Friday, September 7, 2012 – Nukus, Uzbekistan to Khiva, Uzbekistan
Today we left Nukus in the Autonomous Republic of Karakalpakstan and drove to the fortress of Khiva, in the Khorezm region of Uzbekistan. Khiva was actually spelled Xiva in Uzbekistan language. But before we could start driving we had to go purchase car insurance. To pay for the insurance we had to purchase 140,000 soums. This was a huge stack of money, 140 – 1,000 soum notes. I could not get it all into my purse.
Uzbekistan’s passports were good for 10 years and every Uzbek after the age of sixteen required a visa, which listed their current address and their spouse’s information, if applicable. Their visa had to be carried with them daily. Policemen were allowed to stop and ask to see their passport at any time. If any Uzbek wanted to leave Uzbekistan to travel for a vacation they had to have an approved exit visa before even applying for a visa to visit another country.
Driving outside the city of Nukus we noticed all the school children walking to school. In Karakalpakstan, school uniforms were mandatory, white tops and black bottoms, worn by both boys and girls. Many of the schools had shifts. The children would go to school either in the morning or the afternoon depending on their grade. School was for 9 months with June, July and August off. They went to school 6 days per week. School was compulsory for 9 years, starting at age 7. Then 3 years of college and if the student wanted to continue then to university. During Soviet times all levels of education was free. Today, university was free to the top 30% of the students. The 70% who scored lower on their university entrance exam had to pay to go to university. All the students no matter what age looked smart as they walked to or from school.
Karakalpakstan was made up of many tribes and couples could not be from the same tribe. To marry the bride and groom had to be from a different tribe. This tradition was not carried on in the rest of Uzbekistan as far as I knew.
Ten minutes outside of Nukus we were in the desert. For miles the terrain was completely flat, a dry desert with sagebrush and nothing else growing in the sand. For as far as the eye could see was a brown desert with a blue, blue sky. Every so often we would drive by a green area, a true oasis in the desert. Whether it was a leak in their canal system or a natural spring we did not know.
We were told that one of the reasons the traders used camels to carry their goods on the Silk Road rather than horses or mules was because the camels had a sixth sense regarding sand storms. If a camel sensed a sand storm was coming it would lay down and put it’s head under their legs. This was a signal to the traders to set up camp and prepare for a sand storm.
We passed a Zoroastrian Tower of Silence sitting on top of a hill in the middle of nowhere. This practice had been outlawed in Iran and I am assuming it was outlawed here as well. This Tower of Silence sat as a reminder to foreigners and Uzbeks of the once powerful Zoroastrian religion practiced here in Central Asia.
As we neared Khiva the terrain changed back into farmland. Most of the fields were planted with cotton but also we noticed corn, sunflowers and vegetables. Again, all of their crops were supplied water by irrigation canals. We eventually arrived at our Hotel Asia just outside a gate of the old town of Khiva. It was the perfect location.