May 1, 2013
Sunrise meant a desert landscape as we loped along towards Khiva, but it was enchanting in a strange way. My mood was further lifted when I heard that the guidebook was wrong about the length of the journey. 18 hours instead of 22 meant that I would get a chance to spend the recommended 1 night in Khiva rather than 2.
I chose a room to stay by 1:30 and met a Dutch guy who is in his mid-20’s and also travelling alone, but for the first time. He was also being jerked around by the Tajik embassy, but didn’t negotiate a better deal. His would take a full week, so he still had to go back to Tashkent for his. Poor soul. There would be time for getting learning more, so I was off to walk around Khiva.
Khiva, I believe, has achieved UNESCO status, and has a bustling tourism industry consisting of busloads of French, German, and Japanese retirees. It’s also a destination for well-off Uzbeks and young Russian couples. After being in dour, Soviet Tashkent, this was a welcome change of pace. It’s only May, but the sun is already intense. I couldn’t imagine coming here in summer, but people do. The medieval city is largely restored and cute with it’s city walls intact and easily navigated on foot- most streets running east-west or north-south. Compared to the masterplanned sprawl of Soviet capitals, this was also refreshing.
The only problem with a place like this is that it’s the ONLY thing to do. Once you have seen everything, you’re not going to hangout in the dusty streets around it. Of course, you can shop at the souvenir shops that occupy every nook and cranny inside the walls, but I just couldn’t be bothered. The only options from there are to take a shared taxi to some fortresses that have been abandoned for 600+ years and/or continue on to Nukus and see what’s left of the Aral Sea. The time wasted on visas meant that the Aral Sea was out of the question, so I hoped to find an interested group of backpackers the next day to see the fortresses.
That evening, I learned that the Dutchmen had gone to the fortresses through his travel partner, Max. Max is a 47 year old Italian that has lived in England a long time and been married to a French woman, that he met traveling, for nearly 20 years. Not only do they not always travel together, but they don’t always live together, which is hard for me to understand. She is currently training teachers in Nepal and he’s going overland from Uzbekistan to meet her in Nepal. Before all of that, he’s going into Western China to hopefully meet up with a nomadic Kyrgyz family that he met 27 years ago, armed only with some photos that he took of them in 1986. Since he quit his IT job at the BBC, he’s not sure when he will be done traveling, but he would like to take some anthropology courses in the fall. Max’s immediate plans, however, were to travel with 3 Czech women he didn’t really like to see the Aral Sea the next day. Sjoerd, the Dutchman, was making his slow march back to Tashkent, stopping in Bukhara next.
I, on the other hand, was on the fence on whether to leave in the morning for Bukhara as well, or try to get others to share the cost of the taxi to the fortresses. I’d sleep on it.