Day 81: A living museum

Khiva Travel Blog

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Khiva city walls

Another day, another border crossing. Despite being seen as one of the most corrupt countries in the world, the border guards of the former Soviet Republic of Uzbekistan (or O'zbekiston Respublikasi as it is called these days) seem to have better things to do than to harass foreigners. Another smooth border crossing. The only 'problem' I had was when one of the guards asked me where I was from. I  said 'Golandia', which caused quite a bit of confusion, since my passport says “Kingdom of the Netherlands”. He had to verify with his boss and then his boss' boss whether or not Holland and Netherlands were the same country.

A few taxi rides later I arrived in the town of Khiva.

The beautiful entrance of Hotel Islambek
I had been recommended a hotel smack in the historic centre, hotel Islambek. This was a very pleasant surprise. After months of poor value accommodation in dilapidated Soviet hotels, glorified homestays or dirty hell holes, it was a very nice surprise to come to a country that has a wide network of excellent value, squeaky clean, comfortable B&Bs. Islambek is just one of the many good value options available in Khiva.

Khiva used to be a small Silk Road town in the days of the Khorezm empire, but after the Khorezm capital Konye-Urgench was finished off by Timur Khiva prospered. Between the 17th and 19th centuries Khiva changed hands between the Russian and Persian empires several times and even survived as the capital of a short-lived independent Khorezm republic within the Soviet Union.
Kalta Minor Minaret. If they would have finished this minaret it would have been the highest building at the world at the time. Unfortunately its builder fell off it in 1855 and it was never finished.
Eventually it was absorbed into the Uzbek SSR, created in 1924.

The turbulent history has made Khiva a very interesting city architecturally. And what is even more interesting is that so much of it still exists to this day. The Soviets seemed to love the city's historic centre and they restored its buildings and preserved the centre as some sort of open air museum.

Even though people are living in central Khiva again, it still retains a feel of open air museum. The Russians did a reasonable job in restoring the old centre, though their use of modern materials has made Khiva ineligible for UNESCO's World Heritage list.
I think you can best compare it to the old centre of Antalya, which is also mainly inhabited either souvenir sellers or by rich people.
This is the change I got for $50
But nonetheless a very nice place to wander around in for a few hours.

But first I needed some money. Although I am slowly moving back to civilization again, the nearest ATM is in Uzbekistan's capital, Tashkent, so I had to change some dollars. The official rate is about 1500 Uzbek som for a dollar, but on the black market you can get 2000 or even 2200 for your dollar. That is more than 20% higher!
I have no idea how this works, but apparently dollar trade is big business, as virtually every person in the country is happy to exchange dollars for som.

I exchanged 50 bucks at the hotel and got a huge wad of cash in return. The highest banknote in Uzbekistan is 1000 som, or $ 0.50, so my 50 dollars gave me 100 crisp new 1000 som notes.
I have no idea why, but for some reason the government refuses to print new banknotes.
Khiva West Gate
A 5000 or 10,000 note would be ideal. In this country every transaction is done cash, so counting money takes up a lot of time. I have seen groups of local people paying their restaurant bill and spending more than 15 minutes counting all the notes. I asked someone how you buy a car in this country and he replied: you bring a wheelbarrow. I don't think he was joking.

Walking into the open air museum, errr - historic centre, I was surprised to see just how many historic religious building had been preserved, compared to Russia, Ukraine or Armenia, where barely an Orthodox church has survived, or Mongolia, where all but 4 Buddhist monasteries were destroyed during Stalinist purges. Apparently each Soviet republic was allowed to determine just how strict they would follow Stalin's rules, and it seems the president of Uzbekistan at the time chose to save some of the country's cultural heritage.
Lady with a golden smile (literally)
Of course, places of worship were not allowed, but by changing the centre of Khiva into an open air museum at least they managed to preserve it.

The old centre is full of souvenir sellers. Usually I shun these, but after four weeks in Iran, where I was surprised at the complete and utter lack of any entrepreneurship, I welcomed the people trying to sell me junk. And truth be told, they were lovely. The people were anything but pushy, but instead seemed very welcoming and interested where I was from.
They were mainly women selling the junk, and that was another thing I welcomed after 4 weeks in Iran: women talking to me. Even if most of them were old enough to be my mother and they tried to hook me up with their (under-age) daughters.

sylviandavid says:
Really interesting and nicely told. sylvia
Posted on: Oct 11, 2010
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Khiva city walls
Khiva city walls
The beautiful entrance of Hotel Is…
The beautiful entrance of Hotel I…
Kalta Minor Minaret. If they would…
Kalta Minor Minaret. If they woul…
This is the change I got for $50
This is the change I got for $50
Khiva West Gate
Khiva West Gate
Lady with a golden smile (literall…
Lady with a golden smile (literal…
Khiva old town
Khiva old town
View of Khiva
View of Khiva
Khiva historic centre
Khiva historic centre
Beautiful skies of Khiva
Beautiful skies of Khiva
View of Khiva from the Juma minaret
View of Khiva from the Juma minaret
Khiva from above
Khiva from above
one of the many medressas in Khiva
one of the many medressas in Khiva
Khiva
Khiva
Inside the Juma mosque
Inside the Juma mosque
wooden pillar in the Juma mosque
wooden pillar in the Juma mosque
Khiva from above
Khiva from above
Islom Hoja minaret
Islom Hoja minaret
Historic buildings in Khiva
Historic buildings in Khiva
offerings inside the Pahlavon Mahm…
offerings inside the Pahlavon Mah…
Pahlavon Mahmud Mausoleum
Pahlavon Mahmud Mausoleum
Pahlavon Mahmud Mausoleum
Pahlavon Mahmud Mausoleum
Pahlavon Mahmud Mausoleum
Pahlavon Mahmud Mausoleum
Ladies praying at the Pahlavon Mah…
Ladies praying at the Pahlavon Ma…
Pahlavon Mahmud Mausoleum
Pahlavon Mahmud Mausoleum
Islom Hoja minaret
Islom Hoja minaret
Old men chatting in Khiva
Old men chatting in Khiva
another one of the many medressas …
another one of the many medressas…
Khiva bazaar
Khiva bazaar
Khiva
Khiva
Climbing the city walls of Khiva
Climbing the city walls of Khiva
Déjà-vu
Déjà-vu
Khiva West Gate
Khiva West Gate
Khiva Hotels & Accommodations review
Excellent place to stay in the old city centre
My first experience with an Uzbek B&B and it did not disappoint. The rooms are bright, clean, comfortable and spacious. Each room is equipped with A/C… read entire review
Khiva
photo by: Vlindeke