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krisek Khiva - A travel report by Krys
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Khiva,  Uzbekistan - flag Uzbekistan -  Xorazm
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krisek's travel reports

Great Silk Road. Uzbekistan. Mesmerising Khiva.

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Old Khiva is a small town packed with beautiful mosques, Islamic schools, minarets, museum - all surrounded by a great, wavy and thick city walls. It is a mesmerising and wonderful place to relax. report of the month contest
Aug 2008

Khiva travelogue picture
Imagine this - a small place with no traffic, surrounded by fairy-tale like wavy walls with conical towers, narrow streets running between architectural wonders, little open-air cafes serving ice-cold drinks, markets selling giant watermelons and colourful handicrafts, few people in the alleys, impossibly blue sky - all in the middle of the desert. Khiva is almost impossible to describe to give it full credit. It is one of the loveliest and most relaxing towns on the globe. Its ambiance is like taken from a perfect honeymoon film. No hassle, no bustle, no disturbance, no worries. And I was lucky to arrive on a rather balmy weather of high twenties on the Celsius scale. I heard that otherwise it could be really hot there.

UNESCO listed Khiva under the name of Itchan Kala, which is the formal name of the inner city of the old oasis surrounded by the walls, giving it the following description: "Itchan Kala is the inner town (protected by brick walls some 10m high) of the old Khiva oasis, which was the last resting-place of caravans before crossing the desert to Iran. Although few very old monuments still remain, it is a coherent and well-preserved example of the Muslim architecture of Central Asia. There are several outstanding structures such as the Djuma Mosque, the mausoleums and the madrasas and the two magnificent palaces built at the beginning of the 19th century by Alla-Kulli-Khan."

To see Khiva I flew from Tashkent to Urgench on the internal Uzbekistan Airways' RJ85. The airline was not associated with IATA and their attitude to the safety on board was relaxed. People were allowed to move around the cabin during take off and the ascend. The flight took 1h20'. Khiva was just 30 km from the Urgench airport, and the most convenient way to get there was by taxi. It required a little bit of negotiating but I knew from my inviting travel agent (Uzbek visa requirement), Roxana Tour, how much I should pay for the ride. It cost me $10 (13,300 sums).

Favourite spots:
Khiva travelogue picture
The most striking sight in Khiva was the Mukhammad Aminkhan Madrasah (this word can be transliterated/spelled in many ways) with its tube-like tower. I am lacking words to adequately describe this structure. It was square well-based building with open courtyard inside. The sunken alcoves on the front two storey facade and the main gate were perfectly proportioned, nicely decayed with blue and blue/green hued tiles but still non-extravagant. The tube tower was called Kalta-minar and had only a slightly wider base than its top and was all covered with yellow, blue, white and blue/green hued tiles. One stripe surrounding the upper part of the tower cited the holy Quran.

I also liked the Islam Khoja Minaret, which could be climbed. The view from the top revealed all Khiva sights. The climb (1,000 sums) was a bit hazardous, as the wooden steps were narrow, steep and slippery and there was no light inside. The spiral stairway was only one person wide and the human traffic was not regulated.

What's really great:
Khiva travelogue picture
The old town was very compact. People still lived their normal life there. No-one payed particular attention to the visitors and there were not many of those anyway. Apart from occasional white satellite TV dish, there were absolutely no signs of modern life. There were no vehicles inside the walls and all buildings were authentic, apart from one, which was inconspicuous anyway. Everyone took it easy in Khiva and children were very friendly, saying hello, hi, welcome, trying their English, which they did at school. Khiva had been a tourist attraction for decades and yet the locals had not become blasé about it. They were patient and welcoming.

The ticket to all museums (more than ten) in the old town valid for two days was 10,000 sum. Camera cost an extra 5,000 sum. That was fabulous value as the town could be explored in one day at a glacier pace. So if one wanted to chill in one of the open-air eateries, drink tea or coffee, or beer, then the two day ticket was perfect.

Khiva travelogue picture
Khiva sights were relatively simple and small. The key spots to visit included: the Pakhlavan Mahmud Complex, the Ota-Darvoza Gate, the Nurullabai's Palace, Ora-tash, the Kosh-Darvoza Gate, the Juma Mosque (with hyper unusual wooden richly carved columns and ceilings), Kalta-minar, the Muhammad Aminhan Madrasah, and the narrow alleys around the town within the walls.

All sights could be visited from inside out. Many wooden doors leading to palaces, schools or simply households were so richly carved that it beggared belief it was possible by human hand. True masterpieces!

The old city walls were a sight on their own. Parts of the walls were in near perfect condition. Parts were crumbling ('crumbling photographically' - if I may invent such term), turning into desert sands. This was particularly visible as the conical watchtowers resembled desert dunes more than their original and primary task - an important defense mechanism of this spectacularly fortified town.

Asia Khiva - room no.10
Asia Khiva - room no.10
Asia Khiva ($45) was located right outside the massive mudbrick walls surrounding the old town, with several dozens conical watchtowers. It was modern and half of the rooms had view towards the city walls. My twin room (#10) with the walls view was of a good size, had TV, two armchairs, wooden table, a small desk and a stool. The bathroom was modern, light tiles from floor to ceiling, shower cabin and it was mega clean.

