Khiva, Uzbekistan to Tashkent, Uzbekistan
10.06.2010 - 17.06.2010
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The name the ‘Silk Road’ was only given to this vast expanse of tracks, believed to be around 12,000km, leading from China to Europe in 1877. As the name signifies, the main object that was traded on the road was silk, which at the time was even higher than gold. Silk was used as a currency and paid for things like maintenance work, purchases of slaves and bribes for crimes committed.
Khiva was our first real city to see some of the Old Silk Road history and with the history of the Silk Road dating back to the 2nd century we were really looking forward to seeing the minarets, madrassah’s (universities) and mausoleums (place where the dead are buried) that doted themselves along the route. Khiva has been fully restored which is a shame as it looks like an open air museum and it’s hard to imagine what life was like back in the days. The walls are all intact, there is no day to day life happening and everything is clean, crisp and new looking. It was nice to see what it would have looked like but it was hard to believe this was once a thriving town.
After a few extremely hot days and nights camping, the air conditioned room was a welcome retreat and apart from changing money and getting some lunch, we didn’t venture far from it. We ventured outside the city walls towards the local market in search of the money changers and once they saw 15 tourists coming their way, the shouting of exchange rates took place. ‘2050’, ‘2150’ and ‘2100’ were the rates shouted until we heard ‘2180’. Not that 30 made any difference in the grand scheme of things but it was the principle. It’s amazing how the black market rate can be so high whilst the bank rates only reach 1600 or 1700.
We handed over our $275 and in return we got just over ½ a million sum – 599,500sum and what is the largest note? 1,000sum. Pete told us to make sure the bundles didn’t contain any 100’s in the middle so we stood there counting the money and flicking through the piles of 50,000 to make sure we weren’t getting ripped off.
Next on the list was lunch and it was time to try some of the local ‘samsa’ which are small pastry’s filled with lamb and onions and cooked inside a large tandoor oven. Once they are made, they are stuck to the side to cook and when ready, scrapped off and served hot. They were delicious.
Although the town had been fully restored the views at night were pretty spectacular as most of the buildings were lit up.
We explored the city the next day visiting the Kalta Minor Minaret or also known as the Short Minaret which was began in 1851 by Mohammed Amin Khan. The idea was to build it so high that he could see all the way to Bukhara (450km) however, he died in 1855 and the building works stopped.
We climbed the Islom-Hoja Minaret which was Uzbekistan’s highest at 57m and 118 steps later, we had a fantastic view of the walled city and beyond. This is only a recent addition to the city, being built in 1910.
The afternoon sun was starting to settle in so we escaped to the shade to suss out the world cup situation for the kick off later on and where we would be able to watch it. A small telly was assembled in the boiler room of the hotel for the first match and after dinner in a local restaurant outside the walls, as we ventured back to the hotel, the telly had been moved out on to the street.
We have done 10,200km since leaving London and it was another long drive to get to Bukhara. The heat was out in force today and there was not a cool breeze around. The truck chairs were hot and from our nice cold water purchased in Khiva, you could have made a cup of coffee from it, it was that hot by the end. In some strange way, we are adjusting to this heat as really there is not much you can do about it.
Bukhara is another Silk Road city and was a cross road where you could venture off in different directions. In the 15th century, 200 madrassah’s (universities), plenty of bazaars selling all types of goods and 60 caravanserais’ providing lodging for traders could be found within the city walls. It is Central Asia’s holiest city but 100 years ago, it was famous for the plague. Bukhara had 100’s of stone pools which were rarely changed where people gathered and gossiped, drank and bathed with the average life being 32. Now a day’s one stone pool remains, the Lyabi Hauz Square which is surrounded by restaurants and mulberry trees which were planted in the 17th century.
Restoration is taking place on the buildings in Bukhara to bring them back to life, but compared to Khiva, there is day to day life on the streets and the areas around the buildings are being left untouched. It’s not as condensed as Khiva or closed in anymore by the city walls so we strolled around and explored the sights on offer. Again most of them were old madrassah’s, mosques and minaret’s covered in blue tiles which indicated wealth. A lot of the madrassah’s have been transformed into hotels or shops selling local souvenirs and art work but you are able to get an idea of how they must have run when selling supplies and provisions for people travelling through.
It was in Bukhara that we learned about the problems in Osh, our border crossing point into Kyrgyzstan. Ethnic gangs had started a riot and the border crossing was closed, causing thousands of people to be stranded in Osh. 80 people had been killed with more expected so Pete was making a plan to avoid this and the plan was to go into Kazakhstan and instead of entering Kyrgyzstan on the west, we would enter it through the north and avoid the problems.
Samarkand was our last Silk Road city which, like Bukhara, sat on the cross roads leading to China, India and Persia. Out of the 3, it was the best and although more modern than the other two, the monuments were rather impressive.
Shah-i-Zinda is an avenue of mausoleums where family members of different rulers over time are buried, estimating 40 people. Most have their own beautifully decorated tomb where people come from all over to pray and which has now turned into an important place of pilgrimage.
We strolled through the open aired bazaar selling mostly fruit and vegetables along with small sections of toiletries, maintenance parts and home ware before making our way to Registan Square. Known as the centre of Samarkand in the 15th century, the 3 madrassah’s that form a U shape was also surrounded by a wall to wall bazaar. They are believed to be among the world’s oldest preserved madrassah’s and over the hundreds of years, have withstood earthquakes and fighting.
Our last monument for the morning was the Guri Amir Mausoleum, built in the 15th century where Temur, ruler of Uzbekistan at one point is buried. The outside is covered in beautiful blue tiles while inside the walls are lined with gold leaf.
The longing of a swimming pool for many weeks now finally came to an end when we found a hotel that would let us use their pool for the afternoon. The water was calling for us as the heat was hitting 35c and as we dived in, shock was expressed on our faces. The water was absolutely freezing to the point that it hurt. You couldn’t spend any amount of time in their apart from jumping in and jumping out so that you could cool down. It was so disappointing.
Whilst we were in Samarkand, Pete was in Tashkent trying to sort out our visas for Kazakhstan. Pete lined up yesterday at 5am and was 31 in the queue and waited patiently for the doors to open at 10am. The result is better than the day before when he was close to being the 100th in the queue. We’re hoping to get a transit visa but unfortunately, so is everyone else and the ball is not in our court at the moment.
Tashkent is the capital of Uzbekistan and there is very little to do here. We are a bit mosque, madrassah and mausoleumed out and also longing to be back in our tent as for the past 8 nights we have stayed in hotels. Pete has been trying to deal with our visas but every time he goes back to the embassy there is a different story. 1st trip – The visas were submitted and they will be ready tomorrow. 2nd trip – No visas are being issued today, come back tomorrow. 3rd trip - The consular man (and apparently there is only one) has gone to Osh to check out the situation at the border and he won’t be back until Monday. This isn’t good news as our visas for Uzbekistan expire on Saturday. 4th trip - So with this news, Pete manages to get back into the embassy to try and get hold of our passports so that he can apply for an extension at the Uzbekistan embassy. No go – our passports are locked in the consular man’s room and he is the only one with the key but apparently he is due back tonight so come tomorrow and you can pick up your passport and maybe your visa. If the above is confusing for you, then that’s absolutely fine as we are also confused by all the different information that is being given to us and we have even consulted the British Embassy as well. All we can do is sit here and see what happens tomorrow.