KhivaDay 97 Sunday 24th April 2016 – Bukhara to Khiva
Western Gate at Sunset
After breakfast we got a knock on the door, it was reception asking if we needed to arrange a car to Khiva. We had not organised anything so took them up on their offer and within 40 minutes were on our way. The trip was uneventful except for the rough road jolting us awake every few seconds we would have fallen asleep as the scenery is boring, just flat scrubby land for as far as the eye can see. The driver was constantly weaving his car all over the road trying to avoid the biggest potholes, although at times it felt like he was weaving all over the road to hit the biggest potholes. After about 5 hours we arrived at the town of Urgench where we swapped cars, our driver passed us onto his father to drive us the rest of the way – I guess he had a hot date. As we arrived on the outskirts of town we slowed to a snail’s pace apparently there is a festival in town and the police were escorting 4 buses. We arrived at the end of
Dome and minaret at sunset
the street that our hotel was in to find it blocked off so on went the backpacks for the short walk down the road.
Our hotel B&B Alibek is really just a hostel and for some reason it gets rave reviews on booking.com not sure why? We booked a large double room and got a family room with 2 singles and a double bed pushed in a corner blocked in on three sides between 2 outer walls and the bathroom so we have to climb over each other to get into bed. And the bathroom – it is just a box in the room with a toilet and shower recess and no sink and the shower head is hand held. If this was cheaper I would say that is fine but we are paying the same price as the place in Bukhara which was really nice.
Well enough of that, we decided to have a beer and picked possibly the weirdest place we have had a drink in, called Ekvator it is an old Medressa built in 1912 and converted to a disco. Not sure what the old boys would think of it but
Khiva - Desert Forts
A small fort near Ayaz-Qala Fort
I felt I had been transported back to the 80’s and should have roller skates on. It is pitch dark inside with a mirror ball and groovy coloured lights, a DJ desk high up at one end with a dance floor big enough to do roller skating, but it still has the wooden columns and the general look of a medressa. Initially we were the only ones there except for the staff and the booming music till a tour group walked in and boogied on the dance floor for about 3 minutes and then trundled out the door.
Later in the evening Scott was in reception and was told that another couple were thinking of doing a tour to some forts outside Khiva “were we interested?” this was great as we had hoped to see them and by doing it with another couple the whole thing was half price. Day 98 Monday 25th April 2016 – Khiva
After a huge breakfast we waited for our taxi with the German couple who had invited us to join them on the tour. Not a good start as
Khiva - Desert Forts
Collapsed and sand filled passage
the driver was 30 minutes late but it turned out to be a great day. The region is home to many Khorezm fortresses which date from about the 3rd
century. The first stop was about a 2 hour drive from Khiva called Ayaz-Qala a mud brick fortress which juts out of the semi-arid desert, there is enough of the ruins left to keep you occupied for about 45 minutes. Then it was onto Toprak Qala which had been the capital of Khorezm in the 3rd
century and here there were more mud brick walls to see. Last on the list was Kyzyl Qala which is in the process of restoration/rebuilt so we stopped to watch the builders fixing the outer walls and got some nice shots of the new walls against the old. It will be interesting to see photos of the finished product and to see if they do any remodeling to the inside which is currently filled with mud. This region apparently has over fifty forts and today we only saw 3 but they were pretty amazing. I know that they probably don’t look much in the photos as mud brick does not look overly spectacular but it
Some of the 218 Timber columns inside the Juma Mosque
is incredible to visit this small pieces of history and see them in state. Really enjoyed the day, the history and scenery were fantastic.
Got back to town at 3pm and had a drink with the German couple on the terrace of the hotel looking over the city walls. We were going to head in and look around but we have another two days here so we see no reason to be rushing at it. Was feeling pretty shattered so opted for an early dinner and an early night. Would have loved to be doing some desperately needed research on the internet but the WiFi in this town is even worse than the last and is starting to send us mad. Day 99 Tuesday 26th April 2016 – Khiva
Of all the towns in Central Asia, Khiva was the one we were most looking forward to visiting. Everything we read about this place, said that unlike Samarkand this was the real deal, with very few tourists and most buildings in their original state. Saw photos of camels walking through sand past soaring minarets and old
men wandering down sandy laneways past huge medressas; it just seemed too good to be true- and it was.
Khiva is an ancient walled city out in the desert that was a stopping point for traders on the Silk Road and for years it was an important slave trading town. Traditionally it is said to be have founded by Shem, a son of Noah who built the city walls in the shape of the ark. The city is more a rectangle shape and is encompassed with mud walls that are 2.5km long and about 10m high which date from the 18th
century. Across the shortest width (approx. 300m) in the middle is a road along which all the main sites sit, outside of this is the residential area, which is the bulk of the city. Khiva was known as a city as far back as the 8th
Century as a minor fort and trading post but it wasn’t till the 16th
century that it became important. A lot of the monuments within the city date from the 19th
century including the most visually stunning Kalta Minor Minaret. This minaret was started in 1851 by Mohammed Amin Khan
Khiva - Desert Forts
Throwing and catching bricks
and was to be the tallest structure in the world but when he died 4 years later all work stopped at the 26m mark leaving a stumpy tiled drum.
