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The Travel Journal of Jacqui and Lars

 

Uzbekistan - 3 September, 2002

 

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Location Latitude Longitude Elevation

Travel Distance

Start Khiva (Hotel Arqonchi) N4122.649' E06021.470' 110 meters .
-  City tour . . . .
-  Dinner at the Khan's Summer Palace . . . .
Finish Khiva (Hotel Arqonchi) N4122.649' E06021.470' 110 meters

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Total Leg 2:

1,367 km

Total Leg 1:

3,018 km

Grand Total:

4,385 km

 

Weather: Clear, sunny and very hot.  Cool at night.

 

 

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Khiva - it conjures up visions of slave caravans, barbaric cruelty and harsh deserts all around it teeming with wild tribesmen.  This khanate struck fear into the hearts of all but the bravest, or craziest, travelers of the 19th century.  But now it is a squeaky clean official city-museum that has been well preserved for the visiting tourists.  Sometimes a bit too well preserved for the tourist.  Our guide told us that a few years ago they ripped out the original cobble stones (beautiful, worn stones that lined all the streets) and replaced them with smooth flag stones so that the high-heeled tourists would not twist their ankles.  So short sighted.

 

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Lars gets up early to go and check out the sunrise from the patio at the top of the hotel.  It is a stunning sight, with a waning moon setting on one side and the sky slowly going from black to deep blue to orange as the sun rose on the other side behind the city.  It was very cold up there in the biting wind, but well worth the sight.

 

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After heading back to bed for a brief snooze and to warm up, we have breakfast and then head out for our city tour.

 

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We start at the West Gate, where we pay one fee which allows us to go everywhere (well done) in the town.  Just next to the West Gate (restored in the 1970s - the original was destroyed in 1920), is the Mohammed Amin Khan Medressa built in 1850, which has been turned into a hotel since the Soviet times.  Outside the Medressa stands the massive, turquoise-tiled Kalta Minor Minaret.

 

It looks oddly out of proportion as it was supposed to be much higher - 120 meters to be exact.  It was supposed to become the highest minaret in Central Asia, higher even than Bukhara's Kalon minaret.  But during construction, one of the Khan's advisors went to inspect progress when he discovered to his horror that you would be able to see into the Khan's harem if it was built any taller.  The Khan ordered construction to cease, and it has been sealed off ever since.

 

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Opposite the medressa stands the Kukhna Ark - the Khiva Khan's own residence and fortress.  It was first built in the 12th century and then expanded in the 17th century.  It contains the Khan's harem, mint, stables, arsenal, barracks, mosque and jail.  It is very impressive to visit as much of the interior work has not been restored.  There are some examples of tile-work that have been restored, with a futile attempt to recreate the vibrant colors of the original tiles.

 

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We visit the summer mosque, which is a open-air and wonderful place of worship with fantastic tile work.  Next to it is the mint, which has a museum that includes rare money printed on silk.  Then it is onto the throne room, where the Khan dispensed judgement.  They even have a tacky throne (not original) that you can sit on and have your photo taken.  Most interesting is the huge circular stone platform in the center of the courtyard where the formally nomadic people could set up their yurt.  Finally, we head up to the Oq Shihbobo bastion at the very top of the Ark where there is an open-air pavilion with excellent views over the ark and the city and its surroundings.

 

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We leave the Ark and walk into the central square.  This was the most vibrant part of the city where the action took place, from trading to executions.  Over 60 foreigners were beheaded here on orders of the Khan.  Foreigners were forbidden to enter the Khanate and if they were caught, they were beheaded.  The Khan gave huge prizes to the soldiers that caught foreigners crossing the border and brought them to him.  The cruelty of the city was legendary. It was the major slave trading center of the entire area and the trade only stopped a bit over a hundred years ago when the Russians conquered the Khanate.

 

The Khans ruled by terror.  The Hungarian traveler Arminius Vembery in 1863 saw eight old men laying on the ground in the central square having their eyes gouged out.  Impalement was the favorite method of execution.  Prisoners were thrown of the tops of minarets.  Enough of that gruesome history - but that should give an indication of why the city was once so feared.

 

On the other side of the square, we went to visit the Mohammed Rakhim Khan Medressa built in the 19th century.  We go and visit the museum inside - but the usual problem.  All the labels are written in Russian.  An acrobatic troupe is set up in one of the courtyards and offers to put on a show.  This does not interest some of us, so we go and hang out in the other courtyard.

 

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We then head down some of the alleys to the Pahlavon Mohammed Mausoleum - one of the most beautiful spots in Khiva.  It has a lovely courtyard and the tile work is well done.  This site contains the tomb of Pahlavon Mohammed, Khiva's patron saint who was a poet, philosopher and wrestler.  His 1326 tomb was rebuilt in the 19th century and then taken over by the Khan of the day as the family mausoleum.

