A City turned into a Museum

Khiva Travel Blog

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People i met here, who contributed to and improved my trip: Julia (Russia), Maida (Spain), Sylvia (Italy)

The train from Tashkent terminated in Urgench, and we were left with the choice of trying to head up to Moynaq, to see the natural disaster that is left there after the draining of the Aral Sea, or just going straight to Khiva. If our visas hadn't been messed up at the Turkmenistan Embassy, we could have done both, but with our visa almost expired, we made the decision to skip Moynaq and concentrate on seeing Khiva and the surrounding environs.

The local bus took nearly an hour to trundle through the country lanes and dropped us at the impressive City Walls.

Weaving our way through the narrow streets, a young girl came to our aide, by pointing us in the right direction of Otabek Home stay. Having checked in, i was delighted to find my parcel of Lousy Planet books had arrived safely. You see, even though the LP gets me thoroughly frustrated and annoyed, i must admit its a great book to get some general information from.

Taking our first walk around Khiva, it soon became apparent that the government had basically turned the City into a Museum, geared at extracting as much cash from tourists as possible. There was an expensive joint entrance ticket to most of the sights, but some of the major attractions were not included and you were expected to pay extra on top for these. The restaurants and shops were also getting in on the act by charging twice the price of other places in Uzbekistan.
As a result, we left the old town and found a cafe in the New Town, which served reasonable priced pelmeni. In the evening we could only find somewhere to eat in the Old Town, which we found was not only overpriced, but the servings were small and tasteless.

It was nice to walk around after dark, as the Mosques, Minarets and narrow streets were well lit and atmospheric. It was just a shame that nobody seemed to live here anymore, as almost every building had been turned into a museum, restaurant, shop or hotel. Back at Otabek, i read the LP for the Middle East and began to get excited by the prospect of leaving Asia at last! Just before bed, we met two girls at the hotel, called Maida and Sylvia and agreed to share a taxi ($60) the following day, to the ancient forts that are located around Khiva.

Breakfast was served at 08.00 on Wednesday and once we had finished this, our taxi came to pick us up from the hotel. The area that we were heading to was located North West of Khiva and has been given the name of 'Elliq-Qala'. The literal translation of this means fifty fortresses, which is a quite an exaggeration, as approximately only twenty have so far been discovered and excavated. The drive there took almost two hours and the first fortress on the agenda was called Qyzyl Qala.

Our driver told us that Qyzyl Qala had earned the name 'blood fort', because the walls had turned red with blood when it had finally succumbed to enemy attack. Located in a cotton field, we found the footpath that snaked its way to it, and followed this for a closer look at what remained.
Having walked around the outside and disturbed a large flock of pigeons, we made our way into the centre of the fort. A few shards of broken pottery were found, strewn across the floor, whilst there were also some holes in the ground, which had presumably been rooms that the ceilings had caved in on. It was an interesting start to the day.

Situated only a couple of kilometres to the North and clearly visible from Qyzyl Qala, was the second fortress that we planned to visit, called Toprak Qala. The walls here stretched for a much greater distance, although on the whole they were in a worse condition. Once again we took the opportunity to clamber onto the walls, for nice views across the countryside. The Sun was really beating down and we didn't want to be exposed to it for too long a period, so remained for around thirty minutes at both sites, before moving on.

The drive to Ayaz Qala took thirty minutes and the approach was spectacular, as a large fortress loomed on a hill, with a small circular one situated just in front of it. Our driver parked the car and it took ten minutes to climb up the hill to the ruins. Looking back at where we had come from, we were rewarded with stunning views of a light blue lake and yurt camps, which were located near to the shore. Once at the top, it became apparent that there were in fact three forts in total, although only two were really of interest. These were certainly my favourite ruins of the day and i spent an extended period walking around them and taking it all in.

The final fort of the day was Qoy Qyrylghan Qala, which also served as a pagan temple and an observatory complex, dating back to the 4th Century BC.
This was the oldest fort so far discovered in the area, but after seeing the other fortresses, it failed to make a real impact on me. On the way back to Khiva we stopped for a nice lunch, but when the bill came, the driver decided that he wasn't going to pay anything, so we had to pay for his share. I thought this was incredibly cheeky, as he was making a lot of money from us already, but none of us could be bothered to argue with him, so we just split it between us.

Back at the hotel, the four of usl went for a nap, before meeting up again at 20.00 to go out for Dinner. It seemed a good idea to leave the Old Town, and we soon found a restaurant in the New Town that served cold beer and claimed to cook whole roasted chickens. Even though the chicken was rather expensive (15,000 Sum / $11) by Central Asian standards, we decided to order it anyway, as we figured it must be pretty good.
It therefore came as a huge disappointment to receive a plate full of bones, with all the meaty sections having gone missing! Having picked at the hapless serving in front of us, we each managed to get about one decent mouthful of chicken and left for home feeling hungry and cheated.

The following morning at breakfast we said goodbye to the girls, who were heading to Bukhara, and arranged to try and meet the next night. Rather foolishly we decided to laze in our room for the best part of the morning and didn't venture out until midday, when the sun was at its hottest. Near to our hotel was the impressive 57 metre high Islom-Hoja Minaret and we opted to climb the 118 steps, to get views over Ichon Qala.
Frustratingly, stupid courting couples had decided to sit in the narrow dark stair well, hampering progress up the steep winding stairs and making it quite dangerous. It was a relief to reach the top and the climb was well worth it, as the views were breathtaking.

For the rest of the afternoon we wandered around the maze of streets and looked at countless Mosques, Medressas and Minarets. We didn't bother buying the ticket to enter them, as we had already had our fair share of similar buildings in Uzbekistan and felt the admission fees were overpriced. The striking Kalta Minor Minaret, with its colourful turquoise tiles, was my favourite building, even though it was never completed. Construction had begun in 1851, with the ambition of making it the World's tallest building, but with Mohammed Amir Khan's death in 1855, the next Khan did not have the same desire to complete such a bold project and left it as you see today.
Even in its unfinished state it is sensational, so its just a shame that it could not have been completed.

In the late afternoon we took a walk around Ichon Qala Walls and watched the sunset. I was surprised that we were the only people on the wall, as the views over the Old Town and surrounding landscape were rather nice. Julia cooked some noodles for Dinner and then we ventured back out, to walk around the streets whilst they were eerily illuminated and peaceful.

On our last day in Khiva we had no real plans, so after breakfast we wandered to where there were some buses parked and bought our ticket to Bukhara. The guy who sold us the ticket was very friendly and pointed us in the direction of a really good restaurant, where we ate an early lunch. It was a shame that we hadn't found this place earlier, as it was hands down the best value for money we had come across in Khiva.
At 12.30 the bus departed along the derelict road to Bukhara, which was been slowly rebuilt.

Deats says:
Its a very bizarre city. Really beautiful but lacking its heart - the people.
Posted on: Aug 25, 2009
almond72 says:
The buildings in town seem to have a Disneyland like look to them. hee hee, no wonder they charge accordingly ! :D
Posted on: Aug 25, 2009
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photo by: Vlindeke