Travelling back in time, at Khiva

Dating back to the beginning of the Christian era, the hermit town of Khiva was believed to be found by the son of Noah, the leader of the Ark. And today, this little town is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Wondering why? Read on.


The old town of Xiva (or "Khiva") is dotted with stunning Madrassas, Mosques and Minarets


Legend says that Shem, the son of Noah, was desperately looking for shelter after the great biblical flood, and was stranded in the desert alone. In his sleep, he dreamt of a settlement lit with three hundred torches, as he laid exhausted in the heat. When he woke up, he declared that his dream was ominous and decided to establish a city in the form of a fortress ship. Soon after, a well was dug and surprisingly sweet water sprung into his hands which made him exclaim "Khey Vak" or 'surprising taste'.


And that is how the name Khiva, came to be.


Today, the 300 mud houses and mosques remain a testament to the dawn of the Christian era, and have withstood centuries of war and nature, albeit rebuilt many times. between the tenth and the eighteenth centuries.



The inner city of Khiva (Ichan Kala as it is known) is a UNESCO World Heritage site


The old city is home to about 50 Mosques and Madrassas. Although the general theme of the buildings is that of the faded mud-bricks, the architectural styles of the early islamic rule is very captivating - especially with the Oriental influence of using porcelain-style tiles and blue hues. Most of the onion-domes are coloured in this scheme giving the otherwise simple monotone, a sudden edge. 


Must-see monuments inside the Ichan Kala, Khiva are all listed on the entrance ticket (UZS 100,000). For specifics on travelling into Khiva and suggested accomodation, head to the bottom of the article.


1. Djuma Mosque:

The Juma Mosque (or "Friday" mosque) is a very interesting prayer hall. 212 individual wooden pillars, carved out of tree trunks hold the roof of the hall up, whilst creating a very expansive space for not just prayers, but also for large gatherings and preaching services for believers. The unique design of this mosque also includes a central, open courtyard with a plant. 

The pillared Mosque of Khiva


There is also a beautiful Minaret which can be climbed, right from inside the prayer hall. The ticket for the climb is extra. You can expect to spend about 20 minutes here.



2. Kunya Ark or "Old Fortress":

The Kunya Ark is actually a citadel featuring everything from towering walls and small palaces, to harems, throne halls and more. The most popular part of the citadel is the beautiful, open aired hall where the Khan of the city met with his subjects. The blue and turquoise majolica patterns and tiles create a very soothing experience, even in the hot sun. The museum inside hosts some wonderful pieces and information from the periods leading up to the eighteenth century.


The beautiful pillared hall of the Khan's throne


Expect to spend about 30 minutes inside the Ark, whilst admiring the tiled walls and learning about the great history of the Khiva Khanate (Khanate: an area ruled by a Khan)



3. Md. Amin Khan Madrassah and the Kalta ("Short") Minor:

This is the most popular monument in Khiva and its not hard to see why! The saturated hues of the Kalta Minor set in blue and green concentric circles compliment the expansive, sepia toned Mohammad Amin Khan Madrassah in the background (which, by the way, is actually a hotel where you can stay).

The Kalta Minar, radiating the desert sunshine off its nineteenth century patterns stands at a height of 15 metres. This unimpressive height is attributed to the fact that the Khan was unable to finish the construction of the tower which was planned to extend 110 metres into the sky. This is also backed by the significant structural reinforcements of the foundation and base sections of the tower which feature large diameters.


The Kalta Minor, is the most popular face of Khiva


Expect to spend about 20 minutes here, which is right at the entrance to the Old city. 



4. Islam Khoja Minaret and Madrassah:

The tallest tower in Khiva, which also happens to have the best view point of the whole city is the Islam Khoja Minaret. Towering at nearly 45 metres, the minaret features a very small spiral stairway (additional ticket of UZS 10,000, or about INR 90) to the little room at the top. It dates back to the sixteenth century and remained intact for over 400 years! 


The Minaret is absolutely stunning in the evenings


You can easily spend an hour here, not just admiring the Madrassah and the minar, but also the huge souvenir stalls right outside. The stairway is very small, and isn't advisable for those who might feel claustrophobic - but its quite nice to see the entire old city from up there - the perspectives are though-provoking.


5. The Pahlavan Mahmud Necropolis:

The mausoleum of Mahmud, the Pahlavan (much like our "pahalvan" or wrestler) is a very sacred place in the old city. He was considered as Khiva's greatest professional wrestler and poet (what a combination!) and he was popular for his philosophy in the region. His wrestling bouts made him famous not only in Central Asia, but even in India! Inside the mausoleum, there is a well that is considered very holy. In fact, this mausoleum is one of the few where worship is offered regularly. The interiors are absolutely stunning, with blue tiles, and a grand chandelier. 