 

The two chambers inside containing the tombs are beautiful, with some wonderful tile work.  The place is visited on a regular basis by locals who come to pray and pay their respects.  A family brings their young boy who is about to be circumcised.  Outside in the courtyard we visit the well that is supposed to promote fertility if you drink from it.

 

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We carry down the street to the Islom-Huja Medressa and minaret - the youngest Islamic monuments in Khiva having been built in 1910.  We enter the medressa, which has been converted into a museum.  It has quite a nice collection of woodcarvings, metal work, carpets and the large pots used for storing food underground.

 

Outside, we take a closer look at the 45 meter tall minaret - Khiva's tallest.  It has beautiful bands of turquoise and red tiling.

 

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We continue in our circular tour of the city, heading over to the Juma Mosque and minaret.  It is a very interesting place to visit with its 218 wooden columns supporting the roof of the mosque.  This is believed to be a design concept derived from ancient Arabian mosques.  The finely carved and decorated columns are from the original 10th century mosque, which however burnt down.  The present building dates from the 18th century.  It is a very soothing and mesmerising place with the repetitive columns and light filtering through the one skylight in the center of the vast space.  As with other mosques here, you enter directly into the minaret from the mosque and it was used as a watch tower to look out for enemies.

 

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The next stop is the long, vaulted 19th century passage that forms the East Gate.  At each end of the passage there are massive carved doors and niches that dotted the passage once held slaves for sale.  The main slave market was held near here.  From there we head off to the final sight on the tour - the Tosh-Khovli Palace.

 

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It was built between 1832 and 1841 as a more sumptuous alternative to the Kukhna Ark by Alloquli Khan.  It certainly has splendid interior decoration with ceramic tiles and carved wood and stone.  It is a large complex with over 150 rooms and nine courtyards.

 

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The Khan was in such a hurry to build it that he executed his first architect for not completing it within two years.  We visited the Ishrot-Khovli, a ceremonial and banquet hall, followed by the Arz-Khovli, the court of judgment. 

 

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The highlight, however, is the harem.  It is a large courtyard with beautiful tiling covering the walls.  On the south, or shady, side are the five chambers for the Khan, his main wife and three other wives.  The pecking order is clearly highlighted in the design and decoration of each chamber and their small patios.  On the other side of the courtyard is where the concubines lived, basically acting as servants taking care of the Khan, his wives and family.

 

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On our way to lunch, we stop off at the market caravanserai taking a peek inside.  It has effectively become a local department store.  For lunch we first head to the yurt cafe.  It looks nice, but in the end we are disappointed.  They have clearly inflated the prices for tourists, so some of us head off and go and find some where else to eat.  We find a place near the Islom-Huja Medressa that is much better all around.

 

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Then it is time to go off and do some shopping.  One nice thing about this town is the lack of shops and vendors trying to push their stuff on you.  It is much more relaxed.  First off to the local market where we join some people doing cook group shopping.  It is a pleasant market, but not too well stocked.  The people, however, are very friendly and ask us to sample their goods and love it if we ask to take their picture.

 

Then we see what kinds of souvenirs we can find.  After wandering around the streets, we end up at the one decent shop in town.  They actually have some nice carpets and in the end we pick up to medium size carpets for reasonable prices (we find out how reasonable when we arrive in Turkey where the same carpets cost five to six times as much).  They also take us to a hotel under renovation on the other side of town to show us some more carpets, but the carpets there are mainly worn pieces that cannot be used in a house.

 

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We return to the hotel just before 5 PM lugging our purchases, ready for a bit of a nap and wash.  Once again we go and take a look at the sunset from the roof top patio just before we head out for dinner.

 

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We are heading out to the summer palace that was built by the last Khan.  As you can see from this group photo, we are excited!!

 

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The summer palace is located in the grounds of a walled off area outside the old city.  We walk up towards the palace, which is built in a blend of Western, Russian and local styles.  It is a strange mixture, bit seems to work.  We are led into a huge, elaborately decorated banquet hall where a long table has been set up for our dinner.  As usual, it is laden with food and drink.  But we have to order the alcoholic drinks and decide to go for the vodka (the local wine does not really hold too much promise).

 

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We begin with the many dishes laid out on the table containing nuts, fruits and many other appetizers.  As we are served the main course, a group of locals dressed up in traditional outfits arrives to put on a show of dancing and singing.  It is quite a show, with lively dancing and performances.  During this time we are eating and drinking our fill.  We get a good laugh when a couple of us are dragged up to join them in the local dances.

 

We spend over two hours at the last Khan's summer palace and get a feel for the life that he must have enjoyed.  It was a great time, but we are also happy to come back down to earth and head back to our hotel.

 

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