I did a double take when I first spotted it.
Then I had to fight off touts pushing their taxi services on me as I took a closer look.
A Mongol Rally car in Bukhara.
Okay, I know what you are probably thinking – a what?
For those not familiar with the Mongol Rally, it is a road race for charity in which teams drive from London to Mongolia over several weeks. I first heard of the Rally last summer when travel bloggers Sherry Ott of Ottsworld and Dave and Deb from the Planet D teamed up for the adventure. It particularly intrigued me because teams must cross one or more of Ukraine, Russia, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and/or Turkmenistan – all countries on the itinerary for my current trip.
This year, bloggers Pam MacNaughtan of Savoir Faire Abroad and Charlie Grosso of Spy Travelogue joined forces for the rally and since the timing coincides with my travels through the region, I have been following along. Despite that, it never occurred to me that I might encounter any Rally teams in Bukhara.
A little giddy over the prospect of meeting a team (and fellow tourists to possibly hang out with), I debated what to do next. I noticed the car was parked outside of the Hotel New Moon, so after eliminating the option of leaving a note on the windshield (it might blow away), I went into the hotel and asked at the front desk. It turned out that the team owning the car was staying there but they weren’t currently around. So I left a note with my email address and the name of my hotel.
I figured, why the hell not?
Around 10:00 that night, I nearly jumped when my phone rang – it was the receptionist downstairs telling me, “two men here to see you.” It took me a few seconds to connect the dots, but I quickly realized it was the guys from the Mongol Rally and hurried down to the lobby.
There, I found Adam, Adrian and Antonio – also known by their team name “The Wrong Way Around” (I loved that their name was a take-off on Ewan McGregor’s series, Long Way Round). After introductions, we decided to head to the courtyard to chat more over drinks. Three hours later, they had all headed back to their hotel and I went to bed with an invitation to join them the next morning for a tour of Bukhara with the son of the owner of their hotel.
As I went to meet them at 9:30 the next day, it occurred to me that I might be imposing – it was actually just Adam who had invited me. But as soon as we all met up (minus Adrian, who was sick), I threw that idea out the window and decided to just enjoy the company and the tour.
For the next four hours, 15-year-old Akhmad showed us around Bukhara. While Samarkand was nothing like what I expected, the center of Bukhara was exactly what I thought it would be – ancient and dusty and overflowing with history. After checking out the area around Lyabi Hauz, we walked through the covered bazaars and stopped at a couple madrassahs.
We saw the 12th century Kalon Minaret, once the tallest building in Central Asia, visited the Kalon Mosque, and stopped at the impressive Ark fortress.
The guys haggled over silly Soviet era hats at an outdoor market and then we hopped into the Mongol Rally car to head out of town to the Emir’s Summer Palace. While the palace’s expansive grounds and splendid, colorful interiors gave us a sense of how the royalty of Bukhara once lived, the real highlight might have been a funky, multi-sided Russian mirror. We each just had to take a turn standing in the mirror while taking a self-portrait. Yes, we are dorks.
By early afternoon, it was time for the guys to move on to Samarkand- they had already stayed in Bukhara longer than any other stop on their journey. We exchanged email addresses and said goodbye, promising to keep in touch (if you’re reading this, I hope we do!).
Then, I headed out to explore more of Bukhara, a little bummed to be on my own again.