In Uzbekistan, if you take a shared taxi, there’s a premium for the front seat. I had agreed to pay 15 USD for the luxury given it would be a 5+ hour long journey from Bukhara to Urgench and then to Khiva. Plus it was Eid, else I could have saved about 2-3 USD more. The driver was a garrulous old man who started off with a warm handshake and didn’t stop singing and dancing till the car stopped. I had pretty much memorized most famous Uzbek songs thanks to him as the town-scape turned to desert-scape while the car chugged on. Khiva is a town that refused to age and is used as a gateway by most travelers to visit the famous Khorezm oasis and beyond. The best part of my journey had just begun, I was ready and armed with my loyal sunscreen.
I freshened up and headed out to explore the citadel in the scorching heat. Entrance to museums is about 100k in all, but i didn’t get it. Just walked about the city which in its age is one of the most well preserved, albeit through heavy restoration. The high mud walls are quite similar to that of yazd and feels like a mini bukhara. The first thing you see upon entering is the kalta minor, a partially completed tower that sits like a big oil drum decorated entirely with tiles and glazed ceramics. Some of the older monuments have been converted into hotels and many serve as a workshop for artisans. Wood carving and carpet making are the key handicraft works.
Top Things to see/do in Khiva
Climb the minarets
Ichan Kala has 2 minarets, the khodja islam and juma masjid, the latter taller. You can climb them for 10k each. The winding stairs are not for the weak hearted. The occasional light from the tiny windows do give some solace. By the time you are panting and heaving, light in the end of the tower signals the top. The view of the city from above 50 metres is like a painting. Reserve one tower for the evening and one for noon, the views are spectacular and completely different
Head to the qalas in Khorezm
4 of us hired a taxi and left by 12 paying 10usd each. First stop was the kirk kiz qala which is further up from ayaz qala and is a pile of mud bricks and walls atop an elevation of a few metres. The view was amazing.
Next stop was ayaz qala, the majestic fortress. The approach road itself is overwhelming and will make anyone go wow. Right next to the fortress is a yurt camp which i had originally planned to spend a night in but decided to skip. The ayaz qala is a set of 3 fortresses but i could see only 2. We walked upto the first one and it was hotter than hot. I had as usual chosen to wear my sandals and wading through the sand, it kept creeping into my footwear and that really heated my feet. Somehow we reached the top and walked to one its corners from where we could see the smaller ayaz qala 2 sitting a little lower and in a much better
Next stop was the toprak qala, which had remnants of what were once rooms and caves.
Last one was the kyzil qala which is being completely restored, nothing fancy. A stream runs right next to it, go ahead take a dip
Art museum at Nukus
The drive was over 2 hours long and the first stop was the Igor savitsky museum, perhaps the only reason why tourist may ever come to nukus. I have heard many regret staying in the city as there is nothing else to do. The museum comprises 2 buildings, one with just paintings and the other with paintings and archaeological items. Savitsky was a Soviet archaeologist and painter who set up the museum in exile. The exhibits contain some of the best art collection i have seen. A mix of realism, avante garde and other modernist works. The ticket is slightly expensive, about 60k for both and 40 for 1. Spent over an hour and packed an oily yet tasty laghman from the cafe and set off to mizdakhan.
It was about 1 hour from nukus near a town called khojeyli. Driving towards it, 2 hills emerge in the skyline dotted with mud brick tombs which feels like an entire city in itself. City of the dead.
Once you pass through the many graves atop which ladder like structure sits, you reach the top where even older ones lay. We were the only tourists and paid 5k each to the caretaker which he said was the ticket. 3 interesting graves there. One said to be that of adam in the Zoroastrian system. The other, that of a saintly figure whose tomb is said to be growing, it was some 50 feet long already. The last was an underground mausoleum whose temperature was several degrees lower and felt like a different season altogether.
We started off for the next long drive to muynaq which was a good 3 hours away. The city is now a dead port whose fishing and other sea related industries have downed their shutters. You get to a point here which overlooks the desert with a couple of boats lined up in the foreground as perhaps a memory of the times when it sailed. We spent some time going down to the boats and getting clicked.
Inside Ichan Kala, most of the buildings are occupied by the artists who live and work in it. The wood carving lot are just peaceful to sit and watch. From small pen cases to 6 foot tall doors, it is a treat to watch them at work. And they don’t pester you to buy stuff
Watch a free movie
A vintage movie is screened in an open air theatre right when you enter. It generally begins at 830 and has few takers. i went in for a bit to watch one of the most famous Uzbek movies, tahir and zukhra. After the novelty wore off, i left in 30 minutes. But don’t miss this, they show a new movie everyday and it is quite an experience.
How long: 3 days would be perfect. 4 days is what I’d recommend
Stay: Alibek Hostel, right outside the west gate of the Ichan Kala. Dorms at 8 usd. Very clean and spacious hostel with a delicious breakfast spread. Run by Shohbod and family, they make sure your stay is memorable
- Terasa café to the left after you enter Ichan Kala. The rooftop café is a favourite for those wishing to get shots and the food isnt bad either, slightly expensive though
The good: easily my favourite town in Uzbekistan
The bad: heat
The ugly: heat
Safety: 10 on 10
Tout level: 0. People don’t care, too nice to cheat
Language: Learn some Russian, really
Internal Transport: Walking and walking