Emerging victorious from our first land border crossing in Central Asia having spent only an hour and a half in the wrong queue (turns out we were trying to emigrate….) we headed south once again, in search of Khiva: the first of many Central Asian Silk Road cities to be explored.
And she didn’t disappoint. Khiva is like a little time capsule, small but perfectly preserved, it is little difficult to imagine yourself strolling around the winding cobbled streets of the Ichon-Qala, back in her 10th Century heyday, as a small trading post on the silk road. And trading still seems an integral part of Khiva’s atmosphere. Just outside of the west gate the food bazaar still thrives, alive with spices, fruit and vegetables that you can’t put a name to and of course street food; here was our first taste of shashlik and samsa. Inside the city walls the charming streets buzz with stalls selling more luxurious items – which if were honest are targeted at the tourists (suckers). Picture camel wool socks, sheepskins and fur hats (fox and wolf…!) not that our refined bunch of travellers bought any or all of these items…. Ahem… hey we’re headed for Siberia eventually!
As well as the trading opportunities, Khiva is rich in architecture, the whole Ichon-Qala
and inner city is surrounded by huge and ancient 20ft high walls made of mud. A walk to the north gate will allow you a route up onto the walls from where you can take a walk on the ramparts around to the west or east gates where sheer drops will stop you going any further. The elevated perspective will give you remarkable views over the fabulously colourful medrassas and minarets dotted about this small city.
Lacing the palm of the right person will allow you to climb some of the minarets – not for the faint hearted though, the climb is an upward spiralling dark passage with large steps and silent prayers that you meet no one coming the other way. The views from the top however makes the fairly terrifying experience of ascent and decent worth every second. NB you will need to persuade the canoodling couples away from the windows for you to get a look in.
The final thing that Khiva had to offer us was of the culinary variety. Having not seen a barista since Baku the coffee fiends amongst were struggling. Khiva answered not only this call but also gave the chef a night off as we ate in the out of town carp restaurant. A strange place that seemed almost exclusively for locals and whose culinary delights came from the ponds that you sat around to eat it. Nevertheless Uzbeki Fried Carp was a grand hit and washed down with finest central asian beer, we were well pleased with our first real Silk Road city experience.