The sacred mausoleum of Pahlavan Mahmud


Expect to spend about 20 minutes here. Taste some of the water from the sacred well in the mausoleum's courtyard.



6. Other interesting buildings are located all over the old city, so don't hesitate to venture into the alleys that are less touristy - you might just find something very interesting:


The traditional bathhouses of Khiva, known for their exceptional heating capabilities and
drainage systems - these were all built underground


The arts and clothing museum of Khiva, hidden in one of the many back alleys, is a very quiet
and sincerely informative treasure trove.


Uzbeki dancing can be so very captivating, even more, if the band is playing music right there with
the traditional instruments and amazing hats and caps!


The Harem of Tash-Hauli is a very colorful courtyard, with the living quarters of the Allakuli Khan family. It bears the
verses of great poetry by Md. Riza Agakhi, on not just the wooden pillars, but also on the marble surfaces and the
majolica tiles. Don't forget to buy a majolica tile souvenir, they have some very nice designs for fridge magnets!


Or just take a stroll towards the back gates of the Old City


And get yourself some Uzbeki "Choi" or tea (mostly green and black options, without milk) and gawk at the surreal Madrassahs all around.
This one is the Madrassah of Khurdjum and Allakuli-Khan.



  • How much time to spend in Khiva? Is one day enough to see all of Khiva?

Most recommendations - one to two days is more than enough, since Khiva is very small and most of it can be visited in a couple of hours, even if you take a guide with you (which is recommended since the cost is very reasonable). Even if you were to reach there in the mid-morning, spend the rest of the day and evening, have dinner inside the Ichan Kala (old city) and stay over in one of the many BnBs inside or outside the city walls. You can leave the next morning after a satisfying breakfast!


  • How to get to Khiva?

Getting to Khiva is not hard, even though it is very far from Tashkent. There are so many options - fly (through Urgench), take the overnight train from Tashkent/Samarkhand or Navoi) and even taxi/bus/shared taxis. Our suggestion? Fly into Urgench from Tashkent (USD 50 or INR 3,500 on average, or less) if your plan is to go Khiva-Bukhara-Samarkand-Tashkent. Or you can do it the other way around! The taxi charges for a ride from/to Urgench airport can cost around UZS 60,000 - but bargain hard - its okay to do so!

Bukhara to Khiva or Khiva to Bukhara - best way? Shared Taxi! At a cost of USD 15 or UZS 100,000 at minimum (for one seat), you can cover the 450 km stretch in about 6 hours. It is the most economical way. Just book with it with your hostel/hotel the night before - its really that easy. Or you can even hail a taxi from the taxi stand in Urgench.

The drive is through the desert, and although the highways is excellent, the last 30 kms section of the road into Bukhara can be potholed, bumpy and very dusty. Air conditioning is not really used in these shared cabs, even though there are 5 persons inside the car and hot outside! The car stops to refuel at a point mid-way and you normally get about 15 minutes to use the restroom and buy snacks. 


  • Where to stay in Khiva?

There are so many Hostels and BnBs in Khiva, some inside the Old city, even. Alibek BnB is a great hostel and offers clean accommodation at reasonable prices. They also serve an excellent breakfast spread, complimentary. The Old City gates are only a two minute walk from here - its THAT close! A dorm bed costs about USD 12 (INR 850) a night whilst private rooms can be priced about twice that. 

Alternatively, if you want to stay in an actual Madrassah, check out Orient Star Hotel (about USD 68 or ~INR 4,700), which is where the beautiful Kalta Minor stands! How cool, right?? 


  • What to eat in Khiva? 

There are an incredible number of cafes and restaurants inside and outside the Old City. Lagman, Plov and noodle soup are some of the famous Uzbeki dishes one can feast on here. These contain meat - so if you are vegetarians like us, don't worry, just let the waiters know and they will make something for you; after all, bread or 'naan' is something that is available on every table! Expect to pay about UZS 30,000 (around INR 270) and upwards for a dish in the restaurants. 



  • BONUS: Suggested way of exploring Khiva

Start early in the morning - you can get some great shots of the place when there is no one around, especially the numerous souvenir and cloth stalls that come up by 10 am. From about 11 am to 4 pm, take it slow and easy - maybe stay longer indoors inside the many museums to cover up from the strong sunshine (between April and October) - and continue till 6 pm when it normally shuts down - you can still visit the restaurants after dark, but the mosques and the museums would not permit visitors then.

Spend at least 1 night in Khiva to keep the exploring comfortable - and don't forget to collect your registration slips from the host.


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