Khiva is one of the most magical towns we saw in Central Asia. It’s located south-west of Aral Sea in the oasis on the delta of lower Amu-Darya River in ancient times called Oxus, surrounded with endless desert. In the south is Kara-Kum and in the north Kyzyl-Kum desert.
This ancient oasis turned into a beautiful natural museum under the open sky, where majestic ruins of numerous castles and fortresses, ancient settlements and traces of impressive irrigation systems can be found.
Khiva is an ancient city. The archeologist’s claim that the city has existed since the 4th century BC. In the 10th century is mentioned as a major trading center on the Silk Road where from dawn to dusk endless streams of camels with exotic goods passed through on their way to China and back. It became a capital of Khorezm and the Khante of Khiva (a big Central Asian kingdom) in the beginning of 16th century.
The city is divided into two parts. The outer city called Dichan Qala which was once protected by a wall with 10 gates.
And the internal fortress – Itchan Qala which is encircled by clay wall 10m high, 5-6m tick and more than 2km long with foundations from the 4th and 5th century. The wall was fortified with massive semicircular defensive towers on 30m intervals. It was recognized by UNESCO as a historical monument and was written in the World Heritage List in 1990.
There are four gates in Itchan QalaAbove: Ata-Darvaza the main gate of Ichan-Qala, located in the western part of the city. It’s 10m high and 4m wide. Inside there were 43 stalls and a covered bazaar – Carsu
Bagcha-Darvaza leading north to Urgench, recent capital of Khorezm, Tash-Darvaza(stone gates) leading southward to Kara-Kum desert used by caravans coming from the Caspian Sea and
Palvan-Darvaza(Estarn-warriors gate) leading to Hazarasp and the Amu-Darya River.
Among ordinary people the name of Palvan-Darvaza gates was known as Pashshab-Darvaza(the Executioners gate)or Kul-Darvaza(the Slaves gate) because at the exit from Itchan Qala used to be a slave market until 1873 and niches inside the gates were were fugitive and rebellious slaves were awaiting their lot. By the gates too they used to read the Khan’s farmans(decrees) and they punished criminals.
In Oriental cities, the gates and entrances were of great importance. More impressive they looked, more grandeur and respect had a city, a building or its creator. In the course of time defensive function of the gates became less important and they became part of a city design.
They were decorated with beautiful colored glazed tiles and Oyats from the Khoran; some displayed texts praising Khans and sometimes extracts from their poems. Some gates turned into shopping malls with the time.
Below top left: Outer wall of Itchan-Qala
We arrived to this magical city at dawn and enterd Itchan Qala by the northern Bagcha Gate. We turned right into the first street just after the gate and cycled by the wall untill the guesthouse we were looking for -Meros B&B.
The smell of freshly baked lipjoska(flat bread) from the neighbours’ tandoori was feeling the evening air and i started to feel hungry and tired. The family who owned the guesthouse was very kind, they gave us a nice room on the 1th floor decorated with colorful ornaments in the ancient style and made us delicious vegetarian dinner.
Before we went to sleep we climb to the rooftop of our guesthouse and enjoyed a magical view. Fool moon was rising above this ancient city, illuminating the moonlight on minarets in the distance.
We were very close to Kunya Ark the Old fortress. And behind it was the famous Kalta Minor(the short minaret).It was very romantic.
We had a good sleep and extremely lazy morning. We stayed in the main room most of the day, which was the best place to be during this crazy day heat outside(more than 50C). We were reading books, drinking tea and talking to other travelers.
We went outside only after 4pm when the heath was not as strong anymore, strolling down the stone paved alleys between spectacular minarets, mosque, madrassah and mausoleums.
Enjoying the architecture and people we were feeling like we were part of 1001 Arabian nights
Above view from our rooftop: The unfinished minaret of Kalta Minor, the only minaret whose surface is entirely covered with colored glazed tiles.
Kalta-Minor should have become the biggest and highest minaret in Central Asia. Its massive base is 14.2 m in diameter.
However, construction was interrupted upon the death of Muhammad-Amin-khan in 1855 after a battle with the Turkmen as historian Munis reported. The following Khan did never comlete it maybe because of the fear that minaret would overlook his harem in Kunya Ark and the muezzin would be able to see the Khan’s wives.
Above: Islam Khodja’s smallest madrassah(school) and the highest minaret from the year 1908, imitating the ancient minarets of the 11th and 12th centuries.
The minaret is 57m high including foundation. At a height of 45m is platform which is the highest observation point in Khiva.
Horizontal belts of dark blue, white, blue and green glazed mosaic decorate the minaret.
Above LEFT: Islam Khodja’s minaret, RIGHT: Djuma minaret, MIDDLE: watch tower and levitating Katya
Above; LEFT: view of Djuma minaret on the left and Islam Khodja minaret on the right, RIGHT down corner: Madrassah of Muhammad Rahim-khan one of the biggest in Khiva.
It was constructed in 1876 on the orders of Seyid Muhammad-Rahim II (1863-1910), known also as a poet under the assumed name of Feruzshah.
Above: local ladies in Kunya Ark
Below: Katya with local ladies in Kunya Ark
Above and below: beautiful wood carving work of Khiva
Above: Carved wooden door
Above: Suzanni Silk carpet factory
Above: tandoori oven and lipjoska(flat bread)
We were planning to stay only for a day or two, but it was hard to leave this beautiful oasis. Every day we postponed our journey east, back to the desert. We ended up staying for four days. We would stay longer but we had NO TIME.
Our Uzbekistan visa was only for 30 days and we had only 15 days left. We wanted to see Bukhara and Samarkand, had to make few visas in Tashkent which could take at least a week and we were still very far.
We were thinking what we should do next and decided to skip the desert, take a train to Bukhara and than cycle to Samarkand and Tashkent.
The train was leaving from Urgench, so we could visit our friend Ismail, which we met 2 weeks ago in chaikhana on the border. We called him, but he was not at home so we talked to his brother. He was so happy to hear from us and told us they were expecting us. We agreed to call him again when we get there.
We said goodbye to our beautiful family who took care of us while we stayed in Khiva and started to cycle to Urgench which was only 32km away.
On the train station in Urgench we found out that the train to Bukhara just left and the next one would be only after few days, but there was train to Tashkent via Samarkand the next day. So we changed our plans and decided to go first to Samarkand.
Ismail’s brother came to meet us at the train station. We followed the car to his home where we stayed for one night. He was living with his mum and his wife in a beautiful house few km away from the city. We thought Ismail will also come, but he never did. It was funny staying with the part of the family we didn’t know but they were all very beautiful and welcoming, that only after one day we had hard time to say goodbye.
We had a long and very educational conversation with his brother; they were both like lexicons of knowledge. It was shame we didn’t have more time to stay but we had to get going.
After breakfast we cycled back to the train station where a man was waiting for us and helped us talk to the conductor for the tickets. It was a very different experience from the first one on the border. This time they wanted to charge us a lot of money, much more than the ticket from the counter.
They wanted to sell us the whole second class coupe because of our luggage. But we showed them we could put the bikes and the trailer outside, so there was no need to rent the whole coupe. On the end we agreed on the price which was a bit smaller than 3th class ticket from the counter. So both parties were happy. They were happy for the money and we for the coupe. And in front was a long train ride through the desert to Samarkand.