A Night in the Uzbek Desert: Ayaz Kala

My trip started in Khiva.

Step 1: Khiva

Khiva is one of the pearls of Central Asia – together with Samarkand and Bukhara – due to its importance for trade and commerce during the glorious days of the silk roads. This city is also known as the gateway to the Uzbekistan desert. I always dreamed of following the famous silk road and experience a night in the Uzbek desert.

Khiva

Step 2: entering the Kyzyl Kum desert

We drove from Khiva towards Ayaz Kala. Google Maps announced 103km which meant almost  3 hours of driving. After 20km, the road was empty. No sign of life. I started to fill the loneliness of the desert.

Road desert

Step 3: Ayaz Kala

Boom! The Ayaz Kala ruins. Folk legends associate the name of this fortress with the legendary warrior-slave Ayaz. Ayaz is a Central Asian folklore hero. The archaeologists claim that the Ayaz-Kala fortress goes back to the II century AD – a heyday of the Kushan Empire. The Ayaz-Kala ruins have been hidden with the sands for centuries, but today thanks to numerous archaeological excavations, we can touch its ancient history.

Approaching Ayaz-Kala

Step 4: the mandatory selfie

Yes, the cliché. A selfie with camels.

Selfie with camels

Step 5: following the guide to my yurt

A yurt is a typical tend used by the nomads from Central Asia.

Walking camel

Step 6: my favorite camel

While humans can only survive 3 to 5 days without drinking water, camels can ressist up to 30 days.

Camel

Step 7: our yurt camp

This camp has in total 17 yurts. Located just a few meters from the ruins of Ayaz Kala, it has all the ingredients for an epical adventure. The cost a night is of 25€/per person, including dinner.

Drone desert

Step 8: a drone picture taken from the Ayaz Kala perspective

overview desert 2

Step 9: 18:30 beginning of the sunset – the sunset happens at 19:00

Evening in the desert

Step 9: time to cook the palov – the Uzbek national dish

Palov (also known as plov): a particular dish that pertains to Uzbekistan and the surrounding region. Palov is a very traditional, staple dish in Uzbekistan and goes back for generations, with legend dating it back to the cooks of Alexander the Great. The Uzbeki saying goes that “If you want to see the strength of the man, see the Palov he eats”. So skilled are the Uzbeks at cooking this dish that master cooks can purportedly cook enough in one cauldron for 600 people.

Containing fresh lamb; onions, carrots, rice, garlic, canola oil, salt cumin, ground black pepper, and boiled water, the cooking of Palov starts with the pan being filled with oil, and the lamb being thrown in. Then, after 10 minutes, the carrots, garlic, salt, cumin, ground pepper and water is added in sequence. This is a dish that fries, boils then drips, and so once the frying of these ingredients is done, then the rice is added, and it is left to gently boil. After, the dish is lowered in temperature and allows for a gentle dripping of the juices across the pan, giving you the finished piece.

Plov

Step 10: enjoying a traditional Uzbek meal and learning from the locals the tales of the Kyzyl Kum desert

diner with desert people

Pictures copyright: Antonio Buscardini and Luc Embise.

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