Because it had taken three hours for the taxi driver to find 3 other passengers, it was well after dark when I arrived in Tortkul. So rather than cycling out of town and camping, I found a place to stay.
From here I was going to start a mini tour of the crumbling ruins of the Elliq Qala, 50 fortresses in the desert. 50 is just a random number. No one knows exactly how many ruins remain. But on my 2-day tour, I saw six. That was enough… after a while they get a bit same-ish. Mind you, the kid in me never got tired of scrambling over walls, clambering up ramparts, squeezing through fallen walkways and peering through slits in the outer walls where cross-bows were once fired. I just shot a few photos from my camera. For a day, I was King of the Castle. Or should that be Queen of the Forts. Who cares. Point is, I had all these fantastic ruins to myself.
The dust and the desert were mine too, for a day. I had to battle for those, however. The wind was my enemy. But it wasn’t too powerful this time. Inadvertantly it helped. It blew the black clouds past me before a drop of rain fell.
First I breakfasted in the shelter of the Guldursan Qala walls looking out onto the village homes below. Drinking 3-in-1 coffee and eating sweet bread, yoghurt and apples. Koi Qala was on the edge of wheat fields. But by the time I had cycled to Ayaz Qala, the villages and crops had turned to desert. From the raised forts, I could see for miles. Could see some other forts. Those, and the radio masts, are the only things rising out of the flat plain. A bit like church spires in Norfolk.
By late afternoon, some rays of sun emerged from the gloom and as I turned south, the wind was at my back. With sunset, I pedalled off into the desert and pitched my tent. It’s cold now, in the last days of November. But not Pamir cold. And certainly not Siberia cold. But enough for me to put up my tent rather than bivvy out under the stars. It’s the wind that is cold. Biting and howling like a wolf.
There was something else howling in the night too. Not the wind, or a wolf. Not sure what it was, but it set the nearby village dogs barking, which woke the cows and a donkey. I dreamily turned over, felt pins and needles in the arm I’d been lying on as it came back to life and the release of pressure on my hip, and drifted back to sleep until the sun came up.
Next day I cycled to Toprak Qala and then made my way alongside water canals, through villages and farmland to Urgench and finally, to Khiva…
Photos of the ride and the forts: