Wednesday, July 9, 2014

The drive from Bukhara to Khiva was 430 kms through the Kyzylkum Desert, a journey that ‘the one that went before us’ took 10 hours to complete. So we woke up early, had a massive breakfast and hit the road by 8am. Early for us. We drive slowly compared to most, so we set off worried it would be a very long day on very bad roads. Turned out the road was not as bad as we anticipated, and we managed the feat in a mere 8 hours. In places the road was bad and we could only make 40 kph; in other places it was excellent. Excellent, this was after all the newly upgraded E40, but for the posted speed limit which was a frustratingly slow 50 or 60kph. We knew speed traps were present (again from ‘the one that went before us), and stuck religiously to the speed limit. There was not a lot to see, except desert and the occasional roadside cafe and closed petrol station. The ‘gas’ stations, as in the stations selling methane or propane, were open.

Till now we’d always found a ‘Benzin’ station when we needed it. As we suspected that changed the further West we got in Uzbekistan. Why it is more of an issue here than anywhere else we did not find out. The fact is that Uzbekistan is a major gas producer, so everything runs on gas. Including cars. Which explained the constant smell of gas we’d been noticing in towns – it took us a few days to figure out that it was the cars we were smelling.

So we set the cruise control and just sat back and relaxed, stopping only for bio breaks. Good news, apart from being stopped for registration control, we didn’t get pulled over by the police.

From potholes and sand drifts…
to the beautiful E40 Highway… with speed restrictions…
… and back to this.

Khiva, or more acurately Itchan Kala (the old walled inner city, a UNESCO World Heritage Site), was amazing!

It wasn’t long after arriving at Hotel Xiva Atabek, our homestay (a first for us on this trip) that we ventured out and braved the 40°C temperatures in search of some food and a little sight seeing. And although the old town is small, it is jam packed with wonderfully preserved buildings. Around every corner we found something impressive.

Caroline snapped a few pictures as the sun started to set and the colors started to change. We concluded the night with a few beers in the living room of our homestay.

Kalta Minor Minaret. Begun in 1851 but never finished.
Kalta Minor Minaret.
Islom-Hoja Minaret and Medressa.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

After breakfast we headed out to do touristy things. First off we went to the West Gate to get some entrance tickets for the day. Unlike Bukhara and Samarkand, here we could buy a single combined ticket to access most of the sights. First stop was the Isfandyiar Palace – outside the city walls -, a multi-room decorative spectacular. We were the only tourists in the place, a situation that would repeat itself throughout the day. We passed through the North Gate back into the old city and found a set of stairs leading up to a walkway along the wall. Third stop was the Ark or town Fort. The courtyard and throne room were nice, but the main reason to visit for us was the watchtower. As we entered the Fort we met into two very nice Belgian ladies and soon struck up a conversation. Other than the Belgians, the Fort was deserted. We climbed the watch tower as a practice run. (Later in the evening we returned to capture photos as the sun was setting). We attempted to find some real coffee and failed dismally so headed back to the homestay and the luxury of our air conditioned room. But we soon got hungry and headed off to a very fine lunch at Bir Gumbaz restaurant.

Isfandiar Palace.
North Gate.
Detail of wall inside The Fort.

After lunch and with the help of the owner of the homestay, Stephen went in search of “Benzin” (Petrol or Gasoline). For some reason that we couldn’t quite work out, all the Petrol Stations were closed and Benzin was only obtainable from dubious sources which were known only to the locals. We pulled up outside someones house and it was not long before Sterlin was being topped up with 40 liters of questionable quality fuel. While not ideal, we needed the fuel to get to Nukus (our next destination) and this was the only way we could obtain some. With that slightly nerve racking job done, it really was time to chill for the rest of the afternoon.

Later as the day rolled on and temperatures dropped to a more comfortable 39ºC, we ventured out again. Stephen climbed the Islom-Hoja Minaret, of course. Our guide book claims it is the highest minaret in Uzbekistan. Next was the very nicely decorated and rather sublime Pahlavon Mahmud Mausoleum housing a famous man who was a poet, philosopher and legendary wrestler all rolled into one.
Caroline managed to extract an especially good bargain out of a shop keeper and walked away with some very lovely scarves. We stopped into a few museums, some were better than others. We had been out for a few hours and the heat was getting to us again, so back to the air conditioned homestay room.

We made a forth outing as the sun started to set. And although the Fort, and with it the Watch Tower, were technically closed, someone was kind enough to “sell” us a “special” ticket to gain access to the Watch Tower where we snapped away during golden hour. We had the place to ourselves, which was very nice.
We caught up with the Belgian ladies for a drink and exchanged stories, which was very nice indeed. There was one other group in the restaurant/bar with us, and surprise surprise, they were also from Belgium. So of course we chatted with them as well. We suspected Belgium was planning an invasion.

City Walls from Watch Tower at sunset.
Khiva from the Watch Tower during golden hour.
Sunset over Khiva.

We had a late dinner at our lunch spot. The dinner food was even better than at lunch, so we made a fine choice returning. Our table even had a candle burning. We really really enjoyed Khiva and what a way to finish off the Uzbekistan part of the trip.

One comment

  1. Beautiful pics (especially the sunset ones) ! Really nice to meet you! And we are planning an invasion with cold beer (and maybe some good coffee)! Enjoy the rest of your amazing trip, the Belgian ladies.

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