Khiva, a Living Museum

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Stepping into the old town of Khiva is essentially akin to stepping into the set of Aladdin. I’ve travelled a respectable amount in the Middle East, but I’ve never been anywhere that felt more authentic than Khiva. Essentially unchanging with time, the city is reminiscent of the town that started to boom here in the 10th century.

According to legend, the city was founded by Shem, the son of Noah. Noah with the arc, that is. After travelling miles across a brutal desert, Shem found an oasis and ordered the building of a well to serve the men crossing the harsh country. The exclamation of ‘Khei-vak’ celebrated the discovery, and birthed the name of modern Khiva.

‘Modern’ Khiva perhaps isn’t the best description. Inside the old city walls there are no cars. There are no street signs, meaning not only road signs, but signs on the outside of shops or restaurants. There are no street lights. Every winding, sandstone street is lined with unmarked buildings, elderly locals loitering in their doorways. These are framed by beautiful, towering minarets and colourful mosques.

Being here feels like being in the middle ages, without all the plague and the rampant slave trading that infamously characterised the city for so long.

What is there to do here?

There are a number of sites within the city that you can ‘tick off’, but there’s really no use listing them off. With an hour or so of wandering through the old city, you will have seen them all. Relax, wander, and soak up the atmosphere and history of this living museum.

Walk around the old city to see the ancient city walls, and their distinctive architecture. Climb up them to get a view over the city, retrace the steps of the silk traders and the Mongol invaders through the towering gates, view the graves that line the walls as a protective force to warn off tribal invasions.

Pick up a ticket at the West Gate for a 2 day all-access pass to the key sites of the city, and potentially fork out for an extra access pass to the top of the watchtower for the sunset, when the golden walls fade orange in the desert glare.

Get lost, live the atmosphere.

What is there to eat?

In general, Central Asian food is not the selling point of the region. After a couple weeks of Plov with miscellaneous mystery meats, you’ll see what I mean. Khiva does actually have a signature dish though, which is always an exciting change, a pasta and dill dish called shivit oshi. It’s not the worst thing I ate out there.

Need more info?

Check out my practical guide to life in Uzbekistan here!

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Travel blog guide to Khiva, Uzbekistan