A Perfect Day for Qala.

Khiva Travel Blog

 › entry 14 of 19 › view all entries
Alternate titles: A Petrostate without Petrol or Rice in a Desert

     I had planned to stay only one night in Nukus and spend my second day touring the Golden Ring of Khorezm; ancient fortresses in the desert.  I woke up yesterday feeling very tired, so I postponed the tour for a day and left my tour guide hanging.  I got up very late and went to a couple banks to withdraw money.  All the banks are guarded by morons in green uniforms who will not let you into the bank until you tell them why you have come.  Sometimes "to go to the bank" worked.  One time they gave me a hard time because I was wearing shorts!  In the desert!  So I gave up, and my mother sent some money via Western Union.  Receiving the money took a lot of unnecessary paperwork.  I spent the rest of the evening reading about Ancient Khorezm and reading a good deal of "Heart of Darkness."

     This morning I woke up feeling much stronger and said goodbye to Ludmila and hello to Ayap, my guide for the day.  Ayap found me as a I arrived at the airport, and then mysteriously located me again as I was inside an internet cafe to sell me the tour of the Qalas.  What a coincidence.  We started at Mizdakhan where there was a restored mausoleum of some ancient potentate and a modern cemetery.  There was an awkward moment when I was taking a photo of a carpet, and a man insisted I take a picture of his grizzled (and incoherent) father.  It's a great picture, but I was surprised that it was forced upon me.  The next stop was even better: "Chilpik."  Chilpik was built on a hill near the Amu Darya river by followers of Zoroaster.  When people died their bodies were deposited there for the birds to eat the flesh.  Flesh belonged to evil.  When the bones were picked clean they were buried in an urn-like ossuary.

   Kyzyl-Kala, like Chilpik, had absolutely no tourists.  Being alone added to the remote and eery atmsophere.  I saw only one group of foreign tourists the entire day, and no one else was traveling alone.  On the way to Toprak-Kala, we passed a rice field.  A RICE field!  In an area where there is a serious water shortage, they are growing a plant that is best suited to the bogs of southeast Asia.  It made growing cotton almost sane by comparison.  Toprak-Kala was my favorite of the Kalas because I could see the detail of the brickwork and the divisions between the rooms of what probably used to be a barracks.  The biggest and most famous Kala is Ayak-Kala, which is actually three fortresses built by three different civilizations.  Ayaz-Kala used to be on the Amu-Darya, but the river has changed its course several times in the past two thousand years.  It was a steep and rather dangerous walk betwenn the Kalas as they are both high up on small plateaus. 

   The ride to Urgench took way longer than it should have (30 kilometers in 2 hours) because of Ayap's fruitless search for gasoline.  Apparently, Uzbekistan is having some kind of gas crisis because of one of their two refineries was recently shut down for repairs.  Uzbekistan actually exports oil, but their own citizens cannot even buy it.  Ayap was reduced to asking about the gas sold in empty water bottles on the side of the road.  He left me in a taxi Khiva as he wondered how he would find the gas to get back to Nukus.
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photo by: Vlindeke