24 Hours In: Bukhara

This old city is peaceful now, but its dark bazaars and cool passages offer a glimpse of a more sinister time gone by...
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The Independent Travel

Wake up and smell the coffee

07.30: If the early morning muezzins' call hasn't woken you, the aroma of ripe fruits and fresh coffee for breakfast at Hotel Lyabi House (00 998 65 224 2484; lyabi-house.com) should do the trick. This converted 19th-century Bukharan mansion, with en-suite rooms decorated with silken suzani wall-hangings, has a wonderful location in Bukhara's 2,000-year-old shahristan (old city). The nebulous mud-brick lanes around it lead (mostly by accident) to Bukhara's covered bazaars and ancient mosques. Doubles from $60 (£35) per night b&b.

Barter in the bazaars

09.00: Save your money for a morning's browsing and bartering among the domed trading halls and bazaars. This is as good as shopping gets in Uzbekistan. If a renowned Bukharan carpet tops your wish-list you'll find them for sale along Khodja Nurobod Street. Check out the Abdullah Khan Bazaar and don't forget to haggle. You can buy fine suzani (for up to £150) around the Toki Tilpak Furusun Bazaar and highly prized ceremonial daggers are made before your eyes at the English-speaking Ikramov Family blacksmith (00 998 65 2281550) on Hakikat Street.

Eat beneath the mulberry trees

12.00: Drop off your shopping and take a casual lunch at Lyabi-Hauz. This mulberry tree-fringed square is a famous local beauty spot. A cluster of open-air restaurants, or chaikhanas, are set around a 17th-century reservoir fished by small boys and swans. We're not talking haute cuisine but it's an opportunity to sample hearty Uzbek staples such as pilau-rice (plov), sizzling brochettes of meat (shashlik) and lagman, a noodle-based meat and vegetable stew.

Dark dungeons and old sins

13.30: During the heat of the day it's worth exploring the cool passageways of the Ark, the traditional powerbase of Bukhara's ruling khanate. Dating in parts from the 6th century, within this huge citadel's wavy caramel walls are small museums that host interesting curios. The highlight is the notorious prison dungeon, or zindon, just outside the Ark's eastern walls. In the mid 19th-century, to much outcry in London, two army officers, Connolly and Stoddart, were held here on spying charges as the British Empire tried to gain influence in Central Asia. The rat-infested hole inside, still with manacles, is known as "the bug pit". The two were held for three years before being executed in 1841.

Of mosaics and minarets

15.30: From the Ark it's a short stroll to Bukhara's most striking landmark: the 69m-high Kalyan Minaret. It dates from 1227. The geometric bands of mosaic tiles colouring the burnt brick exterior were said to have so dazzled Genghis Khan, he spared the minaret alone while pillaging and razing all around it.

Take time for a massage

17.00: Time for a spot of pampering after a hard day on your feet? Don't count on it. Uzbek hammams can be both painful and pleasurable in equal measure. The 14th-century Hamman Bozori Kord is the world's oldest operating bathhouse and serves up steam baths and rigorously muscular massages on a heated platform for around £10. Mint tea is served afterwards in the atmospheric underground vaulted chambers. Reservations can be made by calling by in person, and female masseuses are available, for women only, on request.

Dinner in the bathhouse

19.30:Back to the bathhouse for dinner, although this time to a theatrically converted 16th-century hammam. Restaurant Sarrafon (00 998 65 223 7919) serves Russian and Georgian cuisine within the kitsch setting of its "Thousand and one nights" interior decor. Borsch, solyanka (a beef and vegetable broth), and perch stuffed with saffron rice and olives, may be accompanied by very quaffable local Jilvon reds or Russian champagne. It's popular with tour parties, so reservations are advisable.