Wednesday, April 15, 2015

An Afternoon in Khiva.

Pat and I in Khiva. 

Entering through the West gate.
I've been in Khiva for less than a day and I've already decided that of the three historic cities in Uzbekistan - Samarkand, Bukhara, and Khiva, this is my favorite.  There's something about the vibe of this place that suits me to a tee.  I think it's because it's small enough that it is easily walkable - we've yet to have to get into any sort of a vehicle to see the place.  Yet, it is able to deliver up just enough mosques, madrasahs and souvenir vendors that you don't feel overwhelmed by any one thing.  You can get a good sense of historic Uzbek Islamic architecture here without getting dizzy.  Lastly, though some including me (for a brief short minute) are surprised by the lack of dining establishments, that actually is a good thing.  You can easily walk outside the gates to find food so this place can remain a city museum.  Now about those souvenir vendors.....and one highwire act and one camel.

After our leisurely lunch, Pat and I made our way back to the old city to meet up with Saida.  Our meeting point was the minaret of Juma mosque as the mosque would be the place where we would resume our sightseeing.  Our itinerary only called for a half afternoon of guided tour after which we would be on our own so I didn't expect for Saida to be taking us around to see much.

As we waited for Saida, we watched a wedding party go by.


Soon, Saida spotted us.  She joined us and took us inside the mosque.  Juma means Friday so this was the place where Friday prayers where held.

I have been excited to see this place ever since I saw images of it on line.  Even though I already knew what to expect, the sight of literally 215 (or more?) carved wooden columns took my breath away.  It is a sight like no other!

The single room is devoid of any decoration except for the wood plank ceiling and the carved columns.  The only light is from the small open air courtyard and a few small doors and windows.  I could only imagine how much more intimate and luxurious the space would look if carpets blanketed the floor.


While it's not possible to say that each column is of a unique design, there are enough that you feel each is different.   You can clearly see that the columns are of different ages and carved from different tree.





Of all the columns, one was a gift from India.  Back in the day, it caused a bit of a ruffle as it was viewed to depict a human figure which is not allowed in Islamic art displayed in a religious setting, which obviously a mosque is.  Saida challenged us to find the column.  We took on the challenge but did ask for clue as we didn't have time to go around looking at each and everyone of the 215+ columns.  The clue that she offered up was that the column was situated near an entrance.  There weren't that many doors so her clue did help limit our search area.  I went about looking for something with Hindu figures on it but came up empty handed.  Pat found a column, near the front entrance and it turned out to be the one!  I had walked by this column countless times but never took the top row of carvings as a depiction of human figures.


Does that top row of carvings look like human figures to you?

From Juma Mosque, we continued to our next destination which we would reach via the East gate.

I love the women in their traditional Ikat coats.

Between visiting historic sites, you can shop to your heart's content in Khiva.

Passing through the East Gate's multi domed interior. 

Palvan Darvoza  or the *Great Gate*  serves at the eastern portal to Khiva.  I've just been referring to it as the East gate.  The gate which area grew as a collection of other structures including a bathhouse, a bazaar, a caranvansarai and at least two madrasahs, has had a sad and bloody history.  It has served as a prison, slave market and also the entry point for trading caravans. The gate has 60 meter (197 feet) long, multi-domed interior with deep niches on both sides. These were originally prison cells. The gate was also known as the "Gate of the Hangman" as this was the place where condemned prisoners were put to death for the public’s entertainment.  Once upon a time, it also was the city's slave market.  Fortunately for us, today, the East gate's interior serves as home to more souvenir vendors.  It was here that Pat and I replenished our stock of sunflower seeds as the batch we had bought in Bukhara was nearly gone.  We enjoy our snacks! :-)


Just outside East gate is the market for the modern city of Khiva.  Of course, we had to check it out. 


I snapped a few photos as we walked up and down a few of the aisles, checking out the produce and goods for sale.




It was a windy day in Khiva.  The poor women were losing their tarp.

Meat for sale, under the hot sun. Yet, no one seems to get sick from eating it.

Most of the market was situated under several roofed pavilions.

Beef for sale.  We've rarely seen meat vendors selling so near to produce vendors.

There's not a lot of variety in veggies here but what there is is of good quality.

Nuts and dried fruits, a staple of the Uzbek diet.

What's life without sweets?  It would not be a good life for me.  We had no idea what the candies were.....


....but Pat decided to buy a small bag's worth.  Like I said, we enjoy our snacks.



I'm always checking out the housewares.  You can often find something you need at a ridiculously low price!

Need a bar or two or a dozen of soap?

