Sweet Water in the Iqion Qala

Posted by on April 8, 2013
Man and a Minaret

Biking through the backstreets of Khiva.

I’ve written on here before about how Khiva is full of amazing people (who were amazingly patient with my attempts at portraits), but I didn’t really mention how incredible the Old Town (Iqion Qala) of Khiva itself is.


Rooftops of Khiva’s Iqion Qala.

This whole part of the city is really its own densely-packed museum quarter, with the distinction that (unlike more-famous Samarkand) people still live in the old town. There are homes and shops and a bazaar just outside the East Gate.


Khiva Street Scene.

Khiva was (according to apocryphal legend of course) founded by Shem, son of Noah, around 2500 years ago. Upon finding a well, he is said to have exclaimed “Khi-wa!” (literally, “sweet water”) and it seems the name stick.



More recently, during the Great Game period, Khiva was most widely known for the brutal Central Asia slave trade that was centered here during the city’s time as an independent Khanate.


Khiva’s Palace and unifinished Minaret.

Today’s Khiva is much less threatening, of course, with the walled city (and the city walls themselves) making for great aimless rambles and tons of chances to try your best Russian or Khworezm phrases on the many people you’ll meet in the area.


Minaret-top view of Khiva’s Old Town.

Though much of the Old Town was ‘renovated’ during the Soviet era, it still felt very ancient during the many days I explored the town. Around every corner, it seemed, was another ancient building or minaret or mausoleum.


Sometimes there is quite literally a mosque or mausoleum around every successive corner.

On a practical note, Khiva is well set-up to handle tourists as well. Cheap-but-decent guesthouses exist in droves, so maybe skip the shoddy dorms here and spring for a private room. My personal favorite was the Hotel Islambek, but look around in the Old Town and just outside the West Gate for plenty of options.


Souvenir stalls at the main (West) gate of the Iqion Qala.

Also, inexplicably, postcards are cheaper in Khiva than almost anywhere else I’ve been in the entire world. Collect addresses before you come, and drop your family a note to let them know you’re doing well!


Caravansarai-cum-Cafe outside the Old Town north gate.

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