Legend has it that Khiva is a city that dates back more than 2500 years. For the next thousands of year, Khiva has developed a small well in the middle in the desert. This well is said to be discovered by Shem, the elder son of Biblical Noa.
From a small oasis in the middle of the desert, Khiva has come a long way in becoming one of the main trading centres on the historical silk road. The history of the city is also known for being one of the most important slave markets in Central Asia.
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The city got added to the UNESCO world heritage list in 1990. Khiva has now become one of the main tourist stops in Uzbekistan along with Bukhara and Samarkand. But surprisingly few tourists seem to visit Khiva compared to the two other even though this city is as impressive as the other two. Maybe travellers find it inconvenient to travel there because it is located remotely.
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However, if you do make it to Khiva, then Itchan Kala is the place that you should be exploring. Why?
Khiva is divided into two parts, “Itchan Kala” meaning inside the walls. The Itchan Kala is surrounded by a 10meter high wall that can only be entered through four gates. It is an old walled city and is famous for its history.
Dichon Kala means outside the walls. Everything that the outer side of the wall offers is available in every other town of Uzbekistan, which is why you must explore Itchan Kala.
Khiva is home to around 50,000 people, with 3000 of those living inside the old city walls.
The Old Town is so protected these days that even local are doing small modifications to their homes has to be approved by the UNESCO organization. It´s also impossible to buy any of the houses here as they can only be passed down through families.
The only way to get around the Itchan Kala is on foot. It´s compact enough to cover the entire place in just a few hours, but that´s no fun. It´s better to spend hours just walking around the small alleys, or having a cold beer or warm coffee while watching the numerous local couples taking their wedding photos in front of the Kalta Minor, the most famous landmark in Khiva.
The iconic landmark Kalta Minor is not old compared to the rest of Khiva, Kalta Minor dates back to 1852. Back then, the ruler Mohammad Amin Khan wanted to build a minaret high enough to see the city of Bukhara, which is 400km away.
The legend says he wanted the minaret to be 110 m high. But Mohammad Amin Khan died three years after the construction began. Hence the building came to a halt.
When the construction was stopped, the building was a 26 meters tall stump with a massive base of 14.5 meters in diameter. The local’s names it Kalta Minor, which ironically means short minaret.
It´s easy to get stuck inside the old city the whole day. It is amazing just to experience one of the greatest sunsets in Central Asia. I was lucky to witness a stunning sunset every day while staying in Khiva, each more beautiful than the other.
Additional Information About Khiva.
How to travel to Khiva?
First of all. There´s no train station, no airport or bus station in Khiva.
Urgench city, which is 30km away has all the means of public transport. From Khiva to Urgench, there are shared taxi running all day for around 1 USD.
Urgench has all the options that you need. There are international flights from all the big cities in Russia and even a flight with Uzbekistan Airlines from Paris and Milan.
There are also at least two daily flights between Tashkent, the capital of Uzbekistan and Urgench.
You can also use the daily night trains between Tashkent – Urgench, and Bukhara – Urgench.
The train travelling in Uzbekistan is very comfortable and safe. Train schedules can be found here.
Travelling by train through Uzbekistan is more comfortable than train travelling in etc. Norway.
There are daily buses between Urgench and most of the cities in Uzbekistan as well. Urgench to Tashkent is an extremely uncounterable 20-hour bus ride. A bus trip to Bukhara takes around 8hours.
If you are going to Turkmenistan, then there are shared taxis taking the 5Km trip for 2 USD.
If in need of a guide, driver or accommodation in Khiva and Uzbekistan check this guide.
Where to go next?
Turkmenistan is the obvious answer, but only if you have obtained a very difficult visa.
There´s also an easy day trip to Moynaq and what remains of The Aral Sea.
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