Khorezm: Castle of Mud

Khiva, Khorezm
June 6, 2009

Dear Family and Friends,    

Near my hotel, on a narrow stone street lies a pile of mud.  The neat, circular pile is no accident.  It is no children's play area.  What is it?

The mud pie is a construction site, or more properly, the preparation area.  Workmen shovel the mud, mixed with straw, into straw baskets that they carry away to a pulley and rope.  The mud is hoisted up to the top of a building.  They are making repairs to a wall using the ancient, time-tested method.

The same thick walls of mud protect the Ayaz-Qala, a group of fortresses dating back to the Sixth Century.  The impressive ruins of the qala sit up on a hillside and dominate the surrounding desert.

Our driver has dropped us off at the base, so Sean and Marissa and I make the slow climb to the gates of the fort.  We wander and climb around the medieval walls.  On close inspection, the mud walls are flaked with straw, just like the walls in Khiva.  With my finger nail, I can barely scrape away a couple of grains of dirt from the hard-packed compound.

We visit two more castle ruins.  The Toprak Qala and the Qyzyl Qala date back to the Third Century.

All of the fortresses in this area are part of the Elliq-Qala, "Fifty Fortresses."  Archeologists are still at work here.

I ask myself, "Which grand structures do I prefer?"  The restored and pristine tile towers of Khiva that gleam with pride and power against the intense blue sky?   Or, the partially crumbled, timeless mud fortresses that rise with grace and dignity to defy the desert sands.?

Perhaps one day I will return to the Kara Kum Desert and to Khiva, not for a dig in the mud, but for a yurt stay and a camel trek across the sands.

The yurts beside the Ayaz-Qala look quite comfortable and I am sure the food will be excellent.  The guidebook says there's a solar powered generator.  And, a good chef.

Castles of mud.  Castles in the sand.  Castles.  There are so many more castles to visit.



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