The barber of Bukhara

Local man in Uzbekistan

After weeks on the road we understand if you start to feel comfortable enough with your travel companions to let yourself go a little. But when the shaggy hair and holiday beard becomes too much, there’s a local character who you’ll love to meet…

Towards the end of a month-long Silk Road journey I was in the ancient Uzbek city of Bukhara and badly in need of a haircut. I spotted a barber nearby our hotel and asked him for a trim. He was so skilled that then I asked him to shave me. To my surprise he did it with the traditional razor – being shaved the first time in my life by a big sharp blade was a little scary, but that’s what we call real life experiences, right?

During a recent trip I told this story of my amazing barber in Bukhara and one of the group decided to join me for this experience. Thomas said, he has used barbers in a lot of places and he was curious about this one.

This year the government shut down a lot of small shops around the main square and sadly the barber’s room appeared to be amongst those that had closed. The irony of the situation is that the government claims they did it to please the foreigners, because it will be better not to see the so called “day-to-day activity” of the inhabitants.

At the end of the square I heard the hammering and found a workshop. I asked Kerim, the carpenter, what happened with barber. He answered that he is working now in “green bazaarchik”. (Here I have to make a note. Bazaar means eastern market. Bazaarchik is an affectionate nickname.)

When Kerim realised that I didn’t know this place he said “just a minute” and closed his workshop. We walked for 5 minutes and he showed me the barbers place. He explained that bazaarchik is open from 5am till 9am each morning, when the heat is not so high.

We went then to find the place where the barber is living. After asking several people Kerim found his house. The barber was out with guests, but his son said he will be tomorrow at work and left us his mobile phone number. Unfortunately Kerim forgot to save the number in his phone and we lost it. But any way, it was a great help and I remembered both the barber’s working place and house.

Kerim said that barber also works at home and we might want to return that evening. I passed this information to my Intrepid follower and we decided to check it later. Asian guests can be very long and by 9 pm the barber was not still back. It didn’t matter as I showed our group the green bazaarchik and it was a great excuse to enjoy the good open air restaurant that we all liked. We sat on the terrace, observing the eastern warm night full of stars and Thomas decided that he will come to the barber in the morning before breakfast.

I thought Thomas was joking, until I saw him the next morning cut and shaved at 8 am. So, he got up at 5am, found the market by retracting our steps and following the labyrinth of narrow ancient streets that led to the barber. He said the barber was waiting for him, most likely warned by his son. “Foreigners are coming!”

The barber was obviously proud to show off his craftsmanship: he worked almost an hour on the haircut and shave. Thomas was completely satisfied and wanted to pay generously for such a skilled job, but the barber refused categorically to take more than $2.

Later on I found the barbers home and he cut my hair and shaved me as well. Since I agreed with Thomas that we would do it together, I wanted to be a man of of my word! And yes, the barber accepted my $4. When you know the language it’s easier to bargain. I am not sure that’s the traditional meaning of bargain, but I used my skills and managed to double the price!

Find out more about Asia holidays or South East Asia holidays with Intrepid today!

Tour Asia with these fantastic small group trips:

Holidays to Cambodia – Hike, Bike & Kayak – 9 days
Silk Road – Beijing to Kashgar – 12 days

* photo by Sardor Shaahmedov – Intrepid Photography Competition.

About the author

Sue Elliot - Like many of us, Sue contracted a serious travel bug at an early age. She's visited over 90 countries in search of a cure, but her wanderlust just seems to get worse. Thankfully at Intrepid Travel she's amongst people who understand the affliction and since 1998 Sue has enjoyed being our blog and newsletter editor. Here you'll find helpful travel advice and inspiring tales from Sue and other Intrepid travellers.

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Christian Friborg / Reply

I badly need a haircut. Traditional razors, I think, are awesome.I’d like to experience this first-hand!

Hi Kathy,
If you’re of reasonable fitness (meaning you can walk easily and carry your own bags) then you should be able to cope just fine on the Silk Road. I’ve led trips with travellers ranging in age from early 20s to mid 70s and everyone had an incredible time. Our trips notes can give you more info on what to expect and things to take with you. My words of wisdom would be to ready to step into a world that is very foreign from your daily life at home and be ready to experience a fantastic journey for the mind, body and soul.
Sue, Intrepid Express Editor'
Kathy Snodgrass / Reply

We like the idea of doing the Silk Road trip. My husband and I are in our 50’s. How do you think we would cope with the trip. We are of average fitness, I think??!! have you any wise words of advice for possible travellers?

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