To Khiva, and Beyond

I left Bukhara by taxi and crossed a difficult stretch of desert for five hours to yet another ancient Silk Road town, Khiva. The desert would have been tough to cycle even if I had the time. Windy and dusty with a terrible road surface, there were few towns in which to get food and water.

Khiva was a big slave trading town years back. Nowadays it is awash with French tour groups. The Soviets rebuilt many of the structures and transformed the place into a squeaky clean “city museum.” It’s nice but a bit artificial. Take a look.

I liked the reflection of the city wall off these windows.

Some typical structures in Khiva.

This would have been the world’s tallest minaret but the emir who ordered it built dropped dead before it could be completed.

One of the strange things for sale in the Khiva market.

Sunset in Khiva

After leaving Khiva I rode/taxied to the town of Nukus, near the Turkmen border. I rode through a lot of cotton fields like this one. It looks like back breaking work, and in the searing heat no less.

The Soviets decided in the 1960s to increase cotton production by diverting the river feeding the Aral Sea. As a result, the Aral Sea is now all but destroyed. One the Soviets real environmental catastrophes.

One of the Uzbek communist bosses made a fortune by consistently under-reporting cotton production to Moscow and selling off the excess for personal gain. There was an old communist joke about it at the time:

Communist Party Boss: How much cotton do we have?
Peasant: Enough to pile up to the feet of Allah!
Party Boss: You fool, this is a communist state, there is no God here.
Peasant: That’s OK, because┬áthere’s no cotton either.

A rickety bridge crossing. This was a temporary bridge while a new one was being built.

From Nukus I got a taxi to the Turkmen border. After four tedious hours through immigration and customs, I made it through and entered the surreal and bizarre country of Turkmenistan.