Khiva is an oasis town, established around 1500 years ago and it has been destroyed and rebuilt many times throughout history. It is listed as a World Heritage site in 1991. Khiva had been an important Silk Road town that was infamous with the slave trade and barbaric cruelty. Slavery was only formally abolished in Khiva in 1917. In 1970 the Soviets restored much of this historical fortress town and now, tourists flock from all around the world to see this historical place that has seemed to be frozen in time. Khiva is placed within an area of less than 3 km full of madrasa, mosques, tiled minarets and surrounded by huge ancient mud walls. The following are 10 things we believe you must know when travelling to Khiva.
In the 6th century, Khiva was under the rule of the Achaemenid Empire, also known as the First Persian Empire. It was founded as a small trading post on the silk road. Islam spread to Khiva around the 8th century and was under the rule of Khwarezmia kingdom. At that time the capital was Konye-Urgench which is currently located in Turkmenistan. Due to the change of direction of the Amu Darya River, Khiva became the new capital of the area. In the 16th Century, Khiva became the capital of the Khanate of Khiva until it was occupied by the Russian Red Army in 1920.
Khiva is split into the old town, Ichan-Qa, which is surrounded by the ancient mud walls and the Dichan-Qala, which is the area outside the city walls. There are four gates that lead into the Ichan-Qa and the West Gate is the main entrance where tourists can buy tickets to see the main attractions in Khiva.
The Itchan Kala is an area that covers about 26 hectares and it has all the main attractions of Khiva (ticket required for most). The 2-day ticket was around 10 USD and it covers all the museums and buildings in the Ichan Kala. Climbing the minarets and watchtowers requires extra cost.
When I was doing my planning, Kiva’s hug mud walls caught my attention. They look even more spectacular in real life. The foundations of Khiva’s mud wall was laid in the 10th century and were razed and rebuilt many times throughout history. The current wall was built in the 17th century and is 10 meters in height.
You can climb these walls for free from the north gate and it’s a great place to watch the sunset in Khiva.
Khiva has two clear landmarks. One of them is the Islam-Khoja Minaret which is the tallest building in Khiva and you could see this building from everywhere in Khiva. You are able to climb to the top to the tower to see the whole of Khiva. There is a madrassa next to the minaret and is now converted into a museum which displays historical items.
Kalta-Minor is definitely the main attraction of the old town. It is the iconic building of Khiva and it is actually an unfinished base of a minaret. The minaret, if completed, was meant to be the tallest building in Central Asia. Unfortunately, the Amir Khan who ordered the Minaret to be built, died in 1855 before it was completed and the construction work came to a halt. The exquisite blue and green tile work of Kalta-Minor is breathtaking for anyone who set their eyes on it for the first time.
The madrassas next to Kalta-Minor had been converted to one of Khiva’s more exquisite hotel, Orient Star Khiva Hotel. We stayed at the Khiva Rasulboy-Guest House. The hotel breakfast room has great scenery of Khiva. The rooms were nice and warm with nice bathrooms and good breakfast. We highly recommend this hotel. Majority of the tourists would usually choose to stay inside the old town, Ichan-Qa. We could enjoy the relatively empty old city when all the day trip tourists leave in the late afternoon.
Khiva has two royal palaces. The main one is the Kunya-Ark which is a fortress residence which Khivan rules commanded from between the 12th to the 17th century. Inside the palace, there is a mosque, a royal mint, stable and a throne room. There is even a lookout tower that you can climb for an extra cost. The minting room showed a history of many of the coins used around the area of Khiva. The mosque patterns outside of the royal palace are influenced by Persian culture and are extremely beautiful.
Our personal favourite is the Kunya-Ark Jail which is just outside of the main entrance. In the Kunya-Ark jail, there are many historical instruments of torture on display. On the walls in the jail room, there are pictures that show how the Khan punishes the prisoners at that time. There are pictures of prisoners buried arrive, thrown into a bag of snakes and being stoned to death. There was even a picture of a prisoner being thrown off the top of the minaret. We were surprised to see minarets being used as an instrument of execution as we thought it was a holly building.
Because Khiva was the centre of the slave trade, bandits in the deserts would even capture traders on the silk road and take them as slaves to be sold in the Khiva markets. If any slaves try to escape, their ears would even be nailed to the west walls. executions occur at the west gates as well. This made us a little creeped out walking through the west gate at night.
