not your average fuel stop but finally we were on our way to Bukhara.
We had already heard of Bukhara and seen endless photos of its historical mosques and monuments. This was one of the places we were most excited to see when planning our long drive.
So we were very pleased to discover that surface of the 500km of desert road between our departure city and destination city was actually pretty good. And almost completely empty. With our sunglasses on and music blaring, we honestly not had that much fun since Italy.
We arrived in Bukhara in the afternoon and walked into our hotel: essentially an oasis in the desert. An idyllic courtyard with green vines that climbed the authentic clay walls was spotted with colorfully covered tables, a beautiful day bed and the owner’s family members busy with their chores whilst the children played. The main square was buzzing with local families and tourists. It was nestled in amongst a collection of mosques with a square pond in the middle that was home to some fat white geese and local music playing in the corner. It was all very Arabian nights.
By this point I was acting like an excitable child (one who had not eaten all day). We made our way through the markets and a couple of gorgeous turquoise monuments, but we soon parted ways with our Finnish companions – Mika, Tommy and Frank whom we’d met at the Uzbekistan border – and headed to see the pièce de résistance.
You see glimmers of the Poi Kalon mosque peering from behind buildings as you inch closer and closer, but as you turn the corner you realise nothing could quite prepare you for it. Our mouths dropped as soon as walked around the corner, and they stayed their until they slowly turned to smiles. It is simply stunning and the colours and detailing is just out of this world. You can keep your Pyramids, your Great Wall of China and your Buckingham Palace. This building is a real testament to man’s ability to create the truly beautiful.
Not only that but it really made this whole trip sink in. Here we are, two idiots from opposite sides of the globe, now in the middle of Uzbekistan standing in front of one of the finest buildings on the planet.
We couldn’t be happier.
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