Ancient Khiva – Oasis in Khorezm
Русская версия In Uzbekistan, not far from Urgench, there s a town of Khiva more that 2,5 thousand years old. It is considered that the town grew around the draw-well Kheivak with its amazingly tasty water. Once Khiva was an important point on a trade route connecting the East and the West: the travelers stayed in this oasis in the middle of the desert with great pleasure. Khiva was also one of the towns of the ancient state of Khorezm; later it was conquered by Mongols and Tatars as well as Tamerlan, but truly blossomed in the XVII century when it became the capital of Khanate of Khiva.
The most famous ruler of Khiva, Muhamad Rahim I, started large-scale constructions in the city then. Every Khan after Mahamad also saw leaving some masterpiece after himself as his duty – that is how Khiva became, perhaps, the most famous for its architecture in Central Asia.
The main sights of Khiva are grouped within the walls of Ichan Qala fortress, built at the times of Muhamad Rahim. The town inside the fortress seems medieval, even though it was mostly built in the XIX century. There are several gates in the town, at which public transport stops. The streets of Ichan Qala are for pedestreans, there are no cars there.
One of the main streets of Ichan Qala:
Ichan Qala is well-known for its Djuma (Juma) mosque with 213 skillfully carved columns (15 of them are the ancient ones), known from the X century at least. 5000 people could pray here simultaneously.
There is a historical museum not far from the mosque, largely dedicated to Khorezm scholars Al-Biruni and Al-Khorezmi.
The museum of music nearby is free, but the museum-keepers are too persistent trying to sell the pirate CDs with music for 20 dollars to tourists.
Every small room in the museum has its own exhibition, and the music is turned on as soon as a tourist enters.
Ichan Qala has many mosques, minarets, palaces, and tombs. We will not talk in details about them, as there is a lot written in the guide books.
It is much more interesting just to walk in the city:
The outskirts of the fortress are especially unusual: there are no tourist sights here, only houses where people live.
The souvenirs are everywhere.
We also recommend to walk outside Ichan Qala, as there are quite many palaces and museums to see there:
How to get to Khiva
Khiva is easy to reach from Urgench.
1. The most expensive way is by collective taxis departing from the market at Dinamo.
2. Marshrutkas are cheaper (about 1,5 thousand soms one-way). They stop between the central department store (TSUM) and the bank (GPS of the stop is N41.555558 E60.62282).
3. The cheapest, but the most time-consuming way is by trolleybus (about one hour, 500 soms). It is also the most interesting transport: locals use it rather than marshrutkas.
Funny enough, on the way from Khiva to Urgench marshrutkas and taxis become more expensive – when tourists are tired and want to go home. We advise to go to Khiva by marshrutka and to return by trolleybus: there is no need to hurry on the way back, you can save some money and enjoy the ride with the locals. Length of the road is 36,3 km!!!
Tickets to Khiva fortress (Ichan Qala)
Time after time, especially at the western gate of Ichan Qala Uzbeks try to make you pay. We advise just to enter a different gate. You can also pay 12 dollars to be able to go inside the museums. We tried three of them without a ticket, and nobody even asked us for it. It is up to you whether to pay or not, but 12 dollars is not a small sum for Uzbekistan. Moreover, the truly interesting places (e.g. the Mosque) are free to enter.
Where to eat in Khiva
We started our tour in Khiva from the market –in particular, from Nazan Ota Chaikhana (GPS N 41.37717 E60.36333) at the southern gate. This eating place is again for the locals, being quite different in prices and service from the ones for the tourists. We paid 15000 soms (5 dollars) for lagman, pelmeni, water and tea here.
From the Chaikhana’s tapchan (sitting table) you may enjoy the view of the market:
We also asked the waitress where to eat famous Khorezm plov (pilaf), and she recommended this place (it seems that its name is Khan-Muhammad oshkhonasi), also near the market.
Plov cost 6000 soms here, shashlyk was sold for 1500, beer – 3000. The only problem is that they asked for 15000 in the bill instead of 12000, just be aware of the small fraud possible. But the plov was good. By the way, it is usual to bring your own fruits from the market to the restaurants and cafes in Uzbekistan, they will always wash and cut them for you. We also brought our own melon.
Where to stay in Khiva
Khiva is visited by the tourists a lot, and the prices for accommodation correspond to the town popularity. We recommend to stay in Urgench (we told here where we stayed), and go to Khiva for a day from there. Urgench will anyway be on your way if you want to get to Khiva.
Khiva is not very pleasant to walk when it is hot: there are no trees and everything is made from stone. Not everyone may stand it in summer (we were fine in July though).
The most English-speaking people we met in Uzbekistan were in Khiva – you will not encounter language problems there.