November 10, 2002
|Borders make us nervous, especially ones that stand in desert emptiness. Early in the morning we left Khiva and headed for the Turkmenistan border. We found our first honest cabbie, a man who charged us a tenth of what other cabbies tried to quote - four dollars for the 70 kilometer ride. The drive carried us over flat semi desert landscape and small villages like Shovot to a border post decorated with a tall, Uzbek style gate (cupolas over two arches). The guards made us wait for ninety minutes at the gatehouse and asked for registration, customs declaration, and other forms of documentation that we didn't have. We smiled, shrugged our shoulders, pointed at our watches until they gave up on bribes and let us walk into Turkmenistan. On the Turkmen side, the guards handed us their only copy of an immigration form, twenty nine questions long, which we had to copy by hand in Russian and do our best guessing what the answers should be. We hired another cab for a US dollar (amazing that the greenback works in the deserts of Turkmenistan) for the 10 kilometer ride to Dashoguz, the nearest Turkmen town. We changed a few dollars and Uzbek sum for Turkmen manat with the bus driver and then changed more with a shopkeeper at the bazaar. We hopped on a bus and rode for two hours along a dust- choked rode to Konye Urgench, our day's destination. This place grew in fame as the capital city of the Khorezm empire, crushed by Ghengis Khan, and today it still seems to be feeling the affects of that attack. It's a desolate place. Low houses sit upon fine, soft, shifting dirt that blows over the packed earth roads and into small gullies of dirty water that run along the street. Young women and children fill buckets of water at street corner wells. Our hotel, the only one in town, is an old apartment building that offers an outhouse in the backyard as the bathroom for all guests.
Konye Urgench's mausoleums are guarded by fierce looking Turkmen wearing the skins of their sheep.
The leaning tower of Urgench
Ladders instead of grave markers for the souls to climb up to heaven.
When you see a ruin in Central Asia, who else would be responsible except Ghengis Khan?
Cheap prices: 25 cents is enough for a cab ride anywhere in town, and 75 cents buys two heaping plates of plov, bread, and tea.