It seems well overdue that I present you with another ‘Sunday Spotlight’, my little segment where I shine the spotlight at a town that took my fancy in one way or another and chat a little bit about it and perhaps why I liked it so much. And today I bring you destination – Khiva, in Uzbekistan, which is a UNESCO listed heritage site and a bit of an adventure to reach.
The Old City is why travellers come to Khiva, a wonderful Silk Road Uzbek town with a population of under 100,000 people. It stands there beautifully preserved with its amazing walls and buildings, frozen almost in time as a more modern town around it buzzes with a bit of Soviet architecture mixed with more modern buildings and people wondering who the foreigners are that flock to the Old City and barely poke their faces outside it whilst in Khiva.
And the Old City is very well contained it must be said. There is an awful lot inside it and that includes hotels and restaurants on top of the tourist sites which include madrassas, palaces and mosques. And the walls themselves too. And getting there is half the fun! I got there in one very long day all the way from Samarkand. The very fast train to Bukhara takes less than two hours, and although there may be rail options I took a shared taxi all the way from Bukhara which took many hours. Nearby Urgench is the main city in those parts, so all transport pretty much goes through it to Khiva. From Tashkent it’s the same train, you would just need to leave a couple of hours earlier which I think would make it around a 7-8am start, and I got in at around 8pm.
Just entering you go through huge gates into a mud-brick town. In November it’s a bit quiet all said at 8pm, but the old town is well lit and it was really great to have a comfortable hotel in the old town where I could walk to everything from and have a place to return to at the end of the day. With a bath and a spacious room for around $30!
The food is pretty tasty too in Khiva, the downside is don’t go there looking for variety because it is basically your Central Asian standards such as shashlik, rice, plov, soups and the like. If you like Central Asia food with a bit of Russian influence thrown in for good measure, then you will be pretty happy I would say in Khiva or indeed in any town or city in Uzbekistan. The menus are all in English and other languages, Khiva is known as a tourist town and they are ready for foreigners.
Once the daylight returns in the morning, you are going to be ready to see an awful lot of things. And the good news is you don’t need transport, it’s all inside the walls and it’s all walkable. The walls themselves are pretty walkable, with great views. Sadly you can’t quite do a full circuit of the old town, there is a section which isn’t passable. But still its worthwhile.
You pay a price to enter Khiva and get a ticket which will get you into most things inside the Old City, although there are some exceptions for example if you want to climb a tower or something you may need to pay an extra fee. The biggest problem may be knowing where to start.
Take it easy and if you can allow two days to explore (rather than my one). If it’s hot you’ll need to be careful because Khiva is blessed with many things, but one thing it is not blessed with is shade. Or easy access to money. I couldn’t find an ATM in the Old City and had to use one in a hotel outside. There are a few places to exchange money but they tend to keep funny times and you are served by people who don’t appear to have cracked a smile in a decade or three.
The sight-seeing highlights of Khiva include the Kulna Ark, which is a bit of a mini-citadel inside a citadel. I started with this one and it’s pretty cool, for me the highlight was a little museum with coins and money. It’s also got a bit of a palace too inside. And a few courtyards and the like.
Juma Mosque – this one is amazing. A very different kind of mosque to any I have ever seen in my entire life! Low roof, made out of wood with a sort of skylight in the middle and trees/plants inside. It’s a really special little place.
The Kalta-Minot Minaret isn’t one I think you can go inside, but it sits by itself in amazing blues and is the most recognisable feature of Khiva. There’s another minaret called the Islam Khoja Minaret which is taller but not quite as striking.
Tach Khaouli is another palace which has some amazing mosaic work inside and a great place to explore, don’t miss it!
One of my favourites was the Sayid Alaouddine mausoleum, a beautiful tomb but also a wonderful courtyard where people were getting married, and this was probably my number one personal highlight of the place.
There is also a covered market, and a number of madrassas which are also partially converted into museums, and they are all beautiful buildings. It IS surprisingly touristic I should say, but that doesn’t detract too much from the experience.
If you are in Uzbekistan, you really should try and get to Khiva. It’s out of the way, but not WAY out of the way like places in the west such as Nukus and not that hard to get to from the ol’ Tashkent-Samarkand-Bukhara trail. Thanks for reading today, take care – and May the Journey Never End!