Tea!  I love the way you can buy in bulk.  It really reduces waste from packaging.

Yes, I was eyeing the sweets :-)

You sell what you can, where you can.  You have a family to feed.

You can also get your shoes repaired at the market.  There were a few cobblers, hard at work.

Uzbek cuisine would not be Uzbek cuisine without bread!

Next, it was off to visit one of the old city's grandest historic landmarks - Toshkhovli Palace.  Toshkovli Palace which means *stone house* was built in 1832-1841 by Iltezer Khan as a second, grander palace to the one he had constructed in Kunya Ark.  It is said to have more than 150 rooms located off nine courtyards.  Okay, let me repeat the last sentence....."more than 150 rooms located off nine courtyards".  Thankfully, we weren't going to be touring the entire place BUT what it did mean was that the rooms all began to blur in no time.  I took photos but do not ask me which room they were of because I honestly cannot tell you.  I had long decided that Khiva could do with some descriptive plaques.


We entered the palace into a rectangular shaped courtyard.  On one side were single column iwans with doors leading to houses behind them.  On the other side of the courtyard were rooms for guests with iwans on the second floor.

We walked down the side with the single column iwans first.  Each was decorated with majolica tiles and painted ceilings and carved wood columns but each of the designs was different.










Then, we made our way around to the side with guestrooms with the iwans on the upper floor.







In one of the small rooms, there was a royal bed on display.  A bit gaudy for my taste.


From here, we continued our visit to other parts of the museum.   Next, it was to the Harem.









Saida took us to a long hallway that connects rooms between the Harem and other parts of the palace.  The spot is now used to display original carved wood columns.  Laid down, I could finally appreciate their length.  It's amazing to think that such tall trees had to be brought over from other parts of the country to be turned into these columns - remember Khiva is in the heart of the Uzbek desert.



All the column postings we've seen so far have been carved of stone or made of cement.  Here, we saw a beautifully carved wooden one.


The Reception Hall.

The round platforms served as the floors for the Khan's yurts.



I think we walked around more of Toshkhovli Palace than I have pictures of because after a while, I just stopped taking any - the rooms were indeed all starting to look the same.

Our guided tour of the old city ended with Toshkhovli Palace.  We said our thank-you's and goodbye's to Saida and left her with a nice tip.  Overall, she was a good guide.  By now, it was late afternoon and we still had a few more hours to kill before we had to catch our ride to the airport.

We decided to head back to the hotel and rest for a bit.  On the way, we crossed paths with a wedding party that had taken their celebration to the streets of the old city. 




It looked like everyone except for the groom and the bride were enjoying themselves.  Awkward!




Eventually, the shy bride got dragged in to join in the dancing.  She seemed to be a bit reluctant to be the center of attention.


I have become an accidental wedding photographer :-)


Even a tourist joined in and eventually, the groom!


It was getting late in the day and tourist season isn't quite in full swing yet so souvenir vendors close up shop early.  We watched one woman have her display table hauled away to a nearby building - presumably for safekeeping for the night.  I always wondered where all this stuff goes to at the end of the day.



Back at the hotel, we rested for a bit before heading out again.  I also took the opportunity to see if the hotel could help us with exchanging Uzbek som back to Kyrgyz som or Uzbek som back to USD.  While the hotel did have a currency exchange desk, it wasn't opened for business.  Initially, the receptionist said they could change som back to USD but he actually misunderstood.  He thought we wanted USD to som.  I think if that is what we had wanted, he would have found someone to work the currency desk but when he understood we wanted to do the opposite, he response was that they don't carry USD.  What??  I know that did not make sense but I didn't want to push the issue.  We'll try again when we get to Tashkent and I figure, worse comes to worse, we'll exchange when we get to the Kyrgyz border.  So far, I've noticed you can easily get money at the border - exchange rate may not be the best but it'll be our place of last resort.

Pat and I were sitting on some benches in the lobby.  A man approached me and in broken English told me he was our driver.  It was much too early to be heading to the airport so in a bit of an awkard exchange of words, I managed to tell him to come back later.  I reiterated my words to make sure he understood and he nodded but as he walked away, I had my fingers crossed that he had indeed understood.

After a short recharge, we were ready to head out again.  Thanks to Pat's Lonely Planet guidebook, we found a place to go to that was included in our sightseeing ticket but that we hadn't visited with Saida.  It was located a bit of the beaten path but yet close by enough that we could easily walk to it. We decided to head there.

Our walk took us along the old city walls.  We walked to the end of the walls and then crossed a couple of streets.


