Dusty ruins of ancient fortresses and towns arising from the orange plains of Kyzylkum desert. Sand castles of a lost empire. Elliq Qala (Ellik Kala) in Uzbekistan, which translates into “fifty forts”, is a set of remains of the number of Khorezm fortresses in the Karakalpakstan republic in Uzbekistan. The area also known as Golden Ring of Ancient Khorezm is an unusual place to visit in west Uzbekistan.
ELLIQ-QALA, THE FIFTY FORTRESSES
One thing that I had on my Uzbekistan itinerary from the beginning, was the crumbling ruins of the Elliq Qala. Fifty fortresses dotting the vast Kyzylkum desert, located not far from the city of Khiva, resemble foreign rock sculptures with a rich history. I couldn’t get their mystical image out of my head. I wanted to get into the middle of the desert and have a look into the past, to the times of numerous tribes inhabiting this region.
During my trip to Central Asia, I visited enchanting cities of Uzbekistan with Samarkand, Buchara and Khiva, tried unusual things to do in Kyrgyzstan with visiting the abandoned soviet town in Tian Shan mountains, and also travelled through Kazakhstan. In Uzbekistan, I found so many archaeological sites dotted around the desert, that looked like a different planet.
If you want to read about my experience of travelling in Uzbekistan solo and safety in Uzbekistan, click on the link.
Golden Ring of Khwarezm
The ruins of towns and fortresses, collectively known as Golden Ring, remain in the place that was once an ancient desert oasis of Khwarezm.
They have been built around the time of the birth of Christ, when Khwarezm was a popular desert oasis, providing water and a more suitable climate for vegetation. It was the centre of the Iranian Khwarazmian civilization and a series of local kingdoms.
Today Khwarazm is divided between Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan, and instead of the oasis, is a part of the desert.
Elliq Qala today
Today the ruins of the forts and towns, are, well, ruins. The remaining parts of the civilizations are mainly the foundations of buildings and city walls. Some of the structures are being put under reconstruction. However, for me, the raw, dusty walls and weirdly shaped remainings of the buildings eaten away by the desert, have the most charm.
The area is now mainly empty, covered with rocks, with the human settlements being further away. To arrive at the forts, you need to drive through the desert. Even though the buildings do not resemble what they once have been, you can still imagine the life that used to go on there.
A visit to the Golden Ring was a very interesting experience, that I can definitely recommend. The forts were empty and we could visit the walls in peace. The landscape reminded me of the intriguing rock formations of Wadi Rum in Jordan in the Middle East.
During my visit, I could learn the rich history of the region. The history that was shaped by the invaders arriving from different parts of the world, the limited water supply, the harsh environment and difficult weather conditions.
The Khworezm fortresses
Even though, in reality, there are not fifty, but for now, around twenty fortresses in the desert, it is still enough to get you occupied for a day. The new sets of ruins, basements, collapsed tunnels connecting the cities and forts are constantly being discovered which adds to the total number. It proves for the Elliq-Qala area of Khwarezm to be one of the biggest and most interesting archaeological areas of ruin on the planet.
On a day tour, you will probably see five or six main fortresses.
Ayaz Qala (Ayaz Kala)
The most known fortress is Ayaz Qala (Ayaz Kala), which is also the biggest one. It was built by the Kushan Empire in the second century.
From the top of the mud-walled structure, you can see the vast Kyzylkum Desert.
Ayaz Qala is the complex of three forts. The external walls date back to the IV century, and some of the remaining walls reach 10m high. Ayaz Qala used to be an important and wealthy area. Archaeologists have found numerous statues and golden objects on the site.
Nearby the fort, you can visit the Ayaz-Qala Yurt Camp, perched on the desert. It has several traditional yurts, where you can stay or have food or drink. The furry camels roam around.
Toprak Qala was once a city fortress and the main temple complex for Khorezm kings between 3rd and 4th century. This 2000-year-old ruined fortress takes up the site of 350 meters by 500 meters. Now, you can mainly see the foundations of various rooms and corridors, as well as towering walls.
Qizil Qala (Kyzyl Kala)
Located just on the other side of the road, around five minutes drive to the west from Toprak Qala, is Kyzyl Kala. This fortified dwelling was supposed to be a military barracks garrisoned with troops, but this has not been confirmed due to the small size of the site.
Other forts of Elliq Qala include Guldursan Qala, Gyaur Qala, two Qirq Qiz qalas and many more.
How to get to Elliq-Qala, the Golden Ring of Khwarezm
There is no public transport going to Elliq Qala. The ruins are dotted around the different places in the desert. The best way to get there is by car. You can rent a taxi to take you there or take a tour. I shared the car with a driver with other travelers from the hostel I stayed in Khiva.
It cost me around 10$. I would consider this price a bit too expensive, you can get it cheaper, but I didn’t have time or energy to look for anything else. The car took us to four different ruin sites.
We had time to explore each one of them and spend as much time as we wanted. On top of the price for the car, we needed to pay a small entry fee into each site.
Have you ever heard of Elliq-Qala, the Khworezm fortresses in the desert in Uzbekistan, or the most famous one – Ayaz Kala? Would you like to visit? Let me know in the comments!
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