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Posts from the ‘Uzbekistan’ Category

The Inner Town of Khiva

Khiva is a major stop on the Silk Road and therefore a must see when visiting Uzbekistan. The town consists of an outer town which is nowadays the main residential area and an inner town where you can see lots of historic buildings. For simplicity reasons we started to call them the “4Ms” standing for mosques, mausoleums, minarets and madrasahs. Basically our whole journey in Uzbekistan consists of looking at the 4Ms of three key cities on the Silk Road which are Khiva, Bukhara and Samarkand. Therefore, my blog entries for the next days will contain many 4M pictures and I hope you stay with me and don’t get bored of them.

Today’s activity was to visit the 4Ms of the inner town of Khiva which is recognized by the UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. The inner town, also called Itchan Kala, is circled by a 10 meter high brick wall with four gates. Our hotel was only a five minute walk away from the West Gate through which we entered the town. Inside the walls the inner town features 250 old houses and 50 historic monuments so there’s a lot to see and you can easily spend a whole day walking around.

When entering the West Gate the first building which struck my eye was a large tower in blue, turquoise and white color. It’s supposed to be a minaret but when the Khan, who started to build the minaret, died his successor didn’t finish it. Nobody knows why this was the case but it’s said he might have realized the completed minaret will allow the muezzin, who is standing on top of the minaret to call for prayer, to overlook his harem. And you really don’t want a stranger to stare at your half naked women.

During our visit of the inner town our local guide Jelol was taking us around a number of buildings and I’m unable to recall them all. Many of them had beautiful tiles and when looking closer at them I spotted the technique they used to tile the walls. Each tile has a number which is the type of communication the tile maker used to tell the guy tiling the wall in which order he should put the tiles on the wall. Secondly each tile has a hole through which the tile was nailed on the wall which is very much different to the gluing today.

At one of the buildings we had the opportunity to climb on the roof from where we had a great overview of the town. I really love this town since the buildings and the wall surrounding them are very much intact and give an excellent impression how life on the Silk Road must have been hundreds of years ago.

We also had a look into a small museum featuring historic clothes, jewelry and money. Here I found a note particularly interesting. In contrast to our money today it wasn’t made out of paper but silk. What is also interesting to know about the museums and sights in Uzbekistan is there are some sights where you aren’t requested to pay an entrance fee. Instead the historic building or museum is turned into a shop and there a numerous local ladies trying to sell you scarfs, hats and other souvenirs. While I barely felt any tourism in Iran and Turkmenistan I’m now in the middle of it. Unfortunately some sights don’t look too nice when they are swamped by locals trying to sell you stuff which you don’t need.

I also felt the tourism in the area by specific tourist attractions being created and offered to us. One was an acrobatic show which some people in our group wanted to have a look at and so we did. There were two guys walking across a wire rope in all kinds of strange positions such as one guy making a handstand on the head of the other guy while he was crossing the wire rope.

I really enjoyed walking around in town and even remembered the location of the West Gate to make my way back to the hotel.

Border Crossing into Uzbekistan

I had a good sleep in the tent next to Helen. The only issue was I didn’t have a pillow and so my neck got somehow cracked because of me sleeping in a strange position. Now it’s a pain to move my head around and I’m unable to look over my shoulder so I always need to turn my whole body around. I’m afraid it will take a few days until I’m painless again.

Breakfast was at 7:00am but when I showed up at 7:05am all fruit and other eatable stuff was gone. The only thing left was the bread we purchased yesterday and some marmalade. Usually this isn’t an issue but what we didn’t know until now is the bread in Turkmenistan turns stone-hard in a couple of hours. So instead of eating it and losing all your teeth you can actually use it to kill someone. You might think I’m exaggerating here, but sadly it’s true. We ended-up playing Frisbee with the bread and threw it into the Amu-Darya River close by so the fishes can enjoy it.

From Konye-Urgench it was only a short drive to the border, maybe two hours or so. What‘s also interesting to know is upon entry of Turkmenistan you need to register in a government agency which we did during our stay in Ashgabat. For the registration you need two passport photos or when you don’t have them three US dollar and they take a picture from the photo in your passport. As proof you have registered, you receive a stamp in your passport and an “Entry Travel Pass” which you are supposed to carry with you at all times. The pass states the route you are allowed to travel and you shouldn’t head off in any other direction or you might get in trouble with the police.

At the border we said goodbye to our Turkmen guide Batsy and the drivers of the jeeps. Then we grabbed our backpacks and walked into the immigration office at the Turkmenistan side. Here we got stamped out of the country and they didn’t even check our “Entry Travel Pass”. Immigrations at the Uzbekistan side was a bit more complicated since the arrival forms, we needed to fill out, where in Russian language only and our local guide for Uzbekistan wasn’t there yet. So with the help of my roommate Isabella, who speaks a bit of Polish which is kind of similar to Russian, we managed to understand the form.

We were also requested to fill out two identical copies of the arrival form since carbon copy paper didn’t make it to this part of the world. On the form we needed to declare all money we carry with us in all kinds of different currencies. At least there wasn’t any restriction you cannot carry more than 10,000 USD with you as it’s the case in some countries. The reason for declaring your money upon entry is because the government wants to know how much money you have spent in the country. When leaving Uzbekistan you will be required to declare your money again on the exit form. It needs to be at least one USD less than the amount you entered the country with otherwise they won’t let you go.

After crossing the border we enjoyed some cold drinks in a small bar right behind the immigrations office which accepted small dollar notes as payment. After everybody crossed the border our local guide for Uzbekistan showed-up. His name is Jelol and he’s a very funny guy not just telling us lots of historical facts but also about the daily life and mindset of the people in Uzbekistan. Jelol arrived in a big modern air-conditioned coach which will bring us to Khiva where we will spend the next two days.

Upon arrival Isabella and I checked-out the local supermarket. There wasn’t much choice but the section selling vodka was about one third of the size of the supermarket. In the evening everybody met for a group dinner at the terrace of the hotel. We had a selection of different local dishes on small plates and really enjoyed the taste of it.