Khiva, Uzbekistan: Museum or Stage Show?

Trip Start Jul 28, 2013
Trip End Feb 06, 2014

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Flag of Uzbekistan  , Khorezm Province,
Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Having been sidetracked by beer drinking Canadians the night before, we had to do a mad dash back to Aladdin's cave before leaving for the shared taxi. As the shop wasn't open we grabbed a coffee before going in for some serious haggling. Sum agreed, purchases made, sighs of "thank god that's over" from Sam and happy do-lallies from me we jumped in a cab and headed out to the shared taxi hot spot.

By 12:00 we had found a car going to Khiva and agreed a price... now all we needed were another two people before we could go. Waiting, waiting, waiting. A guy from Moldova eventually appeared so that was front seat and two side backseats taken, now all we needed was the poor sucker who was going to get put in the middle. Local man please step forward - bingo - by 2pm we finally had a full car. Sam riding shot gun and me in the back with two men legs akimbo squishing me firmly into place up against the window.

Not 15 minutes into the journey we had to pull over for fuel. An interesting boy fact (courtesy of Sam) is to tell you that all cars in Uzbekistan run off propane gas (C3H8 or whatever that is), not petrol. Strange when surrounded by such oil rich nations. Would hate to see what happens in a car crash - BOOM! I made sure I stood well away whilst filling up which took forever. We must have been there for a good 30 minutes before resuming our impressions of sardines and getting back on the road.

With an elbow firmly positioned in my side, a creak in my neck from being pressed up against the window and ache in my shin from hitting the seat in front I can firmly and unequivocally say I HATE SHARED TAXIS! 2 hours would have been doable, 3 hrs bearable, 4 hrs tolerable (just), 5 hrs highly undesirable but over 6 hrs was worse than sitting through an evening of Big Brother. Absolute torture!

To top it off when we got to Urgench the driver told me, Sam and Moldova that we needed to change cars, despite the fact we had expressly paid him to take us "All the way to Khiva, not Urgench". "Don't worry, you won't have to pay him any more money" he said. So out we get and into another car only to be told by our new driver "You must pay me for the 4th seat if you want to go now, otherwise we wait until someone comes to fill it". After sitting there for 10-15 min Sam went and gave the man USZ 5,000 to be on our way. Yes it's only US$2 but that's beside the point.

Finally arriving in Khiva (gone 8:30pm) we were dropped at a different hotel (where Moldova was staying) and told the hotel we wanted to stay at was closed. Great. "But you can stay here" said the man. "Do you have double rooms?" "Yes". Not wanting to traipse all over town looking for alternative accommodation we accepted his offer, unloaded the car, dumped bags in hotel and took off shoes as instructed. "So where is the double room?" "Oh double room is not here, it's at another hotel. Here is just a dorm.". It was at that stage and somewhere in between me thinking "You f**king what?!!" that I blew a gasket and bit the poor man's head off.

Trudging along behind Sam and the man, who was practically running to get away from me, we walked the darken streets to the hotel. Having not eaten all day, bar an emergency Snickers, we threw the bags into the room and made tracks to the nearest eatery, a nice hotel come restaurant. Choosing the room with the least number of tour groups, we settled into a table next to one very odd mixed group and ordered food and beer. Despite being hungry enough to eat a horse the beef steak was hugely disappointing and so tough that I ended up calling it quits after half due to jaw ache.

Looking gloomily into my beer I didn't think the night could get any worse but then a local troupe of musicians and dancers came into the room to perform for the tour group. I've not got anything against local Uzbek music, having heard some of it on the radio I actually quite like it, but this was on a whole new level. I'm sure you could have stood anywhere in Khiva and heard them play it was so loud. A plate actually fell off the wall and smashed. Not the best combination with banging headache and foul mood. The icing on the cake was when we got back to the hotel and discovered we had no hot water or heating. I didn't cry, I didn't swear, I just thought "It's days like this that I would actually prefer to be at work".

Waking to a new day, we still didn't have hot water or heating, but the rest of our time in Khiva passed by on happier terms. With clear skies we found a beautiful sun trap just off the main thoroughfare to sit and have coffee whilst watching the world go by. As a plus they had wifi and served meat and pumpkin samsas/samosas so that was breakfast and then in the afternoon we would return to catch the last of the rays over beers and fried ravioli.

I'm not sure if it was a special time of year but the number of weddings we saw was immense. The whole wedding party went by the cafe in procession and at one stage only a few minutes passed before the next party came along. A little bit further up the street they would stop for a dance off. Most entertaining.

Walking through the ancient inner walled city (Ichon-Qala) of Khiva is a little like walking through a living museum. Dirt roads/lane ways, mosques, minarets, madrassas, mausoleum's all intertwined by mud brick walls to create an 8th century modern day town. On the flip side it's also turned into a playground for tourists and with the number upping (tour bus central) so too has the tourist tat. Alleys are lined with makeshift stalls selling scarves (inferior quality to those in Bukhara), beautiful wood carved platters, photo frames, book stands and canes, fur hats, jackets or dead animals to hand around your shoulders ( was tempted), brightly painted ceramic bowls (if only I had an extra bag) and various other odds and sods. Although it adds a splash of colour to the streets it also brings with it an air of fakeness - a lone camel lounging in the dirt just off the main thoroughfare where you can have your photo, ornate chairs strategically placed for you to pose on once dressed up in traditional regalia. Albeit an incredibly enchanting place you can't help but think it's now simply a stage show of how life once was rather than actually is. Stepping out of the walls provides you with a different perspective where locals far out number tourists.

For a birds eye view we ventured up one of the minarets. With health and safety of no concern the walk up the tight circular staircase on all fours (and sometimes in the dark) made for an interesting climb. The view from the top was magnificent. Another great viewpoint was a spot up on the walls near West Gate where we spent an evening watching the sun go down to the soothing sounds of a yapping dog.

With our time in Khiva coming to an end we enjoyed some traditional plov (buttered rice with shredded carrot topped with a few chunks of lamb) before commencing our overnight train journey to Samarkand. On arriving at the station we asked no less than five conductors which carriage we were in. Each time they pointed in the same direction - down there, down there. Thinking to myself I'm pretty sure 22 isn't in the direction of 16, 10, 8, 5 we continued walking, asking people as we went. Perhaps the ticket said 2 not 22. But when we got to 2 we were told "no no, you all the way back there". Cheers buddy. So back up the platform we walked to the final carriage numbered 21. At this stage both Sam and I were thinking we had been sold a dodge ticket and wouldn't be going anywhere but of course carriage 22 was located between 20 and 21 so there was no cause for concern or confusion.

The train seems nice enough. Once again we have the top bunks which suits us fine and instead of three beds to a bunk there are two with another two against the opposite side of the train = ]. With no doors I'm hoping for a cooler, less pungent nights sleep compared to the closed compartments we've shared on other trains. Fingers crossed.


Shared taxi: Bukhara to Khiva. Arrived at taxi rank 12:00, departed 14:00, arrived Khiva 20:30. UZS 70,000 ea (US$26) + UZS 5,000 (US$1.80) from Urgench.
B&B: Mirzoboshi US$20 pn private bathroom, no heating, breakfast and limited hot water.
Train: Urgench to Samarkand dep 20:15 arr 10:30. UZS 50,000 ea (US$18.50) economy.

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