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1st May Khiva

May 9, 2013

1st May. Khiva.
They are a hard crowd here. Not so much today but their history reads like some tale of slaughter and intrigue. A visitor in 1864, Arminus Vanbery, speaks about seeing criminals having their eyes gouged out. And also seeing this bloke making cloaks with flower head emblems on them. The plainer ones had four flower heads, the ones with twelve heads were more ornate, going up to forty which were a display of colour. He asked what they were for and was told to come to the square the next day. There he witnessed warriors riding in with sacks over their saddles. They then grabbed the lower corners of the sack and tipped the contents out. They were the heads of the enemy killed in battle. The ones with the most heads were awarded the forty headed robe.
We headed east today with Alisher as our driver. The buildings in the old city of Khiva are the highlight here but the castles and forts scattered east of here on the edge and into the desert run a close second. Most were built in the period 4-1BC and as there has been no restoration much has now disappeared apart from the outer walls and towers positioned along those walls. They were all built with mud brick and to have anything standing at all is because of the dry climate and scant rainfall. A couple, Guldursun Kala and Kroy Krilgan Kala are surrounded by fields tilled and waiting for the cotton to sprout, but further out at Ayaz Kala the forts are built on a raised ridge with salt speckled desert below. It was warming up when we were there but after a pleasant green tea at the nearby yurt we headed out to walk the kilometre to the ruins. Little sand coloured lizards would scatter as we walked. In all the forts we visited what was surprising was we were the only ones there. So silent amongst these buildings that were inhabited so many centuries ago. Silent that is apart from the hundreds of birds that had found homes in the crevices of the mud walls. Mainly sparrows but rollers and swallows as well. It was good to see so many of them after such a paucity in China.
You will no doubt have heard about the disappearing Aral Sea, I think I mentioned it in an earlier blog. Well the trip today showed us more degradation due to misuse of water. Considerable areas of the desert and sub desert now have a layer of salt sitting on top of the land. There are not many lakes out here but many of the ones that are, are very saline and unusable. Alisher just shrugged his shoulders when I asked if anything was being dome to reverse the situation.
Finally had a decent meal tonight, our last night here. Quite simple, pumpkin soup followed by a plate of meat and pumpkin dumplings but all of it was very tasty and the beer and wine very drinkable as well.
We catch the overnight train back to Tashkent tomorrow. We will miss this place.

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