Day 81: A living museum
Khiva Travel Blog› entry 116 of 260 › view all entries
Another day, another border crossing. Despite being seen as one of the most corrupt countries in the world, the border guards of the former Soviet Republic of Uzbekistan (or O'zbekiston Respublikasi as it is called these days) seem to have better things to do than to harass foreigners. Another smooth border crossing. The only 'problem' I had was when one of the guards asked me where I was from. I said 'Golandia', which caused quite a bit of confusion, since my passport says “Kingdom of the Netherlands”. He had to verify with his boss and then his boss' boss whether or not Holland and Netherlands were the same country.
A few taxi rides later I arrived in the town of Khiva.
Khiva used to be a small Silk Road town in the days of the Khorezm empire, but after the Khorezm capital Konye-Urgench was finished off by Timur Khiva prospered. Between the 17th and 19th centuries Khiva changed hands between the Russian and Persian empires several times and even survived as the capital of a short-lived independent Khorezm republic within the Soviet Union.
The turbulent history has made Khiva a very interesting city architecturally. And what is even more interesting is that so much of it still exists to this day. The Soviets seemed to love the city's historic centre and they restored its buildings and preserved the centre as some sort of open air museum.
Even though people are living in central Khiva again, it still retains a feel of open air museum. The Russians did a reasonable job in restoring the old centre, though their use of modern materials has made Khiva ineligible for UNESCO's World Heritage list.
I think you can best compare it to the old centre of Antalya, which is also mainly inhabited either souvenir sellers or by rich people.
But first I needed some money. Although I am slowly moving back to civilization again, the nearest ATM is in Uzbekistan's capital, Tashkent, so I had to change some dollars. The official rate is about 1500 Uzbek som for a dollar, but on the black market you can get 2000 or even 2200 for your dollar. That is more than 20% higher!
I have no idea how this works, but apparently dollar trade is big business, as virtually every person in the country is happy to exchange dollars for som.
I exchanged 50 bucks at the hotel and got a huge wad of cash in return. The highest banknote in Uzbekistan is 1000 som, or $ 0.50, so my 50 dollars gave me 100 crisp new 1000 som notes.
I have no idea why, but for some reason the government refuses to print new banknotes.
Walking into the open air museum, errr - historic centre, I was surprised to see just how many historic religious building had been preserved, compared to Russia, Ukraine or Armenia, where barely an Orthodox church has survived, or Mongolia, where all but 4 Buddhist monasteries were destroyed during Stalinist purges. Apparently each Soviet republic was allowed to determine just how strict they would follow Stalin's rules, and it seems the president of Uzbekistan at the time chose to save some of the country's cultural heritage.
The old centre is full of souvenir sellers. Usually I shun these, but after four weeks in Iran, where I was surprised at the complete and utter lack of any entrepreneurship, I welcomed the people trying to sell me junk. And truth be told, they were lovely. The people were anything but pushy, but instead seemed very welcoming and interested where I was from.
They were mainly women selling the junk, and that was another thing I welcomed after 4 weeks in Iran: women talking to me. Even if most of them were old enough to be my mother and they tried to hook me up with their (under-age) daughters.