Tuesday, April 14, 2015

First Glimpses of Khiva.

Room with a view.  This is what we saw looking out from our hotel room window!

We returned back to Uzkbekistan on foot.  Kseniya and our driver had dropped us off on the Turkmenistan side right around 2p which was when the border crossing opened.  Pat and I had no issues clearing Turkmen immigration and customs.  We then braced ourselves for reentry into Uzbekistan.  First, it was customs clearance.


Form wise I was good to go though they never even questioned me about the rug. I figured that probably none of the officers could read English so the words that I wrote down about the rug were just gobbledy gook to them.  As long as the currency information looks correct, you're good to go.  Not so easy for Pat though.  She had declared her $35 that she had left on her as $35.00 and the officers initially interpreted the number as $35,00 which they read as $3500.   That meant she was taking out more USD than she had brought in and that raised concern. Luckily, there was one officer who understood when we explained it was $35 and not $3500.  She was then approved from a customs perspective.  Lesson.  Drop the decimal point.  Just use whole numbers.

Next, it was the luggage check.  Suitcase wise, I was good to go.  but for some reason, they wanted to check out my iPad and cellphone.  Mind you, none of the customs agents at the other Uzbek border crossings had asked to do this.  But, no choice, so I turned on both devices and let them go at it.  I was instructed to stand away so I could only watch them from a distance.  I knew I had nothing *bad* (aka obscene or inappropriate) on either device so I was confident I would be okay.  All of a sudden I see one of the officers pointing to my iPad and sharing a laugh with the other officers.  It was obvious they were having a good chuckle over a photo and I was pretty certain I knew which one it was.  I walked over to check it out and sure enough, they were laughing at the photo I had taken of the backsides of three sheep in the animal market in Mary.  You have to admit, it is a pretty funny looking image!  I obviously thought so myself as that's what prompted me to take the photo in the first place.  Well, I'm glad I could give them a laugh or two.  After that, they handed both devices back to me and I was good to go. 

Next it was on to immigration.  Only one officer working the booth and there were several men ahead of me.  I had to remind myself that there is no concept of the queue here so I just kept inching forward to make sure no one could squeeze themselves ahead of me.  It was a slow moving *line* - enough waiting time for a curious man to strike up a conversation.  I told him I was a tourist visiting Central Asia.  He told me he was from Turkey, visiting Turkmenistan.  I told him I have been to Turkey and that I love his homeland.  He nodded.  He never once smiled at me.  Friendly but not so friendly.  In any event, I got my Uzbek entry stamp.

We made our way outside the border crossing gate and there to meet us was a tall Uzbek named Bakhtiar who was our driver from Advantour; he drove us the 35 kilometers to Khiva.  We passed through the modern city and as we pulled up to the front entrance of our hotel, the Malika Khiva, I could clearly see one of the iconic landmarks of Khiva - the Kalta Minor Minaret.  Our hotel is incredible well located!

One advantage of traveling off season is that hotels are relatively empty.  The clerk checked us into a room that had a wonderful view of the old city!  I had to spend a few minutes just admiring the amazing view.  I couldn't wait to actually walk over there and check it out.  But....because we hadn't had access to any WiFi during our stay in Turkmenistan, the first thing I actually did was send an email to my family to let them know I was still alive and enjoying myself.  Pat also took a few minutes to check her email.

Looking down at the indoor courtyard at our hotel.  Among all the rugs, there was a large chess set.

Tomorrow, we will have conducted tour of Khiva but since it was only late afternoon, we decided to head out an explore the old city.  Here are some of the photos I took on our stroll through Itchan Kala, the inner part of the ancient city of Khiva.




Entered through the west gate which is the main gate of entry for most tourists. The first landmark that greets you is Kalta Minor minaret - you really can't miss this iconic structure.  In person, it looks even more beautiful than in the pictures I had seen of it before coming on this trip.


I had to walk up to the minaret to take a closer look at it.  Of course, it has been fully restored but nonetheless, it's beautiful.


Muhammad Amin Khan Madrasah, now a luxury hotel.

The main thoroughfare goes from the West Gate to the East Gate.  It's pedestrian only and a pretty obvious way to go so we just strolled along it.  Pat mentioned that many people don't like Khiva because the place looks too well restored.  To some extent that's true but from another perspective, it's nice to see how this place looked in its former glory.  In some ways, it reminded me of Bhaktapur, Nepal which was also restored to essentially function as a living museum.  As far as I was concerned, old Khiva was a perfect place to be for a late afternoon stroll on a picture perfect spring day.

Aside from Pat and I, there were relatively few tourists around.  I was certain this was a popular tourist attraction so I just presumed it was because it was late in the day.  I am fully prepared to be submerged into the tourist mob tomorrow.  As long as they don't block my view, I'm okay.

Without groups of tourists to have to weave our way around and obstruct our views, we really had a nice, relaxing walk.  The weather was lovely as well - such a nice change from what we had to endure earlier this morning in Kunye Urgench.

Another view of Muhammad Amin Khan Madrasah, looking down the main thoroughfare.

One of the towers of Muhammad Amin Khan Madrasah.

Tile detail of Kalta Minaret.

Though it was nice to see familiar things like Uzbek souvenirs, I was a bit saddened though to see the number of souvenir vendors they have here.  Not only do they line the streets but they seem to fill every available nook and cranny of space.  Fortunately, they're not aggressive vendors so you can simply ignore them.  We actually stopped at a couple of places.  Pat wants to buy a small piece of glazed tile, to display on her kitchen wall.  We found a vendor that had a few pieces she liked but she wasn't quite ready to buy. 

