24 Hours in Khiva, Uzbekistan - Living Museum of the Silk Road
Updated: Apr 21
Once associated with the Silk Road salve trade, Khiva is now a popular destination for tourists prepared to travel a little further for something very different from the normal holiday experience. This ‘living museum’ with its labyrinth of narrow alleyways, intricate vivid blues reflected in the tile-work, buildings that glow in the evening light, and towering beautifully adorned minarets, is a photographers dream destination.
There is more to Khiva than initially meets the eye. This historic town has been an integral part of the Silk Road story for the last 1500 years. It has been destroyed and rebuilt upon its own foundations numerous times, deeply ingraining this fascinating city into the landscape, the history, and the mythology of the region.
Here are some suggestions for things to see and do in this ancient city.
The Orient Star Hotel is highly recommended for visitors wishing to immerse themselves in the Khiva’s Old-Town’s hustle and bustle. Located inside the Mukhamed Aminkahn madrassah (education facility) at the main gate, the 8-roomed hotel offers an authentic ‘madrassah’ experience with its simply furnished rooms and small windows, however, the architecture is perfect for the climate, and the air-conditioning makes visiting in the sweltering summer months a pleasure. Basics such as Wi-Fi, mini-bar, and telephones are available in all rooms, as is room-service and TV with satellite channels. (Photo:uzbek-travel.com)
The hotel's beautiful architecture and minaret, Kalta Miror, draws visitors with craned necks and cameras ready from around the globe.
Exploring Khiva’s Old Town
The Old Town is situated in the Ichon-Qala area of Khiva and has been granted UNESCO World Heritage status. As such it is the main drawcard for visitors who are warmly welcomed into this tourist-friendly walled city.
There are four entrance gates into the Old Town. At the west gate visitors can buy a ticket costing around £13, allowing them access to the various museums, magnificent buildings, mosques and minarets that abound in the area.
When you feel you need a break from the tourists, wander a little way off the main thoroughfares to discover the simple but vibrant daily life of the local inhabitants. Property cannot be bought in the old-town, and buildings are passed down through generations of original owners. Any decoration or alteration must first be approved by UNESCO, so keeping the Old-Town authentic to its architectural and cultural history.
Climbing the Juma Minaret
At 47 meters high, the Juma Minaret is the highest point in the city and affords uninterrupted views of the Old Town from the observation platform. Climbing the 81 steps to the top is not for the faint-hearted or claustrophobic, but well worth the effort and excellent value at around £1.60 per person.
The Juma Mosque itself is breathtaking, with its 212 columns mainly carved from tree trunks. The light that streams through three holes in the ceiling creates a sacred and almost ethereal atmosphere for prayer.
Taking Tea at the Teahouse Farrukh
Tea plays a major role in the daily life of locals. All meals start and end with a piala (cup) of the local tea, and there are rules that are strictly adhered to in making the perfect brew. To experience true Uzbek style, head for the Teahouse Farrukh. Put dignity aside as you ‘bum-shuffle into position, propped by brightly coloured pillows and throws on a ‘table bed’ while enjoying the country's favoured beverage. (Photo: cora_v)
Apart from the traditional Green and Black teas, there is a coffee menu. Wifi is available to customers. This shady venue is perfect for escaping the heat and a memorable experience of Uzbek culture.
Shopping at the Market Stalls
Trading is deeply ingrained into the culture of Khiva, and this is reflected in the numerous market stalls that you’ll find during your visit. Unlike many market-driven towns, the stalls are bright, neat and well laid out, and the choices are overwhelming. Select from traditional crafts and clothing, ceramics and figurines, vibrantly coloured fabrics, and in the impossible chance that you may get chilly, even fur hats! (Photo: brusselsexpress.eu)
You can also duck out of the sun at one of the covered markets, including the Eastern Gate Passageway, which fortunately doesn’t trade in the kind of goods that it was known for; slaves.
The Khuna Arc and its Beautiful Tiles
The Khuna Arc fortress was the former residence of rulers dating from the 12th century. The 17th century saw an expansion to the existing complex when the ruling Khan added necessities like a bathhouse, stables and a jail, but also increased the fortresses strategic position on the silk route with the inclusion of a mosque and a mint. So important was this fortress, it even housed the Khan’s private harem.
Such a building had to be adorned with the best craftsmanship of the time, and visitors can still see the remarkable, ornamental tile-work that gives a hint to the former glory and level of decoration that adorned the complex.
Evening performances of traditional music, dance and costumes give tourists a visual feast, and although you may not understand the language, the 20-minute show is interesting and fun.
Restaurant Zarafshan, a perfect end to the evening
Although Uzbekistan is not internationally known for its food, the Restaurant Zarafshab, located in the courtyard of the 19th century Tolib Makhsum Madrassah in Khiva’s Old Town, shows that normal Uzbek cuisine should be experienced when given the chance. (Photo: Maria_w)
The bright 50-seater restaurant, decorated in traditional Uzbek style, has a great view of the Islam Khodja complex, with its towering minaret that was once used by desert travellers as a beacon to find the city.
As the sun sets, the buildings take on a vivid, monochromatic glow in the evening light. This is the perfect time to dine alfresco from a wide range of fragrant, well presented and delicious dishes that will appeal to all palates.
Article compiled and written for Red Flower-UK
© Andrew Knapp – The Design Train
NOTE: The author does not own the copyright of photos and images used within this article and credits have been given where possible