Of the three “Silk Road” cities in Uzbekistan I enjoyed Khiva the most. Samarkand clearly has its well founded reputation, the Registan, The Bibi-Khan Mosque and the Shah-I Zinda are all world class attractions and I would never discourage anyone from visiting the city. But one gets this feeling after a day or two that there isn’t much else to do or see. I walked past the Registan frequently and each time it was jaw dropping, a bit like the Golden Gate Bridge, but one wouldn’t stay in San Francisco for long if all there was to see was the Bridge. As I have mentioned previously the general population is hidden away behind quite substantial, unattractive walls. It’s as if there is a part of town for visitors and once you have seen that you are encouraged to leave. Bukhara had something of a similar feel. Seeing the walls of the Ark are worth the trip alone, quite amazing, but if you pay your $10.00 to go inside the Ark what do you find? Next to nothing. There are beautiful mosaics, fabulous Medressahs, Mosques, the Pond (!), some pleasant roof top restaurants but really, that’s about it. I should qualify the above with the fact that in both cities I woke up every morning with a sense of excitement, the thrill of a day in Samarkand doesn’t come along too frequently in one’s life and really, I am not that jaded.
It was therefore interesting that quite by chance I elected to stay longer in Khiva than anywhere else. My little B and B set just inside the walls was perfect for me, my room could not have been better, the rooftop was dazzling, the reception staff were ever helpful and the breakfast was always interesting, shall we say. My friends, Oliver, Katya and Austin came to visit most evenings to see the sunset and star gaze as night fell before we went for dinner. The legendary walls completely surround the old city and set in them are four gates, the North, South, East and West and passing through any of them felt like stepping back in time. It was like entering a living museum. One felt almost encouraged to walk the alleys and see the population attending to their daily lives, sitting outside their homes just passing the time of day and it was not in the least intimidating. People would say hello, albeit in Uzbek or Russian. Small children would run up and introduce themselves. There were no walls around to keep the visitors away from the inhabitants. Turning a corner, avoiding the gaping drainage system and the mini sand dunes, one could catch a view of a minaret or Medressah right there, in amongst the houses. The bazaar was very busy and very friendly, nobody seemed to mind having their photo taken, and I am getting better at asking. It was interesting to see how it was laid out, there was the spice section, the vegetable section, the electronics, the clothing, the shoes, I particularly liked the rope and hardware area.
Khiva then. Lots to do, lots to see, it felt genuine, not a tourist trap. Worth staying a while to soak up the history. Trips available out into the desert not to be missed. A walk along the top of the walls at sunset. Great people watching. Just remember, drink lots and lots of water.