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Published: October 13th 2005
Ota Darvoza, a.k.a. the Father's Gate
The magnificent west gate to the old city. Purists beware, this is a reconstruction from the 1970s.
Sleeping late again and reducing my breakfast intake to a sip of Tip Top fruit juice form the nearly deserted hotel bar. We're going to spend the entire day exploring the city of Khiva, some 30 kilometers to the southwest of Urgench, very close to the Turkmen border. Its main attraction is the Ichon Qala, the old city surrounded by an imposing mud wall. It has been preserved and restored like an open air museum, and there are plenty of beautiful buildings around, including mosques, medressas and some major minarets. Although marked a UNESCO World Heritage site some purists would regard it as overly restorated. Personally I really enjoy the feeling of a living, breathing city as opposed to some sandy old walls peaking out from a hillside.
We spend the morning wandering up and down streets and alleyways among all sorts of buildings, all competing for your attention in this charming town. There are some other groups of tourists wandering around, merchants selling traditional furry hats and textiles, kids begging for bon-bons and of course the annoying Swedish tourist running around harassing both the local merchants and any photographers that stand in his way, but nobody has any camera
batteries to spare, or hold on to them dearly.
Around noon we exit and return to our bus for a meal break. Lunch is served in a nearby small palace with large halls heavily decorated in a rather bombastic style. Of course our fashionable Scandinavian eyes are blinded by such outrageous expression, and soon the commentary follows. There are also a lot of opinions about the quality of the sweet red wine, the lack of spice in the food, etc. etc., which makes me a bit annoyed. Well, at least I learnt a new word; "jolmig", please use it whenever you come to my country to look down on something. Admittedly the lunch is a bit strange, some kind of bouillon soup with a big piece of fatty meat, like a tennisball made of goat. Grabbing it with the spoon is a decent challenge.
After lunch we hang around a bit in the big garden and I chat a bit with Barom, our local guide to Khiva. Like many Uzbeks here he has replaced his front teeth with golden fangs. This is apparently a convenient way of keeping track of your possessions. Barom explains that the area is
rather polluted from too much use of pesticides in the cotton farming, and many people have become ill or given birth to deformed children in this area.
We return to Ichon-Qala and continue to explore. I use hands and feet to climb the steep stairs of the 45 meter minaret, its maddening spiral making me dizzy, but the view of the city the view is more than worth it. The group seems more interested in inspecting the innards of the Jame mosque. I make one quick lap inside the dark chambers and leave Bengt to it and sit down to cool down in the shadow outside and eat some strange nuts with Shoista. The sun is high in the sky and the temperature a bit on the hot side. Activity in the street is minimal, most people having hidden inside the buildings, although I can see a boy on his bicycle going round and round and some old women perched in the shadow on the other side of the road eating the same kind of nuts. Hmmm... mystery solved, that's where they came from. Shoista takes the opportunity to ask me about a thing which has been puzzling her.
What about that guy in the group who has tiny holes in his ear; are those holes artificial or natural? His tattoos are also amusing to her. I guess Central Asian men's fashion is a bit different...
At half past four we return to Urgench and then end the evening with dinner at a local restaurant. We are having some sort of fiery and clearly volcano-inspired meat soup and bread. The owner is having his birthday party and a large group of people are seated nearby, the boombox pumping out suspicious party music. I find it extremely amusing when all of a sudden the restaurant is drowned in a horny female groan and Shoista has had enough and jumps up to switch it off. Noone in our group seems to have taken notice though.
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