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Discovery Uzbekistan Travel Guide #14/2010

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The history of Khiva and the Khorezm oasis is fascinating and a walk through the Ichan Kala, the old walled city of Khiva, will give you an insight into the life led there from ancient days up to the present time. You know you are nearing Khiva when you cross the legendary Amu Darya (Oxus) river. As you round the last bend, the huge citadel rises before you and the main gate opens up to the old city, Khiva's vast open air museum.

Today Khiva is the gateway to a region that has much to offer: Ancient Khorezm, stretching up to Muynak, where you may discover lost cities from the 6th century, sleep in a yurt, take river boat rides, mourn the loss of a major water ecosystem, acquire hand made ceramics, woven rugs and silk carpets, embroidery, woollen slippers and many other souvenirs, drive through lovely villages made entirely from clay where friendly peasants lead a lifestyle similar to that of their ancestors hundreds of years ago, where donkey carts are a common means of transportation, far away from sophistication and fancy establishments but where hospitality is paramount.

Getting there
Urgench International Airport with direct flights from to Tashkent is a 40 minute drive from Khiva. There are taxis on the outside curb but you are best advised to make arrangements through your hotel, who will send a car with driver. The tramway from the airport to Khiva exists but the journey will take around 2 hours.

Overland from Tashkent there is only one route, no, not the short cut through the Kyzylkum desert straight out West but the 1000km through Samarkand and Bukhara. A local bus from Bukhara may take up to 12 hours.

Pakhlavon Makhmud
The cupola of the Pakhlavon-Makhmud mausoleum is unsurpassed in its simplicity, unforgettable for its luminescent shade of turquoise. There is no site more sacred in this oasis city. Here lies the Sufi poet of the early 14th century with 338 rubai to his name and a champion wrestler, who was later canonized and is considered the patron saint of Khiva.

Juma Mosque
There are 212 columns supporting the roof of the Juma (Friday) Mosque, carved over a period of over 1000 years. Many of them have unique ornamental carving such as inscriptions made in strict "kufi" style etched very deeply into the different types of wood, or even Buddhist style carvings. Columns from the 6th century show plain carving like ornamental Gothic script while columns of 15th century bear the educational writings of "naskh", another Arabic script. Delicate flower patterns entwine their way up to the high ceiling on the more recent columns.

Kunya ARK
The Kunya Ark (palace-fortress) was the fortress and residence of the Khiva rulers. From the civil buildings of the Kunya Ark only the Kurinish-khona (Throne Room), mint and harem can be found today. The Kurinish-khona is separated from the main area by a high crenellated wall. The small round area at the centre was for the royal yurt and the walls are decorated with carved and painted bays with a special place for the Khan's throne from where he would dispense judgement. On one of the marble pedestals are carved poems by Agakhi, the famous Khiva poet.

Khodja Islam
The Khodji Islam minaret, which tops all other minarets at 45m was built as recently as 1908 by Usto (master) Khudaibergen Khodji. It has the strongly converged shape typical for Khiva minarets and attractive turquoise and red tiling. You can climb the 118 steps to the top and it is worth every step for the views over Khiva and the Karakum desert. Go at sunset if you want the best light for photos.

The woodcarving in Khiva is among the finest in Uzbekistan. Wander down the narrow lanes and take a peek through the carved wooden gates into the hidden courtyards and you will come upon a number of masters and their young apprentices engaged in this detailed craft. Khiva is also famous for its ceramics. Blue and white and yellow glazed, from small pots that make great pen holders to conveniently sized square tiles that make excellent hot plates to antique serving dishes made in the surrounding villages. Don't leave without some of the many hundreds of hand-knitted slippers in all sizes and colours, that line the old town's thoroughfare, a warm reminder of Khiva.

Your top of the range options include the wonderful Malika Hotel, which lies just outside the city walls on the hauz or pond, which reflects its majolica tiled facade. Outside the western wall there is the brand new Marco Polo Asia Hotel. You can even stay inside the Ichan Kala walls, where you have the choice between the ever expanding Archanchi Hotel, Hotel Lola right in the centre, the lovely family-run Mirzobashi Guest House right opposite the camel, the Mirzobashi Hotel, Hotel Islambek, Meros Guest House and Zafar Bek Hotel near the south-eastern gate.

Chai Khanas There are plenty of small Tea Houses to be found inside Ichan Kala. Wonderful home cooking at Mirzobashi, delicious manti and fried fish at Zarafshan Chai Khana, ice cream specialties and cold drinks under the aywan just to the left of the main gate and tasty lunch and dinners at Bir Gumbaz near the Information Centre, plus Chai Khana Farruh on the main pedestrian zone are but a few of our recommendations. Every hotel is happy to serve lunch and dinner by request in advance. Don't miss out on steaming plov from Khorezm and fish specialties prepared from the day's catch from the Amu Darya river.

Cool down in the heat of the summer with the ice cream available on every corner or try a cool local beer in the evening under the stars and believe us, the night sky as seen from the old city is something else - like Khiva - unforgettable.

Discovery Uzbekistan #2

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