The drive to Khiva (pronounced HEE-va) is long, but Jama said it was much improved since just a couple of months ago. Uzbekistan has been replacing the old, two-lane, much-potholed road with a modern four-lane road built to international standards. Unfortunately it's not yet completed, but at least what used to be a nine to eleven hour drive is now only about five as I recall. Unfortunately there are no suitable air connections.

Although our trip was billed as "the five Stans," it actually included six. Karakalpakstan (pronounced kah-ra-kahl-PAK-stan) is an autonomous region within Uzbekistan. We didn't "visit" it in any sense, however, just passed through.



Khiva bus ride

This picture out of the front of the bus shows what the road looks like in spots (and this wasn't one of the worst spots). The pavement is bad enough, but the constant wind in the desert blows drifts of sand across making for a very slow and lurching ride.

For the worst part of the ride Jama had a PBS DVD about the remarkable Savitsky Art Collection in Nukus, the capital of Karakalpakstan. A visit to the actual collection was unfortunately not on our itinerary due to time constraints.

My research since we returned from Central Asia has raised some troubling questions about the fate of this collection and the independence of expression that we were told existed in Uzbekistan.

Lunch stop

Our lunch stop was at a tea house out back of beyond. We had box lunches that were just as over-the-top as the restaurant meals.

Our trusty bus simply stopped on the road while we ate. Here is the spot where the four lanes go back to two lanes, but at least the roadbed was new and not covered with sand.

Buses are required to have two drivers, one of which can also serve as a mechanic. Both of our drivers were very pleasant. At every opportunity they were cleaning the bus, even washing it if water was available.

Young Uzbek

The tea house appeared to be a bus terminal of sorts. This youngster was waiting for the local Greyhound equivalent. He was thrilled to have his picture taken. By the time the public bus showed up there were additional folks waiting, so it must have a specific schedule.

We asked Jama how the folks who lived in this location got their children to school. Were there school buses? The answer is no, it is up to the parents to figure out how their children can get to the nearest school, wherever it may be.

Syr Darya

Not long after lunch we crossed the Amu Darya river, which is one of the major sources of the disappearing Aral sea. The river was once called the Oxus by Europeans. Jama said that in the spring it would be carrying more water from the snow-melt, but irrigation uses up most of the river's flow during the growing season.


Ironically, since we are in the desert, the water table is high enough that in this area graves are all above ground as in New Orleans.

Khiva city wall

Our hotel in Khiva was right opposite the inner wall, which completely surrounds the Ichan-Kala or inner town.

Interesting features in this picture are:

  • The grave monuments on the wall are not necessarily actual graves. They are intended to deter attackers because treading on a grave is forbidden in Islam.
  • The brownish stain indicates the "rising damp" from the water table. It undermines the the wall.
  • The yellow pipe is a gas line – above ground because of earthquakes.
  • The deep gutter carries off the sometimes torrential rains.
Unfinished Khiva minaret

This squat tower is only the lower portion of a 19th century minaret that was never finished. The goal was to build the tallest minaret in Central Asia. It was believed that, once it was finished, the emir would be able to see all the way to Bukhara (not true, by the way). Even this base is quite impressive.

Khiva Ark

In the same way that there isn't only one "registan," the "ark" in Bukhara isn't the only ark. "Ark" means "fortress" in Persian.

Ark stairs

We are inside the Khiva ark. Jama brought us here right after we arrived so that we could see Khiva in the late afternoon light. We're about to go through the door on the left and up the steep stairs shown on the right.

I got up the stairs fine, but had to come down on my rear to spare my knees. I got some puzzled looks, but it worked for me. This is why my hiking pants are dust-colored.

Khiva overlook

One view of the Khiva skyline. The views changed as we clambered up to the various levels inside the fortress.

Khiva City Wall

Looking along the old wall toward modern Khiva and beyond to the city of Urgench.

Domes and Minarets

Yet another overlook of old Khiva.

Saint's Shrine

Throughout Khiva we saw these standards with pennants. Jama said they marked the graves of holy men or saints. Some looked relatively modern, like this one, whereas others were almost buried under the modern level of the streets.

Tomb-worship, or veneration of saints, has become a cultic practice held over from earlier shamanistic beliefs. As a form of idolatry it goes against fundamental Islamic beliefs and has been condemned by more scholarly Muslims.

As we have seen throughout Central Asia, however, elaborate mausoleums are prevalent. This seems to be especially true in Khiva. Many graves in the city are located near the graves or mausoleums of holy men in the hope to claim some of their virtue. In order to be buried in Khiva, however, someone must die in Khiva since no corpse can be brought into the inner city.

English Conversationalist

As elsewhere the children were particularly friendly and eager to practice their English. Jim always tried to engage them in conversation, but they seldom went beyond the most limited exchanges.

Khiva Street

The streets in the old city of Khiva were even more primitive than elsewhere. Part of that is due to its World Heritage status, which prohibits much alteration.

We wondered if the Khiva Architectural Review Board was as nit-picky as the one in Lexington or where we used to live in Reston. Imagine living in Colonial Williamsburg.

We never got a concise definition of the population of this oldest part of town, but it ranged around 2000.

That looks like a purebred German Shorthaired Pointer. I expect its owner isn't poverty-stricken.

Khiva Cemetery

The blue dome on the left belongs to the Pahlavan Mahmud Mausoleum. It is the center of an extensive necropolis. As noted above, people sought to be buried close to a venerable saint.

We will see more of it later.