When I first came across the term ‘Silk Paper” in one of the many museums at Khiva, I was intrigued as to what it was.
Was silk paper a special kind of silk that looked and felt like paper? Or was it the other way around where paper felt and looked like silk? Or was the term used to refer to the silk money of Khorezm? The answer, I found out later, lay somewhere between all this and a little beyond.
While in Samarqand, I took a break from visiting the many monuments there to go see a silk paper factory in a village called Konigil. Located about 10 km from Samarqand on the picturesque banks of the River Siab, the Meros Silk Paper Factory is a family-run unit that has been in operation for about 12 years. During my visit there, not only did I get to know what silk paper was all about, I also saw the process that went into producing them, and got the opportunity to pick up some souvenirs !
There are places that leave an impression on you after you have visited it. And then there are places which leave an impression on you even before you have visited it. Like Itchan Kala, the inner, fortified town of Khiva, an ancient city on the Silk Route in Central Asia. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Itchan Kala was the first of the sites to be inscribed in the list from Uzbekistan in 1990.
I came across Khiva and Itchan Kala, while researching on places to visit in Uzbekistan. While the photographs of Itchan Kala were uniformly breathtaking, not to mention tempting enough make me want to pack my bags and head there immediately, the descriptions were varied and the reactions mixed — a living fortress, a perfectly preserved medieval fortress, a fort museum, a museum city, former hub of slave trade, lifeless and artificial, a film set, a somewhere else place, over renovated and restored, lifeless, touristy… I found the multitude of opinions and impressions about Itchan Kala even more enticing than the pictures, and couldn’t wait to visit it for myself.
The sun was setting when I arrived on a September day in 2015 in the rather nondescript city of Khiva. It had been a long day of travel from Nukus, exploring the scattered ruins of Khorezem along the way. As my car wove in and out of twisting roads, I kept a lookout for the walled town, already familiar from the numerous pictures I had seen online.
And then, as we drove through a market, the mud walls of a fortress suddenly loomed up. It was the Itchan Kala. I barely had time to recover from that first sight before the car entered the fortress through a gate and stopped outside my hotel. As soon as the registration formalities were completed, I set out to explore the place.