The ruined fortresses in the desert.

       With all these train rides, taxis and different cities and hotels obviously I meet people and then bump into them again, so here in Khiva I met up with Austin who had been staying at the Samarkand B and B and then with Oliver and Katya who I saw on the train to Bukhara and who then stayed at the same B and B in that city. Oliver, Katya and I went for (the now famous) lunch on Wednesday and wandering through the Bazaar afterwards met up with Austin. We had all heard of a collection of ruined fortresses north of here in the desert and agreed to go on a group outing the next day. We tried the tourist office first but the negotiation was difficult so we went to see a man who Austin had met and he agreed to take us for a reasonable price.

Up early on Thursday, the car came for me at 7.50 and we went round the corner to pick up the other three. I was nervous that Oliver would be uncomfortable in the back as he is six foot six, but no, he was fine in the back and off we went. Back through Urgench where my train had arrived and then north through cotton fields, rice paddies, salt flats, goat herds, corn fields. We stopped for water at a roadside shack where bathroom breaks were taken, reports of three cows guarding the outhouse. The scenery changed after about an hour from the green of the oasis to the brown of the dusty desert, fewer and fewer other cars on the road, mainly just donkey carts, people walking and and herds of cattle. 

We came across the first ruin soon after entering the desert and pulled off the road onto a track for a couple of hundred yards, parked next to the only other car and all piled out. I paused to take photos but the others were off across the scrub, jumping over a muddy ditch and approached the main gateway. I followed, failed to jump the ditch and squelched into the mud, they pretended not to notice. I could see Katya running up the path into the fortress crying “and we invade the fortress”, this from a thirty something Stanford graduate from Moscow. I think we were all filled with a kind of child like enthusiasm. Austin bounded about, running from wall to wall, taking photos, Oliver beamed eagerly and I wondered how long I could keep this up, it was incredibly hot.

The second fortress was as breathtaking. The ancient capital of the region it was interesting to see the remains of houses, rooms, palaces, stables and storage areas. There were no guides at any of these ruins, no postcard sellers, no souvenir or trinket vendors, not much of anything really, just us, the vistas and the wind. The Wind of the Ages. I tried to take photos of the huge outer wall but it didn’t really work, too big and it was noon time so the light was terrible. But the ruins are still there. Our driver bought a melon, for lunch and we stopped at a roadside cafe after pausing at a lake, in the desert, full of fish apparently. Oliver ate a chicken, looked like a whole one, Katya had soup, Austin had some pastry things and I had a huge plate of stuffed dumplings called Manti. We then witnessed the melon cutting ritual which was quite delightful, it tasted good too, There are forty different varieties of melon available around here.

To the last ruined fortress which turned out to be two, close together. We parked adjacent to a collection (?) of yurts, real yurts, with people living in them and a small herd of camels. Great enthusiasm for camel riding from Austin and Oliver so they went off to negotiate a price and reappeared, on a camel. Katya didn’t seem too keen and I definitely wasn’t, but off they went up a long track to the fortress. A very long track. Katya lead the way and I followed, in my sandals, which kept filling up with sand, very hot sand. Up and up, on and on, we made it to the top. The views of the surrounding desert were stunning, such a huge expanse, and I could just imagine the dust cloud the inhabitants must have seen as the enemy came in from the horizon. I walked almost all the way round the fortress, took some photos of the second fort below and then cut across the interior, I was flagging, big time. Back down the long track, uncomfortable sand in sandals, blisters beginning, really really hot, one foot in front of the other, and I made it, bringing up the rear, again. 

Tea in the yurt was never so welcome.

Here’s a couple of things: I didn’t go into the history of the fortresses too much as its all available a click away on Google. I gave you the names, so if you are interested, click away.

All three of my outing friends have left town, Oliver and Katya to Moscow (a direct flight!) and Austin back to Tashkent. Thanks guys for a memorable day out. So I’m feeling a bit lonesome and will head out tomorrow. Lets see how that goes.

First view of Red Fort

First view of Red Fort

A view of the inside of Kyzyl-Kala.

A view of the inside of Kyzyl-Kala.

Is someone still keeping watch for marauders?

Is someone still keeping watch for marauders?

Toprak-Kala, the ancient capital of the area dating from 1st to 5th century.

