"City frozen in time" Top 5 Page for this destination Khiva by toonsarah

Khiva Travel Guide: 199 reviews and 1,220 photos

Khiva from the Ark

Think, in this battered Caravanserai
Whose doorways are alternate night and day,
How sultan after sultan with his pomp
Abode his hour or two, and went his way

The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam

The old town of Khiva, Ichan Kala, is a city frozen in time. The sun-baked clay of its walls encircles a wealth of ancient buildings which, more than any other destination in Uzbekistan, preserve intact the images of the Silk Road.

Sweet water

The city is truly ancient; an historic resting point for caravans since biblical times ? there are stories of visits by Shem, son of Noah, and by Mohammed. One legend tells how the latter gave the city its name, when he drank from the well here and exclaimed ?khiva?, meaning sweet water.

Khiva rose to prominence in the region during the 16th century and for several hundred years was seen as a place of lawlessness where brigands, slave traders, and later spies operated within the seclusion offered by the surrounding desert.

One story I loved was that of Robert Jefferson, an eccentric Englishman (why is there always an eccentric Englishman?!) who in the late 19th century rode his bicycle from Catford in South London to Khiva, surviving en route an encounter with Kazakh witches and creating terror among local tribes who viewed his means of transport with horror and suspicion.

City or museum?

Today Khiva is a wonderful place to start your exploration of the Silk Road as it enables you to get a strong sense of history and visualise the past. The downside though is that this very intactness, and the thoroughness of the restoration work, means that it can feel more like a museum or film-set than a living city, lacking the ?realness? of Bukhara or Samarkand.

One plus for us was that it is less visited than either of these, and in the intense heat of July we found only a small group of French tourists and a few Uzbek family groups exploring the city at the same time as ourselves. It was easy therefore to find yourself, for a moment or two at least, the only person in a sun-baked lane, and to visualise yourself back in those days of caravans and sultans.

And this can be even more the case at night, when the moon shines down on streets little changed for centuries and the few modern touches are hidden in the shadows.


A few words about my Uzbekistan pages:
1. On the whole, I?ve written tips about the local customs and way of life on my Uzbekistan page. I?ve also included there some general information on things like packing, planning your visit etc. and some warnings. You may find some of this info duplicated here, but only where I feel it?s of particular relevance to do so.

2. Uzbek place names have several spellings. For instance, Khiva may also be spelt as Xiva. The same applies to the names of people and buildings, so the Kukhna Ark is also called Ko?xna Ark or Kunya Ark. I?ve used the version taken from the excellent guidebook, ?Uzbekistan: the Golden Road to Samarkand? (written by Calum MacLeod & Bradley Mayhew, published by Odyssey) which uses the most common form for well-known place-names (e.g. Tashkent rather than Toshkent) but adopts the newer Uzbek Latin spelling for street names, buildings etc.

3. Finally, and very importantly: in planning for and dreaming of my visit to Uzbekistan I owe so much to Ingrid (Trekki) who was always ready with advice and inspiration. Her Khiva page inspired me and I'm sure it will do the same for you. Thank you so much, Ingrid :)

Pros and Cons
  • Pros:Evocative and atmospheric
  • Cons:Not very "lived in" so can feel too much like a museum
  • Last visit to Khiva: Jul 2007
  • Intro Updated May 9, 2016
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Reviews (25)

Comments (25)

  • sourbugger's Profile Photo
    Oct 22, 2010 at 11:17 AM

    never heard of this place - but it looks great

  • hunterV's Profile Photo
    Jun 5, 2010 at 3:37 AM

    Hello, Sarah! Thanks for your very impressive page about that splendid place, a must in Uzbekistan!

  • BruceDunning's Profile Photo
    Feb 10, 2010 at 11:02 AM

    What a detailed history of this town and its caravans coming through must have been vibrant and power in the glory days. Nice pictures you took.

  • sachara's Profile Photo
    Sep 6, 2008 at 3:20 PM

    Fantastic page of Khiva, Sarah. I love your writings and pictures. While reading your page I almost feel the heat again.

  • yumyum's Profile Photo
    Sep 4, 2008 at 11:52 AM

    How come I missed this amazing page before?! I visited Khiva in Soviet time and I guess it has changed a lot. We stayed overnight in Urgentch.

  • Jul 17, 2008 at 10:50 PM

    this is such a fantastic page sarah! i loved your detailed tips, but its the photos that really drew me in. i so cant wait for my uzbek journey, im going next year no matter WHAT!

  • calcaf38's Profile Photo
    May 17, 2008 at 5:32 PM

    Sarah, this is one of your very best! Fantastic page. We should all be grateful to you. Oh, by the way, Guatemala is definitely a prime destination, at least as much so as Ecuador...

  • kyoub's Profile Photo
    May 15, 2008 at 2:59 PM

    Another of your very interesting pages.

  • JLBG's Profile Photo
    Mar 23, 2008 at 9:34 PM

    Fascinating page on this dream destination! Day or night, the Kalta minor and the Kukhna Ark are true wonders! Actually, everything is awonder! It is good to have a reminder of Al-Khorezmi, distant grand/?/grandfather of computers and hence of VT!

  • sue_stone's Profile Photo
    Jan 4, 2008 at 1:48 PM

    That Kalta Minor is stunning!


“I slept on the strange pillows of my wanderlust (Joni Mitchell, "Amelia")”

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