Long ago in the 8th century, Khiva was a minor fort town somewhat along the Silk Road. The town thrived with its busy slave market. Today, it’s a well-preserved city with museums galore about Khiva’s past life.
We arrived in Urgench, the capital of Khorezm province after a 12 hour train ride. We were swamped with taxi drivers saying “Khiva”. Eventually, we bargained one taxi driver to take us for 10,000UZS ($1.44 BM$2.88 official)/. We were shocked considering Khiva is 35km from Urgench.
He took us to his car, put our stuff in the trunk then told us to wait. Five minutes later, he came back with a couple and a newborn with a huge suitcase. The taxi driver wanted us to hold our bags on our laps as the couple got to put their suitcase in the trunk. We got out of the car and left with our stuff.
We boarded mashurtka 19 from the train station to the bazaar for 700UZS (10¢ BM/20¢ official), then a tolleybus to Khiva for 1,000UZS (14¢ BM/28¢ official).
The 1.5 hour tolleybus bus ride was quite interesting. It was pretty crammed packed. One old guy near me kept complaining about the wind from the open window and demanded that the young man near him close it. Under his breath, he mumbled, “Oh my God” to which I smiled at him. Ten minutes later, as the bus got really stuffy, I opened the window again and the young man gave me the thumbs up. When the ticket man came, we didn’t have the right amount. The young man paid for one of our tickets and exited the tolley before I could give him the money. The most I could do was wave goodbye as a sign of graditude.
As the tolleybus emptied, an older gentleman tried to have a conversation in Uzbek while Robb just kept nodding. Then a school girl tried to speak to me in English. The locals found us quite entertaining!
We arrived in Khiva late afternoon, just in time for sunset. We wandered around the inner city walls and realized how small Khiva was. Since we had planned for two days, we decided to go back and relax.
The all-inclusive ticket that foreigners need to get to enter the museums cost $12 (UZS based on official rate). But we just decided to bypass the museums and stroll around the city.
In the morning, we climbed the Islom-Hoja Minaret. At 57m, it’s Uzbekistan’s tallest minaret. We saw locals getting for 1,000UZS but we were charged 6,000UZS. We tried to argue then she pointed to the sign that said $1.50. At least we got the official rate!
The climb up was precarious. Inside the minaret, it is lit with a few openings to allow the sunshine in. Also, the steps varied along the way with low overhangs. Good thing smartphones have a flashlight option!
But once we got on top, the view was amazing. We could clearly see the city walls and life below. The platform up top was small, so once two Uzbek boys reached the top after us and a couple after them, it was a tight squeeze.
Afterwards, Robb really wanted to get a view of Katla Minor Minaret from the city walls. We went to the North gate and a walkway up.
So, young Uzbek couples use the city walls to make out, and on a Monday late morning, there were quite a few of them.
We got to the end of one end of the wall by the West gate, but the view of the Katna Minaret was obstructed by another wall.
Robb really wanted to see how far he could go from one end of the wall to the other on the east side. It was roughly 2.5km, but with the backtracking to get down, it was about a 4km walk altogether.
Lunch was at the bazaar where we picked up minced beef, chicken and beef shashliks and Khiva samsas called fityi. They gave us bread and tea for free. Meals at the bazaar were cheap at about 21,000UZS ($3.00 BM/$6.00 official) but lacking in vegetables beside raw onions splashed with dill-infused vinegar.
Khiva is a city for wandering. We spent the afternoon sitting at different parts of the city and watched the tour groups go by.
At different parts of the inner city, we could hear craftsmen working on their trade. A wood carver checking his new lute. The pounding of metal at a knife shop. A women sewing a detailed needlepoint pattern. Just dyed yarn drying in the sun.
Unfortunately, sunset was cloudy so we couldn’t really see much. By evening, all the vendors had packed up for the day and felt pretty deserted with very little lighting.
Budget a full day in Khiva to appreciate the buildings and soak up the atmosphere. It’s not took hard to imagine Khiva way back when it was a trading post. Instead of weapons and foodstuffs, sellers today pawn off souvenirs.
- Accommodations: We stayed at the Laliopa Guesthouse which was a 5 minutes walk to the West gate. The room as a bit on the frigid side but we were given heavy blankets to compensate. Breakfast was plenty and WiFi was excellent.
- Eating: We basically stuck to the bazaar and had our fill of shashlik and Khiva samsas. We tried to find the Dilnura Cafe mentioned several times by the Lonely Planet, but what we found in its were place were demolished buildings.
- Coffee: We failed in our coffee hunt again. In an effort to cut back out som spending, we have stopped drinking coffee and are doing what the locals do, drink tea. Lots of tea.