A beautiful new road next to the dirt track

A rogue Burger King

The west gate of Ichon-Qala

Mohammed Khan medressa

Main street of Ichon-Qala at night

Kalta Minor Minaret

Decorative front in the Kuhna Ark

The walls of the Ichon-Qala

A bird flying by the fort

The Ichon-Qala

Old wooden door

In the bazaar by the old city

What happened to the rest?

Here are the leftovers

The east gate of Ichon-Qala

Souvenir stands

Decorative walls

Selling fur hats in the scorching desert heat

Supporting posts in the mosque

Islom-Holja minaret

Old book from the 18th century

Inside a mausoleum

Tomb in a mausoleum

Ceiling of the mausoleum

Statue at sunset

Minaret at sunset

Silhouette of the walls

Khiva, Uzbekistan

Ruins in the Desert

June 7, 2012

Progress takes away

What forever took to find

- Dave Matthews Band

It gets pretty hot in the middle of the Kyzylkum Desert so driving through in the peak of the mid-day heat in a car with no air conditioning wasn’t pleasant. My window was also stuck halfway down so I had the benefits of the hot desert air blasting in my face to cool me down and let in the intermittent dust clouds from passing vehicles. I should also mention that the road was mostly miserable, a rocky stretch of dirt, that seems to have been under construction for ages. Alongside this rough road were stretches of brand new perfect pavement that were blocked off in some form of a cruel joke. Supposedly they will be finished soon, although that appears highly doubtful, but in the meantime why not use the sections which have already been completed?

After passing through such a long inhospitable stretch of desert I began to wonder why people ever lived here and also why they still live here. The answer came in the form of a bridge crossing the Amu Darya River; water is the lifeblood of all civilizations. All around the river the previously barren desert was highlighted by green trees and plants, irrigation carrying the water away from the river to the surrounding farms formed patches of green. This was why the ancient city of Ichon-Qala was constructed here and while it is no longer an intimidating desert fortress it certainly provides a lot of tourist income for the current residents. As per the other major attractions in Uzbekistan I knew it would be touristy but when I saw the sign for a Burger King not too far from Khiva I was really amazed, and slightly excited, to see how and why it could exist in such isolation, not to mention having my first real hamburger since leaving the United States almost two months ago. Sadly my hopes and dreams were dashed when I saw that it was an imposter, a local Uzbek clone creatively called King Burger. When I return home I will certainly be writing a letter to Burger King’s corporate office to inform them of this injustice.

While the desert hasn’t kept away Burger King clones it has preserved the remains of Khiva in near perfect form. The dramatic walls of the Ichon-Qala are imposing and the collection of minarets, mosques, madrassas, and mausoleums inside offer some very unique images: the watchtower of the Kuhna Ark provides views of the whole site from the west side, the ceiling of the Juma Mosque is supported by over 200 hundred carved wooden columns, and the extravagant tiling on the Pahlavun Mahmud Mausoleum is mesmerizing.

The individual buildings aside, the Ichon-Qala feels like a big tourist fair during the day when souvenir shops line the main streets and occupy at least a few rooms in nearly every building. Only late at night or early in the morning does the place really feel like the ancient city that it is. The vastly overpriced tourist restaurants and ubiquitous souvenirs have destroyed the feeling and emotion that would otherwise give the place character. It is still amazing and worth seeing but I am very glad to be moving further into the isolation of the desert and away from the tourist hordes.