Khiva - Disneyland of the Silk Road

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September 29th 2014
Published: June 21st 2017
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Geo: 41.3806, 60.3595

Khiva is an ancient Silk Road town - it operated a slave market for 3 centuries on which its wealth was based. They point out the places in the East Gate where slaves for sale were displayed but otherwise there isn't much evidence of its trading past. The caravanserai and bazaar are 'closed for restoration'.

So what is there - and why Disneyland. It is a walled town - actually there were two sets of walls. The area inside the inner walls known as Ichon-Qala and the bit inside the outer walls Dishon-Qala. With the exception of one infrequently visited palace Dishon-Qala doesn't figure in this tale, that's Uzbekistan, remote from its capital. That means broken roads and pavements, holes in the pavement big enough to fall down, litter and rubbish everywhere.

Inside Ichon-Qala there is a Main Street which runs from the West Gate (where you buy your nearly-all-inclusive entry ticket) to the East Gate and here all is perfection, no broken pavement, it has all been relaid with concrete blocks. No derelict buildings, everything has been re-used as hotel or cafe or museum. So here you have this massive concentration of mosques, mausoleums, medressa, minarets, all lovingly restored or even rebuilt (the West Gate for example, wrecked in 1920, rebuilt in 1970). But stray too far north or south you are into residential areas where the pavement is far from perfect, where the streets aren't swept and litter not collected. Because the tourists who move around in mobs with their guides don't go there.

I went that way this morning to find the stairs up onto the wall but you can't go right round. At one point it ends in a precipitous drop of 30 feet or more where they have chopped a hole in the wall to build a new market, no fence either!

So there you have it. Islam in Central Asia in aspic. Actually - not so much Islam as Islamic buildings, I don't think any of the mosques functions as such, nor the medressas. They are all either handicraft centres or museums of greater or lesser mediocrity (the music museum almost terminated me, full of old photos of old musicians, they weren't even playing any music!)

I did climb the highest minaret - one of the non-inclusive bits, an extra 4000 som (about 75p) - maddest thing I ever did. Alarmingly steep spiral, no handrails of any description, no lighting.I was thankful to be back down

Yesterday, after the ride across from Bukhara, I went on a half-day tour to see some of the desert fortresses dating back to 2nd to 8th century or so that dot the landscape. Not terribly well preserved, but quite impressive.

And that's it for Uzbekistan. tomorrow across the border to Turkmenistan and tomorrow night camping in the desert. No wi-fi there! Watch this space.

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