My Own Private Tourist Attraction

Khiva Travel Blog

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Donning a Turkmen telpak with the Kalta Minor in the background.

After a morning of cleaning and setting the table for one of the many groups of guests set to show up at the house, we were set to take a trip to Khiva. I was hoping we could squeeze it in, although it was usually an hour and a half away when I went. With our trusty chauffeur Mardon at the wheel, I was sure we would make it in less than an hour.

Crossing the Amu Darya river took just a little longer than I remembered and I could see why. The kilometer-long river had been reduced to a fifth of its size. I'd never seen it so low. The north side was completely silted up to the point of sand dunes and vegetation. There was some progress on the bridge, so to speak. Construction had begun on an actual bridge to cross the river.

Yup, that's me in Khiva soaking it up.
Thus far the only way to get across was to navigate by car or foot the series of roughly connecting barges. At one point I was amazed how the car managed to cross one barge connection that had a height differential of nearly 2 feet plastered together with silt collected from the riverbanks.

Turns out I was right about reaching Khiva in record time, despite the road blocks in Urgench set up for none other than President Islam Karimov himself. Khiva hadn't changed much at all, with the exception of more souvenir stands and possibly a few more tourists. What made our visit to Khiva stand out was having Jackie with us. We hadn't been past the entry gates for more than 20 seconds when she was already stopped to have a photo taken by some Uzbek tourists from Qarshi. What makes Jackie a rare treat for probably 98% of the population in this country is that she is likely the only African-American person they have seen or ever will see. The paparazzi came out in full force when she mounted the tourist camel, and the grand finale was her dancing with a wedding party near the center of the old city.

But Khiva itself was just as tranquil and laid back as it was a decade ago. Even though I didn't live there, I was close enough, visited often enough and it was always quiet enough that I felt like I had the place to myself. We walked past the Kalta Minor, the harem and the holy well where I washed my hands probably more functionally than spiritually and certainly wasn't brave enough to drink the water. We walked through a caravanserai that led to the bazaar, and then back towards the entrance. Jackie and Mardon were tired so while they went to the car, Shohsanam and I walked through the artisan area, which I noticed had really blossomed as did several B&Bs in various locations in and around the walled city. One of the craft centers featured carpet dyeing. A cauldron filled with water, onion skin, grape leaves and apple leaves was brewing for the perfect yellow dye that is used to color the carpets. Around the corner was a suzani craft center, showing how these hand-stitched cloths are made. It was a short visit but enough to make me feel cozy. Some historians have complained that the restoration efforts at Khiva have sanitized the place beyond the point of remaining authentic, but I still enjoy the feel of the place and can get a sense of history walking around.

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Donning a Turkmen telpak with the …
Donning a Turkmen telpak with the…
Yup, thats me in Khiva soaking it…
Yup, that's me in Khiva soaking i…
photo by: Vlindeke