Central Asia Travel Diary

Today has been a lovely day of exploring the ancient city of Khiva by ourselves.  Not having to get up too early because we were free just to set our own agenda, we slept in a little – though not as much as I had hoped because although I had changed my watch, my alarm clock was still in Kyrgyzstan time.  And so thinking we were having breakfast at 8:30 am, we discovered that it was in fact 7:30 am – not so good for sleeping but great for getting extra time to explore the city.  We had a leisurely breakfast at the hotel, served to our table, comprising a curious mix of fried eggs with potato fritters, pancakes with honey, cheese and pressed meat, accompanied by blackcurrent juice and coffee.  And playing on the television set in the dining room was an inane American movie dubbed into Russian, following the usual pattern that white guys are dumber than black guys, all guys and dumber than females, and all humans are outwitted by animals (in this case, two very smart and agile dogs).  I don't know what the move was called, but I do not think it was anything with a deep explicit philosophy.

We began our exploration of Khiva at 9:15 am, and stayed out walking for 6 hours.  Our first stop was the Kukhana Ark, a large former palace of the khans near the west gate that we had visited yesterday afternoon, though too late to ascend to the viewing tower on the west wall.  Today we arrived in plenty of time to ascend to the viewing platform, which provided stunning views across the old city, and the area to the west of the city walls.  After some more stops in the Kukhana Ark, including the throne room, we headed east to the Islom-Huja minaret, where we climbed the 118 steep and unlit steps to the top for another spectacular view right across to the edge of the city where the green oasis vegetation gave way to the sands of the Karakum Desert.  It was only when we descended and stopped to share a Coke that Andy and I noticed the large cracks in the minaret – probably not a good place to be caught in an earthquake!

Our next stop was the Juma Mosque, with its impressive cool interior supported by 218 carved wooden columns.  There was another minaret to climb, even steeper and darker than the last, but fortunately only 81 steps this time, and with the reward of more spectacular views over the city.  A walk to the east gate brought us another cool drink, mineral water this time before we headed north through the Alloquili Khan Madrassa to the local markets.  The interior was cool but fairly ordinary, selling just household goods such as soap, detergents, hair shampoo and television cabinets.  The outside was much more interesting with stalls selling huge melons, an Uzbek specialty.  One of the sellers insisted on having his taken with Andy, and was delighted to see the image on the back of my digital camera.

We then headed across the road to the Tosh-Khovli Palace, purported to have sumptuous interior decoration, but this reputation seemed to be based on just one of the palace's 150 rooms.  The heat of the day was setting in by this time, so we headed north through the city gate (stopping for a brief climb up the walls for the views) to the post office (650 metres north of the North Gate) to post the postcards I had bought at the Kukhana Ark in the morning.  Unfortunately, the combination of not having a pen with me, and a closed post office, made posting impossible, so we returned to our hotel for a siesta, buying another large bottle of mineral water on the way.

Our two hour siesta lasted from 3:15 pm to 5:15 pm, during which time I relaxed by watching television, writing postcards and doing my daily diary, and Andy slept.  At 5:15 pm, we set off for an evening stroll through the old town in the cooler temperatures and the beautiful afternoon light.  Our first stop was a return to the viewing platform in the Kukhana Ark, which gave superbly views of the old city in the afternoon light.  From there we walked to the Pahlovon Mohammed Mausoleum, Khiva's most revered mausoleum.  Pahlovon Mohammed was a poet, philosopher and legendary writer who died in 1326; the present mausoleum was rebuilt in the 1800s.  The interior had wonderfully intricate blue-and-white tiled walls and high ceilings – an amazing sight.  When we first arrived, I felt we were intruding as a regigious ceremony was underway, but Andy and I were made welcome nonetheless.

After spending half an hour in the mausoleum and the lovely shady grounds, we walked to the nearby Farrukh chaikhana (outdoor eating place), where we had a great traditional Uzbek dinner of rice, carrots and beef, with local bread, plus (venturing away from traditional local cuisine) Atika Cola, mineral water and finishing with sandwich ice creams.  The cost was great value at 9500 sum (about US$8.20 for the two of us), almost double the cost of last night's meal (which was 5500 sum), but I guess that's the consequence of eating at what the Lonely Planet Guide describes as Khiva's best chaikhana.

After dinner, we enjoyed a slow stroll back to the hotel in the cool evening, soaking up the atmosphere of this wonderfully preserved ancient city.  We made just one stop, at a pottery shop, where we bought a lovely hand-painted Uzbeck plate plus some small gifts.

Overall, the day was great – relaxed, flexible, stimulating and fun.  Khiva seemed to have much more life today than our initial impressions yesterday had suggested.  Today, it was easy to imagine the city in the days when it was a major point of the Silk Road, bustling with traders from China, Persia and Europe, walking with their camels or horses through the narrow streets lined with madrassas, mosques and minarets.  Khiva was quite a magic place!

Sunday 9 July 2006

In Khiva

Low sun in Khiva
Old city wall, Khiva
Getting water from a well, Khiva