As you wander through the sun-baked streets and lanes of Khiva do take time to notice not just the architecture but also the details which will provide variety and add atmosphere to your photos. A carved door, an especially beautiful piece of tile work, a small window letting in a shaft of light – all these will contribute to the overall picture you paint of this gem of a city.
Even more so will images of the people add to the story your photos can tell and, as everywhere in Uzbekistan, most will be very happy to have their pictures taken. Look out for friendly shopkeepers, smiling children and Uzbek families visiting the sights. And make sure you look down the side streets too as their tranquillity can make them seem as if nothing has changed in them for centuries.
Guidebooks and tour companies all mention Misha (photo 4) - Khiva's lone camel - who spent years standing in the city's main square and who probably ended up featuring in every tourist's photo album. He was there on our first visit in 2005, looking as bored and as grumpy as only a camel can. Well, after 20 years of that, he's been retired and a new, young camel is learning the ropes. Well-fed and watered he might be in his new job but I'm sure he'd probably rather be out in the desert with the camels we saw on our way to Khiva - they, and Misha's replacement just a tiny reminder of the days when camel trains were the only way to travel along the Silk Road.
You can read more about Misha and Uzbek camel lore here
Favorite thing: There were so many 'favourite things" about Khiva, I could write a list, but high on that would be the little turrets and towers at the corners of so many buildings, gates and iwans. You'll need to look up as you walk down the streets - or across if you're up in the Ark's watch tower (photo 1). Most of them wear a tiled blue hat of some sort - more correctly a cupola - and a band of tiled decoration. Some are blind (photos 2 and 5), others have arched openings that serve two purposes - they allow what cool breezes blow to percolate down into the building and serve as watch towers over the streets below (photos 3 and 4).
For a city in in the middle of a desert, the amount of wood used in Khiva is prodigious and the quality of the carving seen everywhere is extraordinary. Along with Kokand in the east, the woodcarvers of Khiva are acknowledged as the country's best. Whether it's the 200+ columns of the Juma mosque, the fabulously carved supporting pillars of the palace iwans, delicate window screens, a door here, a portal there, it is unfailingly beautifully executed. And the tradition continues - more former medressahs seem to be taken up with woodworking schools and workshops than any other craft.
Karagach, a local species of elm makes the best columns. Tall, straight and of just the right circumference for a column, the tree's hard fine grain makes for clean, crisp carving. Platan (a species of plane tree)and walnut are used for doors whilst the softer grain of willow is ideal for fine and intricate screens.
Interested to know more?
Khivan tilework is an interesting contrast to that of Samarkand and Bukhara. Is it something to do with the heat and dust of the desert that impelled the ceramic artists here to work in such a cool palette and to such precise patterns that are quite different from the warmer colours and freer patterns of so much of the work seen in the cities set in lush oases?
Whatever the reason, the tiles that cover the walls of the iwans of the places and summer mosques and adorn the portals of the medressahs are truly stunning. Using just four colours - blue, the colour of heaven; green, the holy colour of Islam; white for the soul and black for the earth, the masters who designed the seemingly infinite array of swirling patterns, floral borders and intricate motifs have left the city an artistic legacy all its own.
Unlike other uzbek styles, the tiles in Khiva were never laid as a mosaic, Instead they are painted in complex interwoven patterns (photo 1) that are said to represent eternity. Unusually, plants and flowers are often included despite the Islamic ruling against representing living things (photos 4 and 5). To ensure the patterns flow as they should each tile was carefully (and minutely) numbered and then nailed to the wall (photos 2 and 3 - lok for the Arabic numbers and the tiny nail hole )- a practice that has also kept a great deal of the tile work in situ. Numbered and nailed into place in this way, the designs flow over huge areas in swirls and lines that the eye (or the finger) can follow on and on in an entrancing, intricate, weaving dance.
Blue is the predominate colour here as everywhere in Uzbekistan, the colour obtained from a desert plant and the formula a closely guarded secret passed from master to pupil through generations. By the time the Soviets decided to restore the Ichin Kala just one old man still knew the secret. Sadly, his offer to the Soviet archaeologists to pass on these age-old secrets was refused, modern chemical pigments were used and the reults are easy to see - the work of the restorers has none of the clear purity of colour of the old masters' work.
Favorite thing: Whoever put this website together, they've done a fantastic job. Check it out for interactive maps, compehensive coverage of the city's monuments and treasures - major, minor and all-but-ignored, local legends, practical advice and a whole lot more. If anything I or other VTers have written has captured your interest in Khiva, a visit to this site could well see you contacting your travel agent forthwith.
It is not easily visible at once, but you have a lot of possibilities to retreat from the heat and sit somewhere in the shade within Khiva.
There are some parks with little stone benches an big trees which give you plenty of shade to relax for a while. One is close to where camel Misha sits and waits for tourists (which is where I took the picture of the old man). Another one is behind the music museum close to Kalta Minor, and some more are in the street which runs parallel north of the east-west main street.
Khiva's attraction is the old city, called Ichon Q'ala. If I am referring to Khiva, I always mean this part, although it also has the so-called Dichon Q'ala, the new town, surrounding it.
I highly recommend you stay minimum one night, to get the most out of your visit to Khiva. Two days would be even better, if you have time enough. I stayed two nights and spend one day, but now I regret not having stayed one more day.
Wherever you stay, either inside or outside of the old town, you will have to pay the entrance fee. You can walk through the city without paying, but as soon as you enter one of the buildings, they will require seeing your ticket.
Entrance fee is paid at the gates; I paid mine at the western gate. It was 7000 sum per person, additional 2500 sum for taking pictures.
Be aware that you would need to pay extra entrance fee at Juma mosque (1000 sum) and for the viewpoint within the ark (2000 sum), but both do not require additional payment for pictures taking.
At the gates, you can also get a small city map for 1000 sum.
(All prices as of July 2006)
Fondest memory: Well, again to the question how much days you should spend in Khiva.
All what I described above, I saw within one day. But I should have spent 1 additional day, as there are much more sights I now wish to have seen.
These would be:
Within Ichon Q'ala:
· all city gates, from both sides (inside the old city and outside),
· the bathhouse at the eastern gate,
· Ak mosque at the eastern gate,
· the caravan seray north of the eastern gate,
· the bazaar at the eastern side.
Within Dishon Q'ala:
· Isfandiyar Palace: a summer palace of 1912, overly decorated and painted just 300 m est of the northern gate);
· Chaudra Khovli: another summer residence of a Khiva nobleman (11 km east of the centre).
Silk -that most sensuous and luxurious of fibres - spun from the gossamer fine filament of the cocoon of a voracious caterpillar, its source a closely guarded secret kept by the Chinese for centuries - this was the fabric, so valuable and so desired, that it gave its name to the whole network of trade routes that fed out of China, across mountains and deserts, bringing not only silk but other luxuries such as porcelain and paper, tea and spices to the countries of the west that wanted them but had no idea of how they were produced.
The name is redolent with mystery and adventure. To travel the Silk Road is one of the great dreams of travellers everywhere. In actual fact, there is no one "Silk Road". The great caravans stopped their journeying long ago - the ravages of the Mongol hordes and the European discovery of sea routes to the east saw to that, and the name itself is a 19th century conceit.
Any journey through Central Asia will take you to places that were once major trading cities along the route whichever way you go, but Khiva is the place where the rule of the khans and the old ways of trade (including a thriving market in slaves), with all its brutal grandeur came last and stayed latest. Here time truly stands still and as you drift around the quiet streets and silent passages and courts of the palaces you can almost sense the swish of a robe around a corner and the soft murmur of voices in the harem that was occupied within living memory.