Uzbekistan - post 1 - Khiva

I’m back after a trip to Uzbekistan (and Istanbul).

This first post about the trip will be rather long as I imagine most of my readers may not be too knowledgeable when it comes to Uzbekistan and some information about the country may hopefully be of interest.

Here is first a map with some (very) approximate borders. We are in Central Asia. The country is surrounded by a number of ‘stan countries: Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Afghanistan.

I travelled by plane from the capital Tashkent to Khiva (via the nearby airport at Ourguentch), by bus to Bukhara, again by bus to Sharisabz, by car to Samarkand, by train back to Tashkent.

Here we can see that the country is largely occupied by deserts and step land. Rivers offer some greener land. Irrigation projects, especially during the 1960’s and 70’s, linked to cotton production, has led to the more or less total disappearance of the Ural Sea and general high soil salinity.

The history of the country is closely linked to the Silk Road, which during centuries assured the transmission of trade and culture between the West and the East – until the sea routes took over. The Silk Road took many ways, but Bukhara and Samarkand were always some kind of concentration points. 

Some history facts about Central Asia and Uzbekistan:  In ancient times the region was dominated by sedentary and semi-nomadic Iranian civilisations. Alexander the Great tried to conquer the region around 300 BC. Between the 5th and 10th centuries there was an expansion of Turkic peoples, including the Uzbeks, but also the Arabs arrived during the 7th century. Genghis Khan and the Mongols invaded – and devastated – the region during the 13th century. A Turko-Mongol tribal chieftain, Timur (Tamerlane) was at his death in 1405 at the head of an empire which covered also present Iran, part of Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan… Timur was known for extreme brutality, but also imitated a Perso-Islamic culture and many of the architectural – restored - masterpieces we can see today date from his period.  He also patronized physicians, scientists, artists… Timur is today somehow considered as the Father of the Uzbek Nation and his statue is to be found at many places. Descendants of the Khan-Mongols, split in different emirates, ruled until the arrival of Russians during the 19th century followed by the Bolsheviks after the Russian Revolution and Uzbekistan and its neighbour countries were incorporated into the Soviet Union. Uzbekistan declared its independence in 1991.  Uzbek is the official language but Russian is widely used.

The climate is of course very continental - hot summers, cold winters. Tourism is concentrated to spring and autumn.

Uzbekistan is a leading producer and exporter of cotton and gold and has great resources of gas, oil, coal, copper, silver, uranium… Unemployment is quite high, “saved” by strong family solidarity. 

The country has some 30 million inhabitants. Close to 90% are Sunni Muslims, but obviously very moderate – you hardly see any burkas.

People are smiling, friendly and the selling of local products to tourists is done in a relaxed, non-aggressive way and with an impressive use of different languages.

Well, there is a lot more to be said, but I must stop now. 

This first report will thus concentrate on Khiva.

Arriving by a local flight from the capital Tashkent to the city of Ourguentch, a thirty minutes’ drive will bring you to this old city and its central part, surrounded by a wall with foundations from the 10th century, but basically from the 17th century. 

From the top of the wall, you have some excellent views of the town center (see also top picture). 

Here are some further views of different mosques, madrasas (educational institutions), mausoleums… I refrain to tell you about the names and story behind all of these, but please notice the large “tower” which actually is the beginning of a gigantic minaret, which never has been completed. Although most buildings have been built, rebuilt, during the 18th 19th centuries and restored more recently, there are of course traces of older structures. The hypostyle (roof supported by columns) Djuna mosque contains 112 columns taken from ancient buildings.

There is a statue of Al-Xorazmy, a mathematician, astronomer and geographer (c 780-850) who obviously was born in or close to Khiva. Latin translations of his works during the 12th century introduced the decimal system to the Western world. He is considered as the original inventor of algebra. 

Water supply is of course “modern” (although tourists should rather consume bottled water), but you can find some old dwells still in use.  

An example of the local bread production.

In a museum you can see some examples of old costumes… Men still often wear the traditional Uzbek hats.

Some photos of local people.

Especially early mornings you can see a number of women sweeping the streets. In general, you can notice how streets and public places in Uzbekistan are extremely clean – no cigarette butts to be found on the ground.  

In a next episode we take the road to Bukhara.      


Virginia said...

I think the street sweepers are much more beautifully dressed than the "green men" in Paris! Thank you Peter for this wonderful post about your journey. I'm one that didn't know much about this part of the world. You never disappoint with your wonderfully researched posts. V

martinealison said...