The personnel was very helpful and real friendly. They smiled a lot, opened doors for you and ensured they checked with you every now and again to indicate that they cared. The service was truly five star in this two star venue.

Other places to stay (slightly cheaper) near the old town were: Khorezm Palace***, Khiva Madrassah***, Amelia**, and a few aged B&Bs within the inner old town, including Arkanchi B&B.

Asia Khiva Bar
Asia Khiva Bar
Yes, there were bars in Khiva, but most were closing at 9 pm. Apart from the one at the Asia Hotel, I was told by the bar staff at the Asia Hotel (!). I did not verify this information, however my friend from Roxana Tour did warn me about the lack of nightlife in this historic town.

The bar at the Asia Hotel was empty. I was the only customer. I was chatting to the staff and eventually ended up ordering food there too. Then, the situation changed. Just before 9 pm, the bar became a lively scene for locals, who trickled out from the other bars. This way, I realised that it might have actually been true about the Asia Bar. The swimming pool came handy, too. At about midnight, a local heart-throb guitarist called in and played and sang a few traditional Uzbek and Russian love/yearning songs. It was a superb night. I stayed until 4 am chatting with the local crowd talking about life and love, and the difficult times of the Soviet Union. I also had a pleasure to meet the owner of the hotel.

Khiva Old Town at Sunset
Khiva Old Town at Sunset
A few teahouses and cafes were the places to kill time. Most of them took care to provide different forms of sitting solutions and arrangements. They had a combination of regular European tables with chairs; raised sitting platforms in the Central Asian style where one sits shoe-less with their legs crossed in front of an oversize coffee table; and just carpets and cushions for maximum flexibility regarding body position with a large or a small coffee table coming optional, depending on the order. A few also had couches or sofas with footrests.

Other hiding places were the top of the minaret, where local couples snoozed and hugged while watching the life going on below in the old town. And the one was the top of the fortress, offering a panorama view of the old town from the other side. It was particularly very popular at sunset. Entry to both places was extra, but only about 1,000 sums and 2,000 sums, respectively.

Milliy Taomlar Cafe & Restaurant
Milliy Taomlar Cafe & Restaurant
Right in the heart of the old town, the Milliy Taomlar served very simple Uzbek dishes. There was no menu, the owner's son recited the two dishes available that day. It was a chorpa soup with carrot, potato and a piece of beef, and pillau rice with red pepper and minced meat. The soup came with traditional flat bread, excellent by the way. The owner lady was welcoming and talkative and their Sarbast local beer was delightfully ice-cold.

The restaurant at Asia Hotel had a menu with a mix of Uzbek and European dishes. They took about an hour to cook anything from the list, as the hotel had to wake up the chef and he had to start everything from scratch. I ordered pierogi, which locally were known as manty. They were excellent and came with thick sour cream. I tried many manty in Uzbekistan and these were superb. The restaurant was empty. So I ate at the Asia Bar, across the swimming pool, while chatting to the very friendly bartenders and waited for the nightlife action to kick off.

Other recommendations:
Old Khiva Gate
Old Khiva Gate
Those who want to make a half loop of Uzbek UNESCO World Heritage Sites can take a taxi from Khiva to Bukhara for $90. It is a five hours drive over the 470 km. For three people for example, this is an excellent value. Buses of course are much cheaper but can take almost twice as long, so if time is money, then taxi might actually work out cheaper after all.

From Urgench airport, one can also take a trolleybus for next to nothing. The line goes directly from the terminal all the way to Khiva's old town. Once one of the branches led to the Itchan Kala's main gate, but it was no longer live when I visited. But the main line still stopped at one of the other gates.

If one travels by air and does not want to take the trolleybus, it makes sense to pre-order a taxi, as they do not cruise the streets. And if one stays within old town walls, then there is no traffic there at all. This is just to reduce stress. The taxi drivers would normally offer a ride back if you took one from the airport.

Published on Sunday September 21th, 2008

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Sun, Oct 12 2008 - 11:46 PM rating by magsalex

Impressively illustrated. Well deserved report of the month.

Thu, Oct 09 2008 - 11:00 PM rating by louis

Perfect report. Truly deserved RoM.

Thu, Oct 09 2008 - 02:34 PM rating by terje

Ever thought of being an travel book author? :-) Congrats with RoM!

Wed, Oct 08 2008 - 11:57 PM rating by fieryfox

Superb and most informative. Great Effort and Thank you for sharing this with us!

Sat, Sep 27 2008 - 06:27 AM rating by rangutan

Well written and well illustrated, another excellent report. This a specially unusual destination!

Thu, Sep 25 2008 - 06:47 AM rating by traveling_gal

What a fabulous report on a little known place! I also very much enjoyed the pictures - the architecture looks simply phenomenal! Thank you for sharing !

Wed, Sep 24 2008 - 10:55 AM rating by jorgesanchez

just wonderful...

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