"Where time stood still" Top 5 Page for this destination Khiva by TheWanderingCamel

Khiva Travel Guide: 199 reviews and 1,220 photos

The khan has just stepped out ...

...or so it seems in Khiva, the smallest and the most complete of the famous oasis cities of Uzbekistan .

Ringed entirely by mud-brick walls, its madrassas and palaces overlooked by a soaring minaret whose bands of blue tile and dun-coloured brick have an ancient air and yet are not much more than a hundred years old, the city's quiet lanes and shadowy passages bely its all too recent bloody past. Slavery and mediaeval cruelty were the norm here until the rule of the khans was finally ended in 1920.

Over the next 50 years, the Ichon Kala (the walled inner city) slumbered under the desert sun, its palaces, mosques and medressahs slowly crumbling back into the dust from which they were made, as the outer city - the Dishan Kala - expanded to create a surprisingly green oasis encircling the baked-earth and blue-tiled architectural treasure at its heart. Then, in 1967, in recognition of the unique nature of this most intact ensemble of Islamic buildings, everyone still living inside the walls was removed and a restoration process begun that saw the entire Ichon Kala become a museum.

It's still a museum, but one that is slowly taking on yet another life as more and more people are moving back inside the walls. You only have to wander into the back lanes and outer corners of the city to see occupied houses, children playing, old men sunning themselves on a low wall. Tourists rather than courtiers and concubines wander through the gorgeous iwans of the khan's summer mosques and harem courtyards. Student cells in one medressah have become hotel rooms, others house museum collections but some are home to centres of learning once more as young people learn the craft skills of their great-grandparents that were suppressed for so long under Soviet rule. The city's Wedding Palace is housed in yet another restored medressah and it's a rare day in Khiva that doesn't see a wedding party, the bride in full Western-style bridal finery, processing through the streets.

The first time we visited Khiva we flew to nearby Urgench on an early morning flight from Tashkent, were met by our guide at the airport, drove the 35km to Khiva, checked in to our hotel and went straight out to begin our tour of the city. The day was bakingly hot and still and we drifted around in a haze of heat and somewhat bemused tiredness. The city was fascinating but after a while it all seemed to merge into something of a blur of tiled iwans, soaring carved pillars and silent passages - very atmospheric but somewhat confusing and I determined then that, on our return (and I knew we would return) we would do it differently.

And that is just what we did. Instead of a ridiculously early morning start and a flight that dropped us down into this extraordinary time-warp of a city, this time we drove from Bukhara, crossing the red sands of the Kyrzyl Kum desert and the wide stretch of the Amu Darya (the Oxus River), following the path taken by the camel caravans of the past. Travelling west from Tashkent - first to Samarkand and then on to Shahrisabz and Bukhara, we had already sensed we were moving deeper and deeper into the heart of Central Asia and now we were about to arrive at the city that had held out longest against the encroaching outside world, its ruler the last of the all-powerful khans to surrender.

Last time we had spent just one night in the city, this time our itinerary allowed for two. Our mid-afternoon arrival gave us time to settle in to our hotel (the Lola as before but now very well upgraded), chill out awhile in the shady chaikhana and take a long, leisurely stroll around the Ichon Kala as the sunset turned the sand-coloured walls first to rose-pink and then to glowing red-gold.

Dinner at the hotel, a good night's sleep in the big, new, comfortable beds of the refurbished hotel and we woke refreshed and ready for the day. Even our departure next day was taken at a more leisurely pace as our flight to Tashkent was the return leg of that very early flight we had taken on our first visit.

One guide books refers to Khiva as "a showcase city without a soul". That's not my perception. Khiva fascinates me; of all the places we visited in Uzbekistan, it's the one I most want to return to - not just for a day or two spent in the company of a guide with an set itinerary but long enough to really let the tangible sense of the city's extraordinary history work its way into my mind. Tiny as it is, the wealth of its architectural heritage could keep me busy for days but I also want to have time to sit in a chaikhana (not just a tourist- oriented one within the walls but also those the locals favour down by the ferris wheel in the outer city), to shop for fruit and nuts in the bazaar, to accept that invitation to lunch at the Suzani Centre. And then there are the places beyond the green circle of the city - you just can't keep a camel away from the desert for long and the ancient cities and desert citadels of Khorezm are still out there waiting ....

  • Last visit to Khiva: Oct 2009
  • Intro Updated May 9, 2016
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Reviews (32)

Comments (29)

  • tiabunna's Profile Photo
    Jan 21, 2010 at 4:52 AM

    Back to enjoy your updates to this already excellent page. What a fascinating place and marvellous photos. Those Khans really played it rough, didn't they? Brought back distant memories of reading "Flashman and the Great Game".

  • Trekki's Profile Photo
    Jan 15, 2010 at 11:33 PM

    Oh wow, a magic new and revamped description of Khiva :-)) I still love the old Zoroastrian tiles, my favourites :-) So sad, the loss of knowledge about the (blue) desert plant! Misha retired! And how do I miss the yoghurt!!!

  • lynnehamman's Profile Photo
    Jan 15, 2010 at 12:35 AM

    So I finished my tour of Khiva. Wonderful. The colours are just exquisite(tiles( possibly the blue from Indigo bush?)Zoroastrian info excellent. Interestingly, Hindu religion also has inverted swastika. Great page, Leyle- as always & good pics.

  • Jan 13, 2010 at 6:27 PM

    "faces of khiva" including a camel! you funny thing! lol // awesome updates and new tips! enjoyed the tour of khiva through your pages!

  • toonsarah's Profile Photo
    Jan 12, 2010 at 8:40 AM

    I've loved revisiting Khiva with you and reading your new tips - makes me want to go again! BTW we stayed in the Mohammed Amin Khan medressa and like you I agree with the chiefs :-)

  • iandsmith's Profile Photo
    Dec 30, 2009 at 2:06 AM

    Awesome, thoroughly deserving of your 5 star ratings. (You might try workshopping some of your pics to bring some of that vibrant colour out) Cheers, Ian

  • nada1712's Profile Photo
    Dec 6, 2009 at 1:31 PM

    Your pages on Khiva are wonderful. You have been so helpful for my trip to UZ. Have you read Ride to Khiva...my inspiration to visit Khiva

  • HORSCHECK's Profile Photo
    Nov 16, 2009 at 10:15 AM

    Another outstanding page of your adventures in Uzbekistan. The country is ranked high on my must visit list. On my recent visit to Moscow I saw a train arriving from Tashkent and I was just about to board it for its return trip. ;-)

  • Bwana_Brown's Profile Photo
    Sep 21, 2009 at 5:28 PM

    Leyle, stunning photos and extremely well described history of ancient Khiva! I can see why the impression it made on you makes a 2nd trip mandatory! I'd never heard of al-Khorezmi, but loved 'calculus' while being amazed that someone had dreamed this up!

  • Faiza-Ifrah's Profile Photo
    Jul 25, 2008 at 10:09 PM

    very informative tips on a city that my generation was reading about a lot when in high school - this city was razed to ground by tatars of gengis khan. the resistance was led from this city. thanks for sharing.

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