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Khiva: Right Inside a Tale from "1001 Nights"

If you fully immerse yourself in the atmosphere of this beautiful town, you can expect to see Aladdin himself flying above you on a carpet.

A building in Khiva

by Alessandro Ramazzotti

6 de sept de 2023

A few days ago I was scrolling the web and found a recent article listing “The 50 most beautiful small towns in the world”. Although I believe that architectural beauty plays a big role in the enjoyment of certain destinations, I am more of the opinion that traveling is a subjective experience and therefore a place that to some may appear wonderful, to others may leave no impression at all.

Anyway, I read through the article and found out that I have already been to three travel destinations – so much still to see! – and one of them is Khiva. My opinion about traveling explained above remains true, but Khiva definitely deserves to be on the list. The vibe of this quite remote city in the Uzbeki desert is magical.

Itchan Kala: a citadel the color of the desert

Itchan Kala is the old citadel of Khiva and it is classified as a UNESCO heritage. Once you step inside the walls of the old town, the atmosphere completely changes. Leaving modern buildings, you will enter a world that seems to be stuck in time.

Old houses made of mud are everywhere and give Itchan Kala the typical beige color that you would expect from a city in the desert. Minarets of every shape and size appear at every corner and decorate Khiva’s landscape. Blue mosaics adorn them, reminding of the color of the sky, and the white motifs resemble stars.

My partner and I were visiting a country with traditional Islamic architecture for the first time, and we were amazed, to say the least!

One of Khiva’s highlights is the Kalta Minor minaret (the “short minaret”), a big fat tower of about 30 meters in height and 15 in diameter. It is all covered in blue mosaics, divided at some points by green and yellowish circles. This minaret, as well as other alleys in the city, are shown in Uzbekistan Airways' short video about safety measures – one of our first introductions to Uzbeki culture.

If you want an aerial view of the Itchan Kala, you can reach the Islom Hoja minaret and climb up to the top. The ticket is quite expensive, but the view of the town the color of the desert is breathtaking!

Kalta minor and the bazaar in Khiva

Kalta minor and the bazaar stalls during the day Photo by Alessandro Ramazzotti

How to reach and how to leave

The train station is, unfortunately, no longer active, but Khiva can be reached by bus directly from Tashkent. You can check the schedule and the ticket prices here. Usually, there is one bus per day leaving Tashkent in the evening at 6:30 PM and arriving in Khiva at 11:00 AM (150000 UZS, or about 13 USD).

The bus to Khiva will stop for breakfast at a road café in the middle of the Uzbeki desert, where all you can see is the road and dry land. It probably doesn’t sound too exciting, but from a European point of view, such vast spaces are a rarity.

From Khiva, you can take an overnight bus back to Tashkent. If you are heading to Nukus, you can try to arrange a ticket for the overnight train from Urgench (only on Thursdays and Sundays), or leave by bus; again, from Urgench. From Khiva to Urgench you can take either a taxi (more expensive) or a public bus (5000 UZS, about 0.50 USD).

When we left Khiva, we arrived late to the station in Urgench and couldn’t catch the bus to Nukus – it left at 9 AM and we arrived at 9.20. Thanks to the extremely friendly guy at the bus station, however, we found a solution: 1) a minibus to Mangit (at the border with Turkmenistan) and 2) half an hour later, another minibus to Nukus. We arrived in the capital of the Autonomous Republic of Karakalpakstan at about 5 PM.

a small market in front of beautiful blue and beige buildings

Khiva Photo by AXP Photography

1001 Nights or more

The atmosphere in Khiva is nothing less than magical, and you will probably find yourself imagining old Khans and beautiful princesses walking through the traditional Arab doors with regal dresses.
You might even feel that Aladdin is flying on an oriental carpet, overlooking your visit in Khiva.

The stalls with handicrafts and souvenirs are now everywhere in the city and, although in a modern fashion, they’ll make you feel the atmosphere of the old bazaars of the Silk Road.

At the end of our visit, we did not want to leave anymore. Instead of a few, we wished we could stay in Khiva for 1001 nights or more!

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