We started our day at 8am with a walking tour of the city. Bukhara is of course a modern city, but our focus was the old quarter. Most of the city, (except for a minaret), was razed by Genghis Khan. Apparently while he was looking at the minaret, he dropped his helmet and was forced to bend over to pick it up. Reflecting on this, he decided that as all men bowed before him, he had bowed his head to the minaret and consequently spared the structure.
As a result, most of the city dates from the 12th century, and a good deal of building and restoration has been going on for the last 200 years.
Bukhara is a very attractive city – lots of beautiful Madrassas (schools) with their typical arched entry, two stories ( teaching on the ground floor, student dormitory and accommodation above.)
After the tour ended, I and two other women repaired to the hammam for a spot of R and R. This particular facility has been in operation since the 16th century. This was strictly women only. I enjoyed it immensely although it was a somewhat raw experience.
We stripped, wrapped ourselves in a large, tea cloth thin sheet the size of a small tablecloth, and put on the Croc’s provided. We were led down steps into the gothically arched hammam. I was leading our trio and was startled to suddenly have the sheet whisked from me, the Croc’s ordered off my feet, and be led by the hand through a thick plastic curtain into the main ‘treatment’ room.
There we were told to sit on the floor. You can imagine the sight – the women I was with were in their twenties and I’m a tad older! We’ve shared camping and a glass of wine together. Now we were all stark-naked, sitting on a stone floor and wondering how to place our legs decently. Two other women, strangers to our group, were being briskly scrubbed with hand mitts in a no-nonsense manner. I began to appreciate how Bandit must feel when I wash him.
It would be hard to imagine a sight more different to a New Zealand spa where women, clad in smart white uniforms carry out their services in a hygienic, carefully managed environment.
Our masseuses, an immensely cheerful and robust group of women, who gossiped between themselves incessantly, were of varied ages and physical type. The only detail they shared in common was their uniform, which consisted solely of a pair of knickers. This brief nod to clothing aside, anything else they had was displayed freely.
We were offered tea as we sat on the floor and then taken off to be scrubbed. Water was poured over us, and the mitts proceeded to remove every bit of dirt and probably several layers of skin. Our hair was thoroughly washed as well.
After a good scrub we were invited to lie on the stone floor on a wet sheet. We were slapped, pummeled, kneaded and massaged before a masque consisting of ground up peach kernels was applied. I’ve rarely felt so wet! The water and the room were very warm and comfortable, but lying face down on the stone floor of that chamber I was uncomfortably reminded of those movie prison torture scenes where unfortunate female victims are thrown to the ground and blasted with water. At least this was warm. I shut my eyes and drifted off. It was not uncomfortable.
Some-time later the kneading, slapping, massaging and thumping resumed before another coating of masque was applied.
Finally we were invited to rise from the floor, were given another thorough washing, and it was all over.
We struggled back into our clothes – inhibitions long forgotten and walked back through the town.
I should add that while we women were enjoying our hammam, Cavan and the other men had gone to the men’s equivalent.
We were a quietly happy group when we returned to our hotel. After a couple of wines we decided we needed dinner and ambled back into town where we found an excellent restaurant that served a great meal.
And then to bed.
Our Hammam - in constant use since the 16th century