Bukhara is a city poised – trapped even – between past and present.
The urge to generate quick profit from the growing number of foreign tourists visiting Uzbekistan does not always sit comfortably alongside the instinct to preserve the city’s heritage. Proud Bukharans want to cherish their history, but not at the expense of foregoing the future.
The hotel construction boom is proceeding apace. Homes in the old quarters are being converted into homestays in considerable numbers. As spring approaches, business owners are busily making preparations for what they hope will be droves of visitors – so long as the coronavirus crisis does not derail plans.
What tourists find, at least in the very center of Old Bukhara, is an evocative setting that lives up to expectations of exotic charm.
Just a short walk away from the main sights – the soaring Kalyan minaret, the warren-like Toqi Sarrofon Bazaar, dominated by the hawkers of tourist wares, the madrassas and the Lyab-i Hauz pond, now the site of a café blaring cacophonous music – there are buildings in urgent need of salvage work.
But is such restoration work and the preservation of the city’s genuine spirit – what that is exactly is a matter of some debate – a priority for those in charge? Amid the general rush to seize present-day opportunities, getting at the answer to such questions is not easy.
Peter Leonard is Eurasianet’s Central Asia editor.
Danil Usmanov is a photo and video journalist based in Bishkek.