The main thoroughfare that runs between the East and West gates.  The minaret belongs to Juma Mosque.



I was a bit saddened to see all the souvenir vendors here - they seem to line all the streets and fill up every nook and cranny of available space.

Looking back towards the West Gate.  Kalta Minor is a good navigational landmark for us!

There were a lot of fur hats for sale. Pat has an eye on one for her son, Howard.  He's going to be in for a surprise!


The domes of the Mausoleum of Pakhlavan Mahmoud.

At one point, we deviated off the main thoroughfare.  The sounds of hammers had caught our attention.  Tucked inside a small and narrow alley was a woodcarving shop.  Out front of the shop were a few young men carving away. We had to check it out.  The one thing I admire about the Uzbeks is how hard they are working to preserve their cultural traditions.


We watched the young men for a few minutes before wandering on.  It's amazing how your eyes get trained to all of a sudden notice things that they missed out on just a few minutes earlier.  After seeing the boys at work, I started to see all the carved wood here.  There are a lot of beautiful hand carved doors - must be such a luxury to have these in a desert city like Khiva.



As we passed by more buildings, I started to see the carved wood columns that I had seen so many of in Bukhara.



Burial tombs.

We some how ended up at another of Khiva's iconic landmarks that I recognized from my pre-trip readings - the minaret belonging to the Islam Khodja Mosque.

Islam Hodja Madrasah and the minaret of Islam Khodja Mosque.

The tile work on this minaret is just stunning.   I didn't realize it was topped with a finial until I zoomed in to take a closer look.


I love the contrast between the blue-green glazed tiles and the plain ochre colored bricks.

The pattern on each band is different.


Steps leading up to the entry door to the minaret.

The Mausoleum of Pakhlavan Mahmoud in the background; cemetery in the foreground.

Narrow side street.


The exterior facades of the buildings make use of decorative tile work to create geometric patterns.  As with the patterns of the bands of decorative glazed tiles, each band of decorative brick is a different pattern as well.  I think the world of geometric patterns is endless!


Muhammad Amin Khan Madrasah provides the backdrop for the row of souvenir vendors.

Handmade rugs draped along the walls of an historic building.  Okay, I might not like the vendor being here
but I will say the rugs do add a nice pop of color.

I can't remember where I took the next series of photos of tiles - I think it was along the top of wall that is the exterior facade of one of the Handicrafts Museum.  Pat and I noticed the sign for the museum and we tried to enter but they asked for an entry fee.  We didn't know if this would be included on our tour or not so we opted to wait til tomorrow - we can always come back if we want.

Anyway, back to the wall.  I thought the tiled decorations were unique and interesting to look at.




More tile work on the exterior of the building.  We're seeing a lot of the bow tie shaped ones used here.  I wonder what the significance is.


In the heart of the old city, there sits a camel and its keeper.  They wait for tourists who are willing to fork over a few som for the privilege of sitting atop the camel and having their photo taken.  Usual touristy, gimmicky thing.  Surprisingly, though we've been to several parts of the desert that runs through Uzbekistan, we have yet to see a single camel. I wonder if this one is an import from Turkmenistan?  In any event, it was late in the day when we first crossed paths with the camel.  By the time we saw it next, it was on its way home for the day.


Another view of Islam Khodja Minaret.

Heading back towards Kalta Minor and the West gate.

On our way into the old city, I was so captivated by the sight of Kalta Minor that I completely missed the map of the Silk Road.  I love maps so on the way out, I had to stop to take a look at it.   What surprised me was how many places, along the ancient Silk Road, I had already been to prior to coming on this trip and how many more places I will have been to once this trip is over!  Unfortunately, the one Silk Road country I really want to go to, Syria, is experiencing so much violent turmoil these days that a trip there is simply out of the question.  


Just outside the entrance of the West gate stands the statue of Muḥammad ibn Musa al-Khwarizmi, a famous scientist born here, in Khiva in 783 AD.  He is titled by many as the *father of algebra*, credited with developing a decimal system with the zero number as a place-holder that is now used everywhere around the world.


It wasn't a long stroll through old Khiva as we figured we would get to see this place in depth tomorrow and have someone explain things to us.  But it was just enough of a walk to give us a good glimpse of Khiva.  I am now more excited than ever for tomorrow to come around.

Neither Pat nor I were in the mood to go out for dinner as lunch had been quite a large and satisfying meal.  Staying in was made even easier when we realized we had seen eateries, few to none, when we walked through the old city.  We made a mental note to ask our guide tomorrow for suggestions on where to go to grab a quick, reasonably priced meal. So for today, dinner was instant mashed potatoes that I had brought with me from the US and apples that had been in our breakfast box from Ashgabat.  Pat had one slice of apple before declaring the entire lot to be mine - they were too sour for her liking.


We're scheduled to meet with our guide at 9a tomorrow.  It's been a long day for us considering we woke up at 3a in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan, had lunch in Daşoguz, Turkmenistan and are now calling it a day in Khiva, Uzbekistan.  I'm tired and will be hitting the sack early to get a good night's rest. Not only do we have a full day of sightseeing tomorrow, but we're also taking a night flight to Tashkent.  There is no rest for us two *wild and crazy about traveling* chicks.

Getting ready for bed. Okay, she's already in bed but there's always a bit of reading on the Kindle before it's lights out.

Goodnight from Khiva!