Bonjour cher Peter,

C'est fabuleux ce voyage que tu viens de faire !
Ton reportage est fascinant.
J'ai hâte de voir la prochaine escale !
Je ne connais pas du tout ce pays. Je me suis arrêtée à Istanbul.
Dans de différents reportages télévisés j'ai pu admirer les paysages.
Je me régale de tes photos... Je sais que c'est une grande besogne pour les classer... puis de nous en faire un montage.
J'aime celles de la population locale. Les enfants sont adorables...
Je suis aussi éblouie par l'architecture et les fantastiques décorations de la mosquée Djuna.

Un grand merci pour cet excellent article.

Gros bisous ☼

Alain said...

De nos jours, on n'entend guère parler des pays où il n'y a ni guerre ni révolution et l'Ouzbékistan est un pays que je ne situais pas très bien. Wikipédia n'est pas très tendre avec ce pays : dictature, répression des partis d'opposition, travail forcé des enfants dans les champs de coton...mais n'en n'est-il pas ainsi dans bien des pays de cette région du monde ? La saleté des rues est parfois un bon baromètre de la démocratie (sauf en Suisse, bien entendu).

Cezar and Léia said...

Bonjour Peter!
A very interesting place, I like a lot your pictures. So nice to see clean streets and kind people.

Thérèse said...

Quelles distances parcourues!
Tiens ma moitie est en train de lire Tamerlan ecrit par Jean Paul Roux, il trouve le livre passionnant.
Symetries et lignes droites un peu partout dans de tres belles couleurs au long de tes photos.
+ la vie dans les rues bien rendue, on peut bien s'en faire une idee. Le pain doit etre delicieux!

Ruth said...

I am very envious of your journey. This is a wonderful post, with beautiful photos of the architecture and people. My family and I lived in Istanbul and planned to move into Kyrghyzstan, but that was not to be. My husband and I have a wistful fondness of the Silk Road and would love to do such a trip as this. So great.

By the way, in very rudimentary study of Genghis Khan, in spite of his reputation for brutality, he also accomplished a lot of good things to unite his people, which was his goal. It must have been a terrible time. I recommend the film "Mongol" which imagines his life early in that context.

Dédé said...

ça me rappelle quelque chose...

Jeanie said...

A fascinating journey to a spot of which I know little. Thank you for the history and background. The buildings are beautiful, so warm in that sun. I look forward to continuing the journey.

Studio at the Farm said...

It must have been a fascinating trip, Peter. Thank you for all the information, and of course, your wonderful photos!

Anonymous said...


Gracias mil for this hallucinatory post!
Did you get to see...buy...some rugs in Bukhara?


Anonymous said...

That picture of the four little children is priceless!


MadAboutParis said...

Thank you Peter, very comprehensive as always. I might have thrown tomatoes at the statue of Al-Xorazmy, algebra was not my best subject.
Looking forward to the next posts!

Dédé said...

Les soldats, sur les rempart des Khiva... disaient à l'ennemi à portée de lance: "qui va là?", ce qui a donné le nom à la ville derrière les remparts.

PeterParis said...

En attendant une suite éventuelle, déjà un merci général pour vos commentaires sympathiques !
Alain : Oui, la démocratie ne suit évidemment pas les normes que nous connaissons dans d’autres pays. Oui, je sais que certaines marques boycottent le coton ouzbek à cause de l’utilisation des enfants dans les récoltes (manuels). Il y a selon les reports de « Human Rights » beaucoup des choses à dire. En attendant, comme touriste, on est impressionné par une population souriante et accueillante, par un practice religieux non agressif… On peut espérer que l’ouverture vers le monde extérieur peut contribuer à une amélioration aussi des conditions de droit, de démocratie. (En attendant, si on veut voyager uniquement dans des pays en parfaite démocratie, le choix des pays reste très limité.)
Thérèse : Je vais chercher le livre sur Tamerlan. Merci !
Dédé : J’apprécie ton complément d’information !

Synne said...

My gosh, I could look at the elabtorate decoations of those mosques for days on end, and the golden views from the walls are so beautiful! Thanks a lot for sharing these exotic glimpses with us.

claude said...

Elle est marrante Dédé.
J'ai vu des post chez Marguerite Marie qui a fait le même voyage il n'y a pas si longtemps.
J'aime assez l'architecture et les couleurs.
Merci de ce partage.

richard said...

Hi Peter

Looking forward to seeing the remaining posts and photos from this trip. Sounds already like a really positive experience, maybe more so than your Trans-Siberian trip? Although I'm guessing of course!!



Jean(ne) in MN said...

You are a wonderful guide and history teacher, and now take us to a place most of us don't know much about. Many thanks for the facts and fabulous photos of people and places.

Thérèse said...

Des enfants qui travaillent dans les champs de coton ou du Monsanto qui apres l'echec de leur propre ogm emploie maintenant l'agent orange?

moon angeleno said...

Wow, what a wonderful journey it must have been! I can't wait to read the rest.