All things counter, original, spare and strange in Khujand, Tajikistan


Blah blah blah, another minaret. But this one caused the death of its namesake. The Islam Khoja Minaret is named after a vizier who became more popular than his ruler, the Amir of Khiva, so he was ambushed in the night by brigands in the pay of the eclipsed ruler. The brigands were then blamed for the whole fiasco and publically tossed off the minaret to their deaths. Since then, and up until the Russians invaded to stop the rampant slave trade. the minaret doubled as a means of execution.

That’s Khiva for you. It had a reputation for ruthlessness. But, as the main remaining city of the Khorezm civilization, it also preserves the memory of some of the greatest scholars in Central Asia. Ever wonder where the word “algorithm” comes from? It’s a latinised version of the name Al-Khorezm, which is what they called the prominent Khorezmian¬†mathematician who invented algebra.

Our party was divided (to continue the math theme) after Bukhara. Corrie, a fellow fulbrighter, and I decided to continue on across the Kizelkum desert to Khiva. The others returned to Dushanbe, their teaching schedules being more confining than mine.

Khiva today, despite it’s nefarious past as a despotic slave-dealing center, comes across as the tamest of Uzbekistan’s tourist cities. The whole old city has been re-walled, separating it from the modern buildings outside and creating a museum-piece city within the city. This inner city is half history-buff’s paradise, half Uzbek Disneyland. In contrast to the sites in Bukhara, which seemed to be just visited by foreigners, Uzbeks were the majority of the sight-seers. We met a group of students from Tashkent, lots of locals from new Khiva, and over ten wedding parties. Apparently all the brides and grooms have to come to the old city to get their pictures taken in front of the minarets.

One of the coolest things about Khiva is that you can just waltz into a carpet-weaving shop and watch the women work. This workshop was started as a joint project with UNESCO and Operation Mercy, an NGO which operates in Tajikistan as well. UNESCO actually declared the whole old city of Khiva a World Heritage Site, which means it has to be preserved or else.

There was no one there to explain the process to us when we were there, but the woman depicted above is threading a piece of yarn through the warp and weft of the carpet. They add the colored yarn piece by piece, row by row, then they take shears and cut it all level. The patterns are made by weaving in these single pieces of yarn at the right place and time. It looks painstaking.

Other Khiva recommendations: the Otabek Guesthouse is more of a homestay than a hostel. They make some darn good pumpkin manti (sort of like stuffed dumplings. They call them mantu in Tajikistan). You do have to share a bathroom with the family, but I thought it was nice. The sights in Khiva were best around sunset. Khiva is like one big ancient brick jungle gym. You can climb up the city walls for great views of everything, and the Amir’s watchtower in the Ark is great.


One response

  1. Nicely described post of Khiva!

    July 8, 2011 at 12:40 am

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