So, I've found the silk
Updated: Jun 25, 2019
Khiva was to be my first ‘tourist’ destination in Uzbekistan.
It’s a fairly uninspiring town on approach but then all roads focus on the fortress/citadel itself.
My ‘routine’ is now becoming set. I arrive earlyish in the afternoon, find my hotel and shower/rest a bit. Then in the evening, before the sun sets, I wander off to orientate myself, see a few sites and eat. I take breakfast, usually at 7am and do the sites properly, when it’s a little cooler. Few people are about then, the stallholders are setting up and the light is excellent. The museums and other ‘inside’ sites are visited when they open at 9.
If I’m driving that day, I gorge on breakfast so I can skip lunch. In Uzbekistan, breakfast tends to be bread (sponsored globally by dentists I’m sure!), yogurt, two fried eggs, ham, cheese, fruit, juice and coffee or chai (the latter being generally better than the coffee) and sometimes a couple of pancakes with honey.
My hotel in Khiva was a smallish family run business. It was an old pharmacy and had a courtyard in its middle, with a well, presumably for potion making. The rooms were very comfortable and spotlessly clean. In addition to standard tables and chairs for breakfast, there were (oops, don’t know the name) big day beds, enough for 6 people at least, with soft cushions and a table in the middle for eating, drinking chai or, as we will discover later, vodka.
Once inside the outer walls, it was a surprise to see so many tiny, ram-shackled houses there. They are in a maze of dusty, unmade roads, with kids playing in the dirt.
When the showpiece ‘centre’ is reached, the buildings are just magnificent. But maybe the bashed up old residential bit is the real centre. I liked walking through it (even after dark, it didn’t seem threatening). Old men would nod with an “asalam aleykum” and kids would call “Hello Meestere”.
Not one of them begged for treats or money. In the morning, I went walkabout. I visited a couple of museums. To be honest, I found them a little disappointing with little or nothing from the Silk Road era – most of the artefacts were mid-19th century. The buildings though were simply stunning.
Perhaps too restored, almost new looking but awesome nevertheless.
I decided to spend two nights in Khiva and have a break from the road. So, my first meal was Shivit Oshi, a dill infused noodle/pasta with carrots and fried meat atop. Tasty and different. Maybe over-dilled! I also drank Uzbek white wine, which was pretty good. The 2nd night I ate a good old shish kebab at a more ‘locals’ restaurant recommended by the hotel staff. The meat was meant to be lamb but it was either mutton and/or overcooked!
I slightly gave up on it, not so much because of the meat, but the irksome flies all over the place.
I went back to the hotel where the Manager was there with his ‘Uncle’ (as in old pal of his dad), a Brummie jewellery setter on a 2 year tour of everywhere and another global traveller who was French. I was invited to join them. There was already one bottle of vodka lying on its side on the table.
I was invited to eat something but I declined. A staff member was sent out to buy some beers. You should have seen the face of the French guy when I asked if anyone would like a glass of chilled Roussillon rosé! He hadn’t taken to any of the Asian wines so far (er, being French).
After an hour or so chatting about the Manager’s plans to buy a big mini-bus from China (if that’s not a contradiction in terms) in order for him to offer tours, as well as accommodation and yes, Brexit (yawn, again), I suggested that I might just have a bottle of ‘Standard’ brand vodka in the car but it’d need putting in the freezer for about half an hour. Cheers all round. When it was ready, it was poured into china cups (well more like soup bowls really) and the drinking re-started. I don't even drink vodka, let alone neat.
Rather oddly, the Uzbek word for cheers is ‘oldook’ which Craig-The-Brummie insisted on pronouncing ‘old dick’ to much mirth (once translated) all round. Suddenly, the Manager rose and declared I was his brother from now on and he loved me. He leaned over the table and embraced me. Well, how to respond?
At 1am, the drink was all gone, as were most of the occupants of the table.
In the morning, as I was checking out, the Manager seemed very quiet. What, brother, no warm embrace? I think he was feeling the worse for wear. I was feeling jilted.