The ponds and pools called ‘hauz’of Bukhara are wonderfully beautiful. In the evening, after the muezzin has sounded from the minaret the call to prayer, the men of the city gather around the ponds, which are bordered by tall, silver poplars and magnificent black elms, to enjoy a period of ease and leisure.

Carpets are spread, the ever burning chilim is passed from mouth to mouth, the samovar steams away, and lightfooted boys hand round the shallow bowls of green tea. Here the meddahs, or story-tellers, the musicians and the dancing boys assemble to display their craft. And perhaps a conjuror or a juggler comes, performing the most amazing and incredible feats of skill. An Indian snake charmer joins the throng and sets his poisonous snakes to dance, while over all reigns the peace of a Bukharan evening. No loud speech breaks the spell; items of scandal and the news of the day are exchanged in discreet whispers. So it was centuries ago in Bukhara; so it is today. There are things which not even the Soviets can alter.

Gustav Krist, Alone Through the Forbidden Land, (1937).

lyab-i-hauzThe pool and chaikhana of the Lyab-i-Hauz in Bukhara is the modern centre of traditional Uzbekistan. A place where the very soul of Central Asia lies mirrored in a piala of steaming green tea or in the reflected symmetry of a resplendent portal, where cloudy eyed white-beards contemplate the march of time and take shelter from a land in transition.

The chaikhana is not only a way of life in Central Asia, it is also an escape and an antidote to life in Central Asia. It is the essential lubricant to friendship, trade and travel.

Its professionals are a hard core of regular nine to fivers, equipped with personal teapots, pialas and backgammon sets and brandishing gleaming arrays of heroic Soviet medals. Many took part in the World War II and are a wonderful source of local oral history. In few places does the name Churchill elicit such mad affection. Sadly, in recent years the locals have largely been transplanted by tourists