Exploring Timeless Khiva, Uzbekistan
Khiva is Uzbekistan’s most beautiful tourist town and is home to an ancient Fortified city which even today, looks like its stuck in a lost era. Experience the city’s warm culture and architecture while feasting on its most special dishes. And if you’re searching for a guide to visit Khiva, then look no further!
In this blog post, you’ll find everything you need to know to plan a visit to Khiva in Uzbekistan, including details on where to stay in Khiva, what to eat, how to explore the old city or the Ichan Kala Fortress
History of Khiva, Uzbekistan
The old town of Xiva (or “Khiva”) is dotted with stunning Madrassas, Mosques and Minarets. Legend has it that Shem, the son of Noah, was desperately looking for shelter after the 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 a vision and decided to establish a city in the form of a fortress ship. Soon after, a well was dug there 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.
Visit the iconic Kalta Minor
The Mohammed Amin Khan Madrassah and the Kalta (“Short”) Minor are located at the entrance of the Ichan Kala or Internal Fortress of Khiva. This is the most popular place 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 Madrassah in the background.
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. But nevertheless, it is beautiful.
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Pray at the Djuma Mosque
The Juma Mosque (or “Friday” mosque) is a very interesting prayer hall. There are 212 individual wooden pillars which have been carved out of tree trunks. The large space in the pillared hall is not for prayers alone, but its also used for large gatherings and preaching services. The unique design of this mosque also includes a central, open courtyard with a plant.
There is also a beautiful Minaret which can be climbed, right from inside the prayer hall. You can expect to spend about 20 minutes here.
Watch an impromptu Uzbeki dance performance
This is probably the best thing about Khiva! Very often, many dance troupes, singers and other cultural performers gather in the Old Fortress to showcase their traditional art. Music accompanying the performance is also very fun! Many visitors and locals break into their own dance while the artists perform right on the streets.
Take a walk through the alleys of Ichan Kala
The fortress of Khiva is a small fortified city, and being a heritage site, every single building inside is considered a valuable monument. Thats also why Khiva is often called an open air museum.
While walking around, don’t hesitate to explore the quieter alley. They often lead to small museums, heritage homes, art centres and even a museum. Or you might just find a calm place to relax after a walk on the crowded streets!
Admire the blue Pahlavan Mahmud Necropolis
The mausoleum of Mahmud, the Pahlavan (“pahalvan” or wrestler) is a very sacred place in the old city. He was considered as Khiva’s greatest professional wrestler and poet, and he was popular for his philosophy. 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. Expect to spend about 20 minutes here. Taste some of the water from the sacred well in the mausoleum’s courtyard.
Explore the vast Kunya Ark of Khiva, Uzbekistan
The Kunya Ark (or “Old Fortress”) 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 would meet with his subjects. The blue and turquoise majolica patterns on the tiles create a very soothing experience even in the hot sun. The museum inside hosts some wonderful pieces and information from the period leading up to the eighteenth century.
The Harem of Tash-Hauli is a very colorful courtyard in the living quarters of the Allakuli Khan family. It bears the verses of great poetry by Md. Riza Agakhi on the wooden pillars and the marble surfaces and the majolica tiles.
Spend about 30 minutes inside the Ark, whilst admiring the blue walls and learning about the history of the Khiva Khanate.
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 INR 90) to the little room at the top. It dates back to the sixteenth century and remained intact for over 400 years.
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. The neighbouring, traditional bathhouses of Khiva were known for their exceptional heating capabilities and underground drainage systems.
How to travel to Khiva, Uzbekistan
There are three main modes of transport to get to Khiva:
Air: The nearest international airport is in Urgench. A few European and Asian flights land here every week, but there are daily flights from Tashkent to Khiva and back. Prices can be as low as USD 50 (INR 3,600) and the taxi ride from Urgench to Khiva should not cost more than UZS 60,000 per person.
Train: There are multiple overnight trains from Tashkent, Samarkand, Navoi. You can even book the tickets online on the official site for as little as UZS 75,000 (USD 7 or INR 500)
Taxi: Take an expensive private taxi from Samarkand or Bukhara to Khiva. If you’re looking for a cheap way of going to Khiva, just take a shared taxi or a Marshrutka (minivan) ride for UZS 100,000 (USD 15). These can be booked with your hotel or hostel on the previous night.
Tip: Take the shared taxi. The drive from Khiva to Bukhara is through the desert. The highways is excellent although some parts of the road are filled with potholes and are very dusty. Air conditioning is occassionally used in these shared cabs, but it may be a little uncomfortable with five people in the car. The taxi stops to refuel at a point mid-way and you get about 15 minutes to use the restroom and buy snacks.
Where to stay in Khiva, Uzbekistan?
There are many Hostels and BnBs in Khiva; some hotels are inside the Ichan Kala fortress too. If you want to stay at a hostel, there are many just at the entrance of the old city. A dorm with breakfast costs as little as USD 5 (INR 300).
Alternatively, if you want to stay in an actual Madrassah, check out Orient Star Hotel (about USD 50 or ~INR 3,600). This is right next to the colorful Kalta Minor.
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Travel costs and safety
Khiva is reasonably cheap to explore. The ticket to the old fortress city costs UZS 100,000 (about USD 15) with only a few mosques and minars charging additional entry fees inside.
Cafes and restaurants inside and outside the Old City serve Lagman, Plov (rice) and noodle soup for UZS 30,000 (INR 270 or USD 4). Vegetarian options and Naan bread are always available. ‘Choi’ or tea is very cheap and free in some places!
Khiva is quite safe. Couples and even female travelers can have a good time. There is security inside the old fortress (its a paid entry) and locals are warm and helpful.
Suggested itinerary for Khiva, Uzbekistan
Enter the fortress early in the morning to some good photos of the place when there is no one around. From about 11 am to 4 pm, take it slow and easy by staying inside the many museums and madrassahs to avoid the strong sun (from April to October). Explore freely until sunset, when most entrances are closed.
Tip: Spend at least 1 night in Khiva to make the experience comfortable. Don’t forget to collect your registration slips from the host.
If you have more questions, or want to explore Khiva with us, write to us or leave a comment below!
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