The newer palace is the Tash-Hauli Palace, built in the 19th century. The entrance of the palace is quite hard to find as there are no clear signs and it was located in a small alleyway. There are more than 150 rooms in the palace, 9 courtyards and many weird things on display. One of the displayed items is an 1872 horse carriage.
There are hardly any tourists in this palace when we were there. and it’s a great place to spend the afternoon in a historical place like this and take pictures.
Juma Mosque is like all mosques, plain on the outside, marvellous on the inside. This olden mosque has spectacular 218 carved pillars holding up the fine woodworks in the ceiling. The columns that support the ceiling dates back to the 12th to 15th century. The place looks quite different to other mosques and looks more like a Japanese temple. There are no windows in the mosque and the only opening is in the ceiling, allowing light to fill up the wooden mosque.
Khiva is a city full of museums. There are archeological sites to see all around the city and we definitely didn’t have time to see them all properly. One of the major sites we didn’t enter is the Pahlavan-Mahmud Necropolis.
The 13th century Pahlavan-Mahmud Necropolis is one of the most popular pilgrimage sites in Uzbekistan. Pahlawan Mahmudwas remembered as a handsome hero and saint and his grave became the burial place of Khans of Khiva. Inside there is the Saint’s grave, prayer rooms and a lodge for pilgrims.
We honestly thought Khiva’s food was quite expensive and wasn’t very delicious. Especially we just came from Iran and Turkmenistan where the food was quite decent. We originally thought the food was expensive and low quality because we were eating in the touristic old town, however, we found that the restaurants outside of the old town were just as terrible. One of the restaurants outside of the old town even tried to charge us tourist prices as they gave us a menu that was double the price as the local menu. Luckily we saw the prices on the local menu and made sure they didn’t overcharge us.
Another restaurant gave us some somsa as an extra dish, but then the owner charged us for the dish anyway. We were quite annoyed, but because his restaurant was the least shitty one of the restaurants, we went there twice.
Once, we tried finding authentic food in the old town, we saw an old lady making these local dumplings cooked in a clay oven. We were led into a small room where we saw two other tourists just about to leave leaving the majority of their dumplings unfinished. They even secretly made a vomiting hand gesture to let us know that the food is disgusting. We had to make some lame excuse to the owner and run away quickly.
The only restaurant that we would recommend is Khiva Moon. The quality of the food and the price is decent. However, they have a 10% service fee. Khiva Moon was probably the only restaurant that we thought was half decent in the whole town.
From Turkmenistan, Dashoguz is the closest border to Khiva and this border is only 10km away from Khiva. Once you leave Turkmenistan customs, you will have to catch the Uzbekistan bus to the Uzbekistan border. The bus ticket is USD $1. Originally we organised the hotel to send a car for USD $20 as we were afraid that there were no taxis at the border.
Due to the smooth border crossing, we were at the pick-up location 2 hours earlier than anticipated and realised that there were quite a few taxis available. We ended up bargaining a taxi ride down to USD $12 (travellers online said that $10 is probably the cheapest we could get) and we told the driver to call our hotel to cancel the driver. The Taxi ride was 55km and took roughly 1 hour.
The next destination after Khiva is usually Bukhara. They used to be enemy states in history. The two cities are separated by a desert and are interconnected by a train. The train time table can be accessed here. However, the train is only in operation in high season. In low season, you would have to bus or train to a nearby city called Urgench first before you can catch the next transport to Bukhara.
To get to Urgench, the quickest way is to catch a shared taxi. Trains are too slow and not flexible in time. From Khiva to Ugench (35km) we paid 10,000 som ( Roughly USD $1). From Ugench to Bukhara, we took another shared taxi and it costs us 100,000 som ( Roughly USD $10). It took around 1.5 hours before he filled the shared taxi and took around 8 hours to drive to Bukhara. This includes a lunch break. If you book a car directly from Khiva to Bukhara, it’ll cost you USD $40.
We hope the above tips can help you to organise your trip to Khiva. We will post more about our travels in Central Asia, so if you like our post please add Winny’s IG @ travelwithwinny and Facebook page Travel with Winny 一起跟昀去旅行.