In the desolate far western deserts of Uzbekistan stands the third and final Silk Road city of the country, Khiva. I was travelling there from Bukhara squished into the back corner of a yellow taxi. Ahead a thin line stretched straight across the flat expanse of the Kyzylkum desert. The road from Buhkara to Khiva a rough broken piece of tarmac where the sands of the desert often encroach and pot holes are sometimes more like craters.
Often the desert landscape would be broken by clumps of white cotton carpeting crops as far as the eye can see. Cotton crops which have contributed to one of the worst man-made ecological disasters of all time, the drying/dying of the Aral Sea. To learn more of this disaster click here.
After about six hours squeezed in the taxi I was extremely happy to reach the desert oasis of Khiva.
In the past Khiva was infamous as one of the most brutal slaving trading centres of it’s time. Today Khiva is often described as a museum city, a perfectly preserved Silk Road city, and it’s easy to see why.
The old city, Ichon-Qala, is full of a tightly clustered collection of medressas, minarets and mosques surrounded by domineering walls. Walls the colour of pale sand which turn to burnt orange in the dying light of sunset.
The main entrance to the old city is via the West Gate. Twin-turreted it’s an impressive way to enter the atmospheric streets and alleyways of old Khiva.
As soon as you enter Khiva’s old town the unique Kalta Minor Minaret dominates your view. Fat and unfinished it’s turquoise tiles are impressive.
Khiva’s two other impressive minarets are Juma Minaret and Islom-Hjoa Minaret. Both of which can be climbed via a tight staircase inside the slender towers offering wonderful and unique views of the old city.
My other three architectural highlights of Khiva were: Juma Mosque, filled with 218 wooden columns creating a wonderful play of light and shadow; Tosh-holvi Palace where gorgeously detailed tiles saturate little alcoves; Kulna Ark, the fortress and residence of Khiva’s rulers in the past.
But no matter how impressive and stunning each of these architectural highlights are on their own what makes Khiva so special is the wonderful harmony created throughout the old city. A harmony which is best absorbed by slowly walking through the streets and alleyway. And as you explore further from the highlights you might be lucky enough to glimpse the daily life of locals as I did one morning.
As the early rays of sunshine broke over Khiva I was drawn towards a chanting sound. I walked towards the sound passing through the huge walls of the East Gate to discover a large gathering of local men finishing their morning prayers. Prayer rugs stretched out in front of a mosque were being quickly rolled up while men greeted each other by placing their hands over their hearts and slightly blowing. One of the most heart-warm greetings I’ve ever seen and a truly wonderful sight.
I stayed at Mirzoboshi Annexe which is within the old walls. My single room was on the small side but cosy and the shower was great with plenty of hot water The breakfast here was one of my favourites in Uzbekistan.
To reach Khiva from Bukhara I took a shared taxi which cost USD25 one way provided the car was full. The trip takes between six to six and a half hours.
I visited Khiva from 3 – 5 October 2014.