Khiva: first impressions.

Because we would spend a lot of time in the Ichan-Qala the following day, for my first walk I examined the gateway in the outer wall, the walls near the gateway, a dirt road leading south into small fields and orchards, and the overwhelmingly residential area to the east of the Ichan-Qala. I then walked beside the north and the west walls of the Ichan-Qala before returning to the hotel.

East wall, Ichan-Qala, Khiva
East wall, Ichan-Qala, Khiva
East wall, Ichan-Qala, Khiva
East wall, Ichan-Qala, Khiva

The residential area east of the Ichan-Qala is extremely interesting, partly because of the housing (a lot of the houses are built with mudbrick, arranged around a small courtyard and spread over only one floor. Sadly, patches of open ground covered in rubble suggest that some – many? – of the houses built in the traditional style have already been lost and will probably be lost in greater number in the years to come), but also because every now and again there are mosques, medressas and tombs, albeit not as old or as impressively conceived as those in the Ichan-Qala. Such notable monuments, some restored but most in need of tender loving care, also exist north-east of the Ichan-Qala, not far from where Khiva’s bazaar was winding down because it was about 4.00pm when I walked around it. This said, enough stalls remained open to reveal that women play a more active role in the day-to-day economy in Uzbekistan than in many predominantly Muslim nation states, Turkey included. In fact, most stalls in the bazaar were overseen by women, many of whom dressed in clothes cleaner, newer and more colourful than I would have thought necessary to sell things such as fruit, vegetables, cheese, herbs, spices, dried fruit, clothes and household items.

Khiva, east of the Ichan-Qala
Khiva, east of Ichan-Qala
Khiva, east of the Ichan-Qala
Khiva, east of Ichan-Qala
Khiva, east of the Ichan-Qala
Khiva, east of Ichan-Qala
Khiva, east of the Ichan-Qala
Khiva, east of Ichan-Qala
Khiva, east of the Ichan-Qala
Khiva, east of Ichan-Qala

I was pleased that people in the areas just a little off the beaten track did not mind a foreign tourist walking around; in fact, whether male or female, they encouraged me to carefully examine my surroundings and pointed me toward something I would otherwise have missed (e.g. a domed brick structure with a doorway below ground level leading to what in the old days would have been a sunken source of water). I was already being seduced by the domes, the rarely perpendicular minarets, the houses built around small courtyards, the tall pishtaks (gateways or portals) leading into large mosque or medressa courtyards, the raised porches or verandas in front of mosque prayer rooms, the carved wooden columns supporting the porch or veranda roofs, the ceramic tiles, the bricks arranged to create interesting patterns on walls, the dirt roads meandering through the residential areas, the mud tandirs fixed to house walls in the streets (in the bazaar, three tandirs were on trolleys that could be pushed from place to place before being fired up to bake bread), the telegraph poles leaning even more extremely than the minarets, and the exposed pipes that carry gas to houses and business premises in the suburbs (where such pipes encounter a road, they have right-angled joints to lift them high enough for traffic to pass underneath. I could have been in Poland or Romania, only the pipes in Uzbekistan are inferior in quality. Also, Uzbekistan’s pipes are usually smaller in diameter than those in Poland or Romania). Khiva may lie in very flat surroundings with few natural features of note, but it is a remarkably photogenic destination.

Bazaar, Khiva
Bazaar, Khiva
Bazaar, Khiva
Bazaar, Khiva
Khiva, north of the Ichan-Qala
Khiva, north of Ichan-Qala
Khiva, north of the Ichan-Qala
Khiva, north of Ichan-Qala
Khiva, north of the Ichan-Qala
Khiva, north of Ichan-Qala
Tandir, bazaar, Khiva
Tandir, bazaar, Khiva
West Gate, Ichan-Qala, Khiva
West Gate, Ichan-Qala, Khiva
Near the West Gate, Ichan-Qala, Khiva
Near West Gate, Ichan-Qala, Khiva

About 6.30pm, Hilary and I left the hotel for a walk that led to some of the things I had already seen, but now the streets were much quieter, a light breeze reduced the temperature, the sun was sinking in the west and colours absent earlier in the day were flooding into the views. Birds could be heard singing among trees and in small parks.

South-west corner, Ichan-Qala, Khiva
South-west corner, Ichan-Qala, Khiva

We walked along the south and the east walls of the Ichan-Qala. When walking along the east wall, most of the domes, minarets and pishtaks of the Ichan-Qala were in dramatic silhouette against an almost cloudless sky in which yellow, pink and purple dominated as the sun sank toward the horizon. The occasional car or lorry kicked up dust from the unsealed roads and passersby greeted us with a nod or an “Assalomu aleykum.” We entered the Ichan-Qala through the East Gate and had a mesmerising walk past magnificent monuments and mudbrick houses built beside streets mostly so narrow that motor vehicles were completely absent. Staff in the last few shops selling souvenirs to tourists prepared to close for the day and a few women sat on steps or chairs outside their homes as their children played outdoors. It was good that people still lived in the Ichan-Qala, thereby ensuring it was more than a rather lifeless but magnificent museum. Although facilities for tourists – hotels, B and Bs, restaurants, cafes and souvenir shops – account for most commercial activity in the Ichan-Qala, a few shops meet the needs of the local people. Also, the bazaar occupies the streets around the East and the North gates, so no one has to walk far to engage with Uzbek life as Uzbek life vibrantly manifests itself when tourists are not around.

South wall, Ichan Qala, Khiva
South wall, Ichan Qala, Khiva
Ichan-Qala, Khiva
Ichan-Qala, Khiva
Ichan-Qala, Khiva
Ichan-Qala, Khiva
Ichan-Qala, Khiva
Ichan-Qala, Khiva
Ichan-Qala, Khiva
Ichan-Qala, Khiva

Earlier in the day the temperature in Khiva reached 36 degrees centigrade, but, because the air was very dry, it was not oppressive.

After our walk, we ate an excellent buffet meal in the hotel where, with the meal, we could order complimentary alcoholic drinks. Hilary and I had an excellent beer each at the bar before dining (one beer cost 9,000 som, or just over £2 based on the official exchange rate. However, Davron could supply som at a rate between that of the official exchange rate and the rate on the black market, which reduced the cost of each beer to about £1.70), but during the meal we asked for glasses of red wine (which also would have cost 9,000 som had we had to buy them). The wine was made in Uzbekistan and tasted okay.

Khiva
Khiva
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