About 15 minutes after we had left the hotel, we found ourselves standing in front of a building known as Nurullabay’s Palace.  The foundations of the palace were laid by Muhammad Rakhimbay II in 1906 and construction of the palace was completed in 1912. From the outside, it didn't really look like much of a palace; too small and not ornate enough, I thought.



Our entry ticket for old Khiva included admission to this palace.  The place was dead quiet outside; not a soul around.  The door was closed but opened when we pulled on the handle.  There were two women inside.  Pat handed our tickets to one of them and after a quick check, she waved us on inside.

There were no descriptive plaques of any sort to explain what each room was used for so we had no clue where we were as we walked about the place which seemed to be laid out in the style of a typical European palace.  There were only a few rooms open for viewing but they were all very sumptuous - the decorations were ornate and reflected an influence of both European and Central Asian design aesthetics.




Majolica tile clad, wood burning stoves warmed the rooms.



The ceiling of one room looked wholly European.

If you look carefully, you'll see eight pointed stars in the ceiling design.

Painted ganche decorated the walls of a couple of the rooms.


Eight pointed stars provide the backdrop to a crystal chandelier.



From the descriptions I have read of the palace, the complex was far greater than the single building we saw.  If there were other buildings that were open to the public, it was not obvious to us where they were located so after spending a few minutes inside this one building, we left.

Back outside, we noticed walled off section. It looked like some sort of construction work was going on.  We climbed up the small dirt ramp to the entry door which was slightly ajar.  Peeking inside as best we could, we didn't see much of anything.  I just read that adjacent to the palace, there is also a madrassah. Perhaps this was what was inside the walls.

We decided to head back to the old city.  Our walk took us through a small neighborhood park.  We found a bench and took the opportunity to rest our feet.  A young girl, whizzing back and forth along the plaza area, was the only thing we had in terms of people to watch.  There was no one else around.  I guess it's a weekday and everyone is going about their daily business which does not include spending time in the park.



The only Uzbek man I got to pose with on the entire trip.  He's a bit too short for me :-)

Back inside the old city, we decided to pose for one last set of photos to remember our visit to this amazing place.



We then headed back to the teahouse for an early dinner before we went back to the hotel.  There, we had a few minutes to kill before retrieving our luggage from the hotel's storage room and heading outside to wait for our ride to the airport.

Hotel Malika Khiva

Looking back at the old city.

Bakhtiar had told us yesterday that either he or his father would be by to pick us.  We waited and waited and as the time neared, there was still no one in sight that looked like a driver with a car.  All the while, there had been a small white car parked next to the front entrance of the hotel.  Inside, there was a man in the driver's seat - he had reclined the seat all the way back and was sleeping. For a few seconds, we debated whether or not to wake him up.  Finally, we did and it turned out to be Bakhtiar's father.  He was the man that I had the exchange of words with earlier on in the afternoon.  I guess while Pat and I were visiting Nurullabay’s Palace, he was sleeping inside his car the entire time.

One last view of Kalta Minor before leaving.

Off we went to the airport in nearby Urgench.  It was a short 40 minute or so ride.  There, our driver escorted us inside the airport and pointed us to the ticket counter for Uzbekistan Airways.  With our minds already focused on getting to Tashkent, I completely forgot to tip him.  we've actually missed out on tipping two other drivers as well - very sorry about that.

Before coming on this trip, I wasn't expecting much of Khiva but now that I leave, I will say it was my favorite old city in Uzbekistan.  Indeed, it has the right mix of size, mosques, madrasahs, and museums all located within the confines of a very walkable city.  For us, it was also the perfect time of year to be visiting Khiva as the weather was perfect for strolling about.  Now, I look forward to seeing the Fergana Valley, which is where we are heading tomorrow.

We are minutes from boarding the plane so I am signing off now.

Goodbye from Khiva! 

*****************

Update:  April 15.  I had to post this up.  File this under Uzbek quirks.  I took two photos from inside our Uzbekistan Airways plane which is Ilyushin Il-114, a Russian manufactured twin-engine turboprop airliner designed for local routes. Only 20 of these planes were ever produced.  The first plane was rolled into service in 1990 and production of the Il-114 was terminated in July 2012, with the sixth and last aircraft delivered to Uzbekistan Airways in May 2013.  I posted these two photos on Facebook and none of my friends figured out what the problem was.

This is what I saw coming down the aisle.  What's missing?


I then found it when I sat down.  That's right.  The seat rows and numbers, which are usually posted below each overhead bin, is posted on the back of each seat....where you can't see it until you walk past the seat!  Yep....bad design.  Thankfully, we were both seated in row 5 so we could easily count our way to our seat!