DAY 28 – Qalas and Shovels

245 miles (394.289 kms for the metric-civilised world)
#Nukus to #Khiva

It’s half Mongol Rally today, at least in terms of time. Considering miles, we passed that bit quite a while ago. The way from Nukus to Khiva offers the opportunity to see some pretty old fortresses, which are locally called “kala” or “qala”. There are many of them, so we selected a subset. Finding some of these qalas on the navigator is not straightforward, as the translitteration of the names changes a lot between the guide, the navigator, and the locals. We tell oursleves we’ll manage to find them anyway. There are always locals keen to help.

The road seems good at the beginning, but soon we experience what the people were referring to when they were saying “Uzbek roads are quite shitty”. The asphalt is melted in many parts for the hot temperature and for the passage of massive trucks, so that small mountains of asphalt come out all of a sudden, threatening the bottom of Jelly Belly. Big and nice potholes adorne the picture, to make everyhting funnier. We get more than a couple of bad hits, but everything seems fine in the end.

One of the rule of the Mongol Rally is to dare, to follow those locals down the valley, or to head toward that sound coming from the side of that river. And so we do. We hear some traditional-like music (as musch as we can understand Uzbek traditional music) while we pass by a bunch of cars parked on the side of the road. We u-turn and park with the others. Guess what? An Uzbek wedding lunch, which we are warmly invited to join. What happens in an Uzbek wedding? We don’t entirily know, but in 30 minutes we spend there, we get 4 shots of vodka (biiiig shots), and a lot of random food.

Having solved the lunch problem, and with a little bit of happiness in our body, we head straight to the qalas area. After having spotted and visited the first big one (it was so big that even a blind person would have seen it), we try to reach the one that is considered the most peculiar: Kyr Kylgiz Qala (or whatever you want to write it). We only know approximately where it is, and the area around is quite desert. There is actually a lot of a sand left and right the road. We ask some locals, and what we get is that this qalas is supposed to be reached turning left at some point. We have its rough position, so we triangulate that position with the infos from the locals, and we find ourselves stuck in the sand. We don’t know how this exactly happened. It might have been the vodka, it might have been the basically unexisting road covered in bushes and trees we took. That said, Jelly Belly has its bottom on a ramp of sand, front wheels spinning in the air. Now a little riddle: what is the last thing you want to do in a 40°C day in Uzbekistan with your body and head full of vodka? Shoveling under the sun. And that’s what we do. For about 40 minutes, until Jelly Belly is able to move again. With our souls full of sand and dust now, we give up in reaching the “you can be peculiar as much as you want but I’m having enough” qala, and we head for the last one.

This time everything go smoothly, we enjoy the view from the top of the hill, in a perfect silence. Nobody around, just the us, the 2400 years old qala, the Uzbek desert, and some smelly camels.

The quiet moment on the hill make us thinking the day is finished. But there’s still the to road to Khiva. That we reach in more than two hours (it was supposed to be much less), finding closed roads and bridges on our way, following locals down to off-road tracks to overcome the aforementioned roads, experiencing roads of the suburbs of Khiva, that make us regret the ones in Turkmenistan.

Number of countries crossed: 13
Days without accidents: 0
Number of times the counter has been reset: 2