Toprak-Kala, the ancient capital of the area dating from 1st to 5th century.

Someone's house two an half thousand years ago.

Someone’s house two an half thousand years ago.

The walls still stand.

The walls still stand.

First view of the Ayaz-Kala, built  at the end of 4th Century BC.

First view of the Ayaz-Kala, built at the end of 4th Century BC.

The front door or gateway into the fortress. It was very well defended against raids by nomads.

The front door or gateway into the fortress. It was very well defended against raids by nomads.

Ayaz-Kala 2, built 6th to 8th Century and lasted until the Mongol invasion in the 13th Century.

Ayaz-Kala 2, built 6th to 8th Century and lasted until the Mongol invasion in the 13th Century. Taken from Ayaz-Kala 1.

Another one of #2, and look at that view.

Another one of #2, and look at that view.

Walls of #1 fortress. Still standing and watching watching.

Walls of #1 fortress. Still standing and watching watching.

Maybe you share my affection for walls. I love walls!

Maybe you share my affection for walls. I love walls!

Last view of fortress from doorway of a yurt.

Last view of fortress from doorway of a yurt.

Pretending!

Pretending!

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10 responses to “The ruined fortresses in the desert.

  1. We like walls too and your new friend the Camel. Now we know why they are called sandals! Glad of a little history with the photos, like your version better than Google. You look well on your biscuits. x

    • Good. Thanks. Actually I do feel quite good on my biscuits.
      I thought the same thing when I wrote it, sand in the sandals. Never crossed my mind before.
      I am definitely on history overload here. So much to absorb.

  2. Glad you had some buddies for the day’s trip. Sorry you didn’t attempt the camel!
    Please note no capitals. Caps lock out of bounds!!
    Mother

    • Yes, they were all excellent company.
      Of course they had all been to the Bay Area so much swapping of restaurant information etc.
      I see more camels in my future so don’t worry.
      In fact the general consensus was that in fact it was a dromedary,only one hump?
      Keep up the good work on the caps lock key!

  3. The best blog yet! I loved reading about Oliver, Katya and Austin and how Austin had ‘met a man’ who could show you the fortresses ‘for a reasonable price’ – oh, the memories of camaraderie on the road… Fabulous photos (are they low res so you could download more – if so, they are still excellent quality). Despite the heat, maybe boots/walking shoes are the order of the day, I really felt for you with hot sand between your toes!

    • Thanks Annie, it really was a great day out with like minded people.
      Austin, from San Diego, graduated recently and is off to UCLA to do his PHD. Clever guy not only taught himself the cyrillic alphabet but also learnt the first and last chapters of the Koran.
      Katya and Oliver from Heidelberg are both in the software business working for Citrix and SAP respectively. Both extremely high powered. Oliver showed movies on his phone of a trip over the Siberian tundra which he had taken from a MIL chopper when there on a sales call. Katya amused the group with tales of being flown to LA for a series of presentations, to one guy!
      We are all now confirmed f/b friends and swapping messages and things.
      As to the photos, are they really showing up as low res’? they take an awful long time to upload and I can control/click on my Mac (right click in Windows) and make them go huge, or save, and open in iPhoto. Do let me know.
      Four days later my feet are finally recovering, next time I will definitely take the walking boots. Sigh.

  4. Another great blog. Kathleen and Chloe came over last night to bring me a gift for watering while they were in a more civilized part of the world, Nantucket. Chloe studied the Silk road, and asked a couple times, where you have been and where you are going. She started Marin Academy and LOVES IT! I too love the pics of people including you, whatever you do, keep blogging and posting pictures. Your devoted follower.

    • Thank you kindly.
      There is a blog or two to come about the Silk Road and I am actually still following it.
      I have a long, long way to go!
      Sure, I think MA was made for Chloe, and vice versa.
      Say hi from me.

  5. Hi Tim, great post. Reminds me of a great day in Uzbekistan. I just arrived in Lake Ohrid / Macedonia. Another decent place on earth, with a statue of Alexander the Great, who was Macedonian and conquered once Uzbekistan! Ttys Oliver

    • Thanks Oliver.
      You have whetted my appetite for Macedonia, perhaps I should visit.
      Still treasuring the memory of that great day out in Uzbekistan.
      It doesn’t get any better than that.

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