Private tour of Uzbekistan

By Edna R.S. Alvarez
This item appears on page 15 of the March 2020 issue.
Second floor of the Amelia Boutique Hotel in Bukhara, Uzbekistan. Photo by Edna R.S. Alvarez

My daughter (53) and I (80) took a private tour of Uzbekistan in May 2019. Details were arranged by MIR Corporation (Seattle, WA; 800/424-7289, In each city, it was just the two of us plus a guide and a driver; we had three different guides and two drivers. We visited three cities, the last of which was Bukhara (Tashkent and Samarkand being the other two).

In Bukhara, we were fortunate enough (due to last-minute cancellations) to stay at the Amelia Boutique Hotel (1 Bozor Hoja St.;, from which it was an easy walk into town and to restaurants. The owner/manager was friendly, welcoming and helpful.

Consisting of two parts linked by a raised walkway, this hotel was once a Jewish merchant’s house. The older part is several stories high. The newer annex has several ground-floor rooms as well as rooms upstairs.

Inside of Yahudiylar Synagogue — Bukhara, Uzbekistan. Photo by Edna R.S. Alvarez

The hotel is small, intimate and tastefully decorated with local wares and textiles. A small patio with comfortable furniture allowed us to sit outdoors and “ponder” after a busy day of touring. I arranged to have breakfast on the patio instead of in the breakfast room.

I stayed in the Omar Khayyam room, which was downstairs in the annex. Instead of a tub, it had a walk-in shower (good for anyone with mobility issues).

I learned from our Bukhara guide, Noila, that the city used to have a substantial Jewish population but that most of the Jews left upon the fall of the Soviet Union.

There was a synagogue in town popular with tourists, but I had only so much energy and preferred not to go where tourists were going. Then Noila mentioned a tiny synagogue that hardly anyone visited. It sounded intriguing, and it was!

Yahudiylar Synagogue (38, Koynot St., Bukhara), aka Itzhak Zambur Synagogue, is a 400-year-old, minuscule synagogue on Kòinot Street, a tiny backstreet amidst a labyrinth of streets.

The synagogue was a real hidden treasure, and the rabbi’s daughter-in-law was the keeper of the key. Noila knew where she lived and went to find her for us.

Front of Yahudiylar Synagogue in Bukhara, Uzbekistan. Photo by Edna R.S. Alvarez

In the synagogue there were two small rooms, one for worship and one for community affairs. You could just feel the building’s history.

Our visit was a powerful experience and evoked a real sense of community and connectivity. Both my daughter and I were moved to make generous contributions.

Another off-the-tourist-grid experience had to do with textiles. Uzbekistan has absolutely amazing textiles, as can be seen in the everyday garments worn by women.

Most tourist shops there sell textiles of some sort, but I asked Noila if she knew of a shop that carried authentic, not-just-for-the-tourist-trade textiles. She knew the perfect shop, Minzifa Boutique of Applied Arts (Second Trading Dome, Toki Telpak Furushon Bazaar, Bukhara, Uzbekistan; phone +998 93 477 8000 [English spoken] or email nodir@mail.rup). Noila also knew the owner, Zulfiya Yusupova.

The shop carried an extensive collection of contemporary and traditional textiles and carpets as well as Uzbek ikat garments. I was hoping to purchase a piece of contemporary cloth for my dining room chair collection of world textiles, and I found the perfect piece of silk ikat in a modern design.

Zulfiya (who does not speak English) also graciously opened a large storage trunk, at my request, and showed us gorgeous ancient ikat-design robes. It was all such a treat!

For more info, I can be reached at

Los Angeles, CA

Shop owner Zulfiya Yusupova holding up an antique ikat-design robe — Minzifa Boutique of Applied Arts, Bukhara. Photo by Edna R.S. Alvarez
Edna R.S. Alvarez at the entrance to the Yahudiylar Synagogue in Bukhara, Uzbekistan.
Inside the Amelia Boutique Hotel — Bukhara, Uzbekistan. Photo by Edna R.S. Alvarez