Almaty, Tashkent and Khiva – those are the cities that we have been in over the last four days.
Almaty was always a transit from Kyrgyzstan through to Uzbekistan. Having visited Almaty about ten years ago, I thought I knew what to expect. I was completely wrong as the city exploded out of an early 20th century soviet city, and has grabbed the 21st century with both hands. The city has a population of over 2 million, and sprawls across the Kazakh steppes. There are 800,000 cars and an unsurprising haze lies over most of the city. There are new buildings going up everywhere, developments, shopping centres, hotels, and exhibition sites. The change is dramatic and shows the effects of wealth generation from gas and oil. The interesting question is how does a government redistribute wealth in a way that doesn’t encourage corruption on the one hand, but doesn’t disincentive further wealth creation on the other; it sounds like a dissertation title.
The airport was suitably new, as we took a relatively short flight into Tashkent and our first sight of Uzbekistan. Tashkent was more Almaty than Almaty. It was newer, bigger, cleaner, more modern, than Almaty. It felt as though this what was Almaty aspired to be. The hotel was excellent, and even better Susie and Bruce were waiting for us.
The following morning, at a completely unreasonable hour, we took a short flight to Urgench, the regional travel hub for Khorazem. The airport (leaving aside the slightly excessive security arrangements), was modern and clean, the plane was an Airbus something (sorry Dave I can’t remember the numbers, but it had two wings and a lot of engines). All very modern. We landed, and were driven the 30 km down a modern highway, in a modern minibus, to Khiva.
In 1998 Khiva celebrated its 2500 year anniversary. It was founded by the son of Noah. It is old, very old. But it has been destroyed numerous times, partly by wars and partly by earthquakes. It has been rebuilt each time, renovated and improved. Unlike the renovated old town of Kashgar, the renovation seems a lot more sympathetic. The renovation is also a lot older, going back to buildings that were first built in the 19th century. The buildings are truly extraordinary, with mosques madrasahs mausoleums and museums all covered in beautiful blue green and white tiles. Apparently one of the characteristics of Khiva is that they were the only three colours used for the majolica tiles. Also the original tiles were nailed to the walls, again a unique feature of Khiva. Words don’t do justice to the city.