Beautiful restored living citadel town which is so refreshing after seeing so many abandoned ones in Turkmenistan. First thing that struck me about the Uzbeks here is how relaxed and laid back they are. Meros (see review) was a good place to start, even the border guards at the Uzbek border knew about Meros!
In Khiva, it was the first time we had seen bus loads of tourists since Turkey! You can by a two day ticket for all the sites within the citadel, pay in soumme as it works out cheaper than paying in dollars, as the official rate is less than the black-market rate. We found the official rate was just under 1900 to the dollar and the unofficial was 2800(except Samarkand where we got 2700). So you see it pays to pay in Soumme. There were two sites within Khiva which were not included on the ticket, the Kuha Ark; you have to pay extra to go up onto the bastion where you get magnificent views of Khiva. The Pahlavon Mahmud Mausoleum and all minarets have additional charges (albeit small ones). Another particular site within the citadel we really enjoyed was the Juma mosque which was cool and peaceful and beautiful when we went there.
The eateries were more expensive inside the citadel, but the one café we frequented for two or three nights also had a wifi spot, which was very reliable, right next to the unfinished minaret. Food was cheaper outside the citadel walls and we even found more than one great supermarket right opposite The Isfandiyar Palace which is also well worth a visit. The prices at the supermarkets were a fraction of those in the cafes etc.
Water pressure is not great in the Old town, not sure but can’t imagine that its any better outside as Khiva does suffer with this. We managed to get a bumblebee sim card through our hosts at Meros, and is well worth getting for calls and texts around Uzbekistan. ATM can be found at the Outside south Gate, Hotel Asia, which only takes Master Card and Maestro, no visa
We arranged through the hotel a car driver to take us to Moynaq, the town that used to be a huge fishing port on the Aral Sea. It took us about 2.5-3 hours to drive from Nukus [Nukus-travel-guide-1200956] to Moynaq, this cost $90 for the driver for the day. He was very experienced driver and did not rush us at anytime, the trip also included a side trip to the Mizdakhan, an ancient city of Mausoleums and mosques, but we didn’t feel like we could manage it as Angela was still recovering from her back injury and had already done a great deal of walking in Moynaq. It is quite hilly too and would be better done in the morning.
When we arrived in Moynaq we went to the Museum, which is a must do and great place to get a real idea of how much impact the shrinking of the Aral Sea has had on the people of the town and the surrounding geography of the land. We had a young woman show us round and there is no official entrance fee for the museum, but we paid 5000 for each of us as she was very informative and answered questions about the history of the area. It was a very poignant moment. Especially for me to realise that such a huge catastrophe has happened within my life time and the massive impact it has had on the people.
Our driver then took us down to the edge of the desert which was the edge of the Aral Sea; you really need to see the pictures and photos of before the shrinking to understand how much it has gone! We saw two largish ships from the road, but there is a proper memorial point where there are steps down to a collection of about 9-10 boats. We eagerly made our way down to them, mindful of the fact it was midday-ish and was going to get hotter and hotter. I have to say the excitement of seeing these boats stranded in so much sand overcame my sense of heat and I thoroughly enjoyed exploring all of the boats and taking many photos (a photographer’s dream location). Equally I was mindful of where I was and how sad I also felt at the same time. Actually gutted was closer. Dust/sand tornadoes danced around areas of the now desert and from the view point back at the top of the steps we could see other boats in the distance, looking like toys in a sandy sea.
After this sobering visit we then were taken to the old cannery complex/factory. Like the old factories from oop north in the twenties, this old gated complex is also worth the visit. The huge rusting sliding gate is left slightly ajar and you can still walk round the huge complex, all of which is locked but I managed to get some great pics of inside the factory and all its abandoned machinery through some of the broken windows. It is a very eerie place, and again very sad when you realise 10,000 people lost their jobs when this factory was closed down 1984. It did have a huge impact on the local economy and although there have been efforts to create another lake nearby this is still a dying town, but I loved it.
If you can find the few extra dollars to go there do, you will not regret it; my only regret is that we did not take extra time to drive to the edge of the Aral Sea as is now, and camp. That would have made it complete and I would have felt that I was giving something back to a struggling local economy.
This was for me the original driving force for me to come to Central Asia, how little I knew then! Hah! The Architecture of the Rejistan I had dreamed about when researching this trip and in many of my pictorial Architecture books at home, Lived up to all my expectations and more. Stunning, Stunning & Stunning. I was worried after seeing so many stunning Mosques in Iran that I would find the Rejistan an anti climax, nope, not one bit. Along with the Sha h-i-Zinda (the avenue of Mausoleums) which some consider an abomination of restoration, really do not know what they are talking about. Here I would rather see tasteful restoration than crumbled ruins, and overdone lego style fixes. These were stunningly beautiful. (Pictures will follow).
We stayed at Antica B&B (see review) and felt we were well placed for most of the sites and the Bazaar. We did just about all the sites around the Rejistan, and we hit Ulubeks Observatory early enough to miss the crowds and the heat of the day. Fabulous views can be had from here across the city and some of the other major sites (Rejistan, and old city walls). We also visited the “Tomb of Daniel” which was set beautifully next to a small river, and high up and the Afrosiab Museum which houses some stunning frescos inside along with some exhibits charting the eleven layers of civilisation. Pity the current residents are not so civilised! We were hassled all the way round by sellers that were allowed to sell some books and trinkets. They seemed to think that we didn’t know our way round or that when we finally got to the best bit(the frescos) that we couldn’t look at them without having demands for money for Photography(not Necessary, photography is free) and to buy some utter rubbish! We did feel that you have to give if you want to save something from the ravages of time.