The mid-day sun in July is hot and harsh as is the landscape around. I am somewhere in the Thar Desert — about 30-40 km west of Jaisalmer city — and the ground is hard, dry, and stony in most parts with some sandy patches. It is the end of summer in this region and I scan the skies for signs of monsoon clouds, but there are none to be seen.
All around me are limestone and sandstone ridges with the meanders of rivers and streams that once flowed here cutting through the rock layers. In the distance, cenotaphs and memorial stones to the dead can be seen. The occasional pops of green from the desert flora provides visual relief (and shade !) in the otherwise arid and barren landscape (see photograph below).
It is a sight that leaves me awestruck for this one frame encapsulates millions of years of history of the region — natural as well as human. A history that is as rich as it is varied and one that has changed and evolved through space and time.
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.
Q: What does a country do if there is a shortage of paper to print currency?
A: No problem. They print currency on a material they have in abundance.
When the rulers of Khiva of the Khorezm Province in Uzbekistan faced paper shortage at the beginning of the 19th century, they turned to a material they had in abundance —Silk, which was used to print currency of large denominations