Itchan Kala: The inner fortress of Khiva

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 UzbekistanWhile 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.

Khiva, Xiva, Travel, Uzbekistan, #MyDreamTripUzbekistan, Ichon Kala

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.

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3 forts and a dakhma: Exploring a bygone era

Scattered across the vast Karakalpakstan region in the north-western part of Uzbekistan are the remains of many fortified settlements. These fortified settlements or qalas extend into the Khorezm Province in western Uzbekistan as well and also into the neighbouring country of Turkmenistan.

Archaeologists say that these fortified settlements were built over a 1,000-year period with the earliest fortifications making an appearance around 700 BCE. The qalas, which were constructed from compressed mud or clay bricks, were built in the fertile region created by the Amu Darya delta. It is believed that the number of qalas in the region run into hundreds; however, only about 80 or so have been documented.

Elliq Qala, Karakalpakstan, Khorezm, Heritage, Monuments of Uzbekistan

I visited 2 qalas in the region — Toprak and Ayaz — and saw a third (Gyaur) from a distance, after visiting Mizdakhan and on my way to Khiva. I also made an arduous climb (my knees are still protesting after 3 months) to see the Chilpyk dakhma or Tower of Silence, but more on that later.

To travel through a vast area in a single day, see these intriguing bits of history scattered about in a desolate and barren land was quite an experience. Continue reading

The Bhau Daji Lad Mumbai City Museum

I love museums, and I can spend hours inside them pottering about and looking at their varied collections. And yet strangely, for some inexplicable reason, I have never really explored the museums in my city of Mumbai. Of course, I have visited them as a child but not really visited them, if you know what I mean.

Bhau Daji Lad Museum 2So one rainy day in August last year, I took the afternoon off from work to see the Bhau Daji Lad Mumbai City Museum (BDLM). This was a museum that I had never visited, but one that I had heard about a lot from Appa. I went without a camera as I automatically assumed that, like most Indian museums, photography was not allowed. Big mistake. Non-flash photography was allowed in the Museum, though they don’t really advertise the fact.

The dazzling 3-hour BDLM visit was a visual treat all the way — right from the stately Museum building to its grand interiors (that reminded me of a ballroom) to its tastefully displayed collection — and one that stayed with me longer than the time I spent there. I knew that I didn’t just want to write about the BDLM’s artefacts in my Museum Treasure series, but write an entire post on the Museum itself. And since I wanted to include photographs, I had to wait for an opportunity to visit the BDLM once again. And last month, I got that chance and when the Museum opened it’s doors that Friday morning, I was the first to enter with a big smile and my camera.🙂

Bhau Daji Lad Museum, Mumbai

The entrance to the Bhau Daji Lad Mumbai City Museum

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Discovering Roman Britain

I was introduced to Roman Britain quite unexpectedly on a cold, windy day in October 2008 in London. I had been in London for about 3 weeks then and was already head over heels in love with this beautiful city. Each day was a new day of exploration and between settling into a new city and classes at the university, there was always something wonderful to discover and delight over.

That afternoon, I took a path leading off from Tower Bridge Tube station, a path that led me past a hotel and then, quite suddenly into a walled dead-end. I was about to turn back, when I saw an information board there and walked over to read it. Good thing I did that as this turned out to be the most interesting dead-end !

Part of the original wall surrounding the Roman city of Londinium or London

Part of the original wall surrounding the Roman city of Londinium or London

The information board announced that this was no ordinary wall, but a slice of London’s history. Built by the Romans in 190–220 AD, this wall used to run around the city of Londinium, the Roman name for London. About 9 ft thick at the base and about 20 ft. in height, it was one of the most important and expensive developments in the city at that time. (By medieval times, the height of the wall was increased and though it is not evident in the photograph, the colour of the mortar distinguishes the two sections of the wall.)

My first reaction was, “Wow! So Asterix and Obelix wasn’t an exaggeration; the Romans were really here. Dear old Julius Caesar was really here !” For the rest of the day, I walked around in a kind of daze as the Roman fever took hold. It was a fever that refused to go away and one that I had great pleasure in indulging when I visited erstwhile Roman cities in the UK and explored a part of history that I thought only existed in comic books !🙂

So join me on my journey of discovering Roman Britain through visits to Camulodunum (present day Colchester), Aquae Sulis (present day Bath), and Verulamium (present day St. Albans) in England. (Strangely, the wall remained my only encounter with Roman Britain in London.) It was a journey that left me breathless, awestruck, and delighted in turn, but always richer in having gained knowledge of something new, and of having discovered a whole new world.

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Let’s have some humour, please

The Guest Post Series onMy Favourite Thingshas contributions by those sharing my interests in travel, books, music, and on issues that I am passionate about. These posts are not always by fellow bloggers, and the guest authors are always those who have interesting experiences to share.

Today’s guest post is by Srinayan, the infrequent blogger of The Random Walkaround. An engineer by profession, he took up blogging a little over a year ago and writes on many topics, but always with sensitive insight and understated humour. Srinayan, however, prefers to be known as a lethargic blogger who is long on intent, but somehow falls short on delivery. That is probably why I have given up on waiting for an original guest post from him and, instead, am re-posting one of his old posts. A post that I liked very much, and a post that is quite relevant for our times.

We are living in a terrible world and doomsday is just around the corner; or so we are led to believe by television, newspapers, the internet and all other oracles of wisdom. Nothing seems to going to right for humanity—Greece, the Euro crisis, Wall Street, US debt, climate change, rogue states, etc. Closer home we have inflation, falling stock markets, the Lokpal Bill, 2G and scams of every kind and size. The list is ever growing; you only have to add your pet angst to it.

Whatever happened to that wonderful therapeutic called humour? I don’t mean the stand up comic type which is in vogue today; rather, the sly poke in the ribs that reminds us that, even if all is not well with the world, we are doing fine and having a good laugh about it.

Welcome to The Little World of Don Camillo.

In the context of its time, post-World War II Europe was just as insecure and dangerous as the world is today. While the common folk grappled with economic hardship, their political leadership was preoccupied with ideological realignments or preventing them. As a farcical consequence, depending on your leanings, all problems owed their roots to communism or opposition to it. Black couldn’t get blacker and white, whiter.

The absurdity of the situation was too much for an Italian called Giovanni Guareschi. He reacted by creating two characters, a priest named Don Camillo and his communist adversary, Peppone, in a village in the Po river valley in Northern Italy. The battle between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie was truly joined and the several comic confrontation between the two reflected the pointlessness of the discourse of the time.

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The temple ruins of Hampi – 3: The Krishna, Ugranarasimha and Ganagitti temples

The temples and other monuments of Hampi were built over 3 centuries, destroyed over a period of 6 months, and “seen” by our group over two, half-day sessions. Obviously, we could not do justice to all the monuments.

This meant that while we spent more time at the Hazara Rama Temple, the Vittala Temple, as well as the monuments of the royal family, we breezed through the Krishna Temple, the Badavilinga Temple, the Ugranarasimha or Lakshmi Narasimha Temple, and Kadalekalu Ganesha and Sasivekalu Ganesha Temples. We could not visit some monuments at all—the Hemakuta group of monuments, the Ganagatti Jain Temple, the octagonal water tank, Bhima’s Gate, etc., were pointed out to us by our guide in passing.

So, while I cannot write a detailed post on these quick visits here, I will compensate that with some photographic impressions of those “breeze in, breeze out” visits here.

Carved pillars at the Krishna Temple, depicting stories from the Bhagavatham. The Krishna Temple was consecrated in 1513 and is a complex with many sub-shrines and halls.

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