From outside the city the walls look incredible and you can see all the huge minarets sticking up giving you a hint that the place is going to be special, unfortunately for us it wasn’t. The reasons we didn’t particularly like this town were many, and for starters it was really sterile with most sites being so “over restored” and scrubbed clean that it just didn’t look genuine, it really felt like the whole thing was a reconstruction like something in Las Vegas. What really got up our noses was the huge volume of stalls selling absolute rubbish. Could have almost accepted souvenir stalls but the majority was selling all manner of plastic rubbish you would find in any $2 shop. The laneways were filled with them and they were parked out the front of every monument, for what should have been a beautiful city it was filled with vast volumes of visible pollution. Khiva rather than being an unspoilt ancient city filled with decaying buildings of a
Outside the city walls
time long gone has developed into what would have to be Uzbekistan’s number one tourist destination. After walking the town for a couple of hours we felt really angry about what the town had become but as with everything in modern life, reality always gets in the way of romantic notions. The photos we saw before coming here were obviously taken back in the sixties and the Khiva today is nothing but a huge capitalist dragon intent on consuming all who walk its streets.
As stated Khiva is a walled city and there are many entry points but the main one is the western gate where the bulk of the tour groups are dropped off. Here and only here you have to pay a $12 USD entry price + $3 USD for Photos and the same for video. This is just to allow you to walk the town and to enter 16 important sites throughout the city, which is mainly medressas or mosques and museums. You can enter the city and not pay and in theory take photos around the streets without any problems. There are a few premier sites where you have to pay extra money
Minaret, Medressa and Markets selling junk
to visit but most are covered by this ticket which is valid for two days. Not a bad deal I guess except that most of the sites are more impressive outside than inside and the museums are generally just a room or two full of dusty exhibits.
We had food at 3 places within the city and 2 came with “mistakes” on the bill, and only one came with staff that smiled. As for the tourists most seemed more intent on seeing themselves on the end of a selfie stick, if there is a hell on earth for me this is it, and only Bulahdelah is worse. Ultimately the anger at this town is really our own fault for expecting too much, I am sure we are in a very small minority that would feel this way. Most that come here are chasing exactly what we were not and wouldn’t see a problem with a beautiful old minaret being barricaded in by people selling sunglasses and plastic jewelry. Samarkand and Bukhara are similar tourist monsters but both had a gentler vibe especially Bukhara which for us had the mix of tourist and history just about right.
Kalta Minor Minaret
Endured this place through to dusk trying desperately to see an angle that we could love but gave up and walked up to the Russian disco outside the old town. The guy running the bar was actually asleep when we entered as there was no one else there but on our arrival they pumped up the Russian techno music and turned on the big screen television to Russian women’s volleyball-great mix. Stayed a while to calm our anger at being stuck in such a tourist trap, but who is to blame the spider that builds a web across a pathway or the shmuck that walks into it?
We liked Samarkand, but Bukhara was fabulous and it gave us high hopes for Khiva, but ultimately this is just another A grade tourist trap. Day 100 Wednesday 27th April 2016 – Khiva
Probably drowned my sorrows a touch too much last night and woke with a bit of a sore head, but the 8 course breakfast we had at the hotel sort of fixed that. Our room at this hotel is absolute rubbish and way overpriced for
Khiva - Desert Forts
Shelley at Kyzyl Qala
what it is but the breakfast is more like a feast and almost makes the place worth it. After feeling more than a bit upset at what we had seen of the old town yesterday, today we had a look over the city palace which sits outside the city walls. This isn’t a huge palace as it was only for the ruler of this town so it is a modest affair but gave us a 10 minute distraction, the wall and ceiling decoration is beautiful but showing signs of decay. Went onto the old city and scrambled up the wall from the inside and had a walk along it in the blazing sun. Not sure if we were allowed to do it, but no one stopped us and there were two other guys walking it as well.
Spent the rest of the day visiting the many medressas inside the city walls which really are a waste of time. My all-time classic was one that had signs out the front saying how it was now an art museum. This old medressa had probably 80 rooms but only two contained art work and the paintings were obviously done by
Khiva - Desert Forts
Ayaz Qala fort from the outside
the local school kids. The old palace inside the walls, the harem and the “ark” (military barracks) were almost completely devoid of any furniture or suggestion that anyone had ever lived here. Outside the buildings are heavily restored but once you walk inside the level of decay in some areas was horrific. Everything in this town feels fake and soulless. We both made an effort once again today to try and find a better feel for this place but ultimately it still left us cold. After dark returned to the Russian disco for a drink and some deafening music, tonight there were about 6 other people plus staff and after 15 minutes there was just us and the staff. About 30 minutes after we arrived they lost power so we finished our drinks in the dark and silence, decided maybe we should just go back to the hotel and to top it all off a very noisy tour group had moved in.
Goodbye Khiva last comment on the town from Shelley –I did not like the town from the moment I stepped out of the taxi and I can’t exactly say why, also Scott covered it pretty
Inside the Isfandiyar Palace
well. I am sure lots of people love it and maybe it is all about timing sometimes it just happens. I hope if you go to Khiva you have a positive experience and we just had bad luck. The real highlight of visiting here is going to the forts outside town. Tomorrow we start our journey towards the worst environmental disaster of the 20th
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