After several stops along the Silk Road, we were looking for a change in scenery.
We hired a driver to take us to the southern part of Karakalpakstan where many ruins of forts lie, some over 2,000 years old.
This area is called the “Golden Ring of Ancient Khorezm” or traditionally called Elliq-Kala (forty fortresses).
We first went to Kyzyl-Kala (free entrance), 84km from Khiva. It was a medieval trading settlement on the Silk Road. Today, kids use this site as their playground.
Then we went to Toprak-Kala (3,000UZS per person).This fort was the main temple complex for Khorezm Kings who rules the area during the 3rd and 4th centuries.
This was better preserved and considering its age, pretty impressive.
A quick stop by Ozero Akcha lake allowed us to enjoy the scenery while our driver pumped up his music in the car.
Another 36km later, we arrived at Ayaz-Kala (free entrance) and our home for the night. But first, Ayaz-Kala.
The site consists of three fortresses which were built from the 4th century BC to the 7th century AD. The fortresses were part of a series of forts located at the edge of the Kizilkum Desert, which provided defence against raids by nomads and the Saca of the Syr-Darya delta.
We were only able to walk to Ayaz-Kala I, as the other two were a bit further away. It was pretty amazing to see that these forts are still standing. Although, I did read later that this site is on the World Monuments Fund’s list of 100 most endangered sites.
After travasting through the ruins, we returned to our yurt. A yurt is what the nomads called a home. It’s basically a house constructed into a circle with poles to hold it up. The frame is covered with layers of animal fur and tied together by ropes.
The yurt camp had seven completed yurts and more being built. They were lying cement down for one yurt, while we could see the framework for another. Off to the side, some ladies were hand-sewing fabric to the fur to give it more strength.
We were greeted by the head of the camp. “Welcome. You have dinner?” she said. Robb responded, “No.” “Ahhh… You are Robbert!”
We managed to keep the cost of hiring a driver, paying for his stay and a tour of the forts to $100 for the both of us. We also couldn’t understand paying an extra $20 per person for some shashlik and rice for dinner, even with the camp’s remoteness.
To our left were a group of three from France and to our right was a couple from Ireland. We all sat outside our yurts to watch the sun go down. And it was beautiful. Just nature and land.
Inside our yurt, it was decorated with colorful hand-woven banners that hung from the top and floated to the sides. Rugs with padding underneath lined the floor.
A stove with huge stones sat in the middle of the room with an attached pipe that led up and out of the roof. The door of the stove was just hammered metel with a beer bottle cap as a knob.
We ate our simple meal by the door of our yurt as it was the only source of light. As Robb and I ate, the temperature quickly dropped and we were both shivering. We retreated to our beds which was just a bunch of cushions and two very thick blankets.
Eventually, the one lightbulb in the yurt came on. We both stared at the lit bulb debating who would get out to turn off the light.
After everyone had eaten dinner, they started our stove in the room. Because we were both encased in our blankets, we struggled to open the door which locked from the inside.
It took about 10 minutes and a team of three to get our fire going. Granted, it was the head of the camp telling the young boys how to build a proper fire.
The head lady told us to use the towels to over our heads at night while sleeping. She even had the boys hang a fleece blanket in front of our door to keep in the warmth.
Once lit, we went from sleeping in the freezer section of the market to where they sell the rotisserie chicken. It got hot, fast.
The slight smell of smoke in the air and the sound of a roaring fire was something I hadn’t experienced for a long time before sleeping. And it was nice.
We woke up the next day freezing again. The fire went out maybe an hour or so after being lit.
During breakfast, we met our fellow campmates and we all quipped about holding it in throughout the night because it was too cold to leave the yurt to use the toilets.
Oddly enough, the group of three were actually a Brit, his Polish wife and their French friend. The Brit is a retired English teacher who spent most of his life abroad working. The Irish couple teaches English in Korea.
We quickly packed up and said goodbye to everyone. My last vision of the camp and Ayaz-Kala as we drove off was the camels roaming around being free.
It was a great experience. And even though we spent a night freezing with no shower and straight onto an overnight train back to Tashkent, it was worth it. Yurts are cool!