Travel Stories - Uzbekistan


dessert city

In a shared taxi I depart today from Bukhara via Urgench to Khiva. The landscape is visibly changing from a semi-desert in a real one with the sand blowing over the road, low prickly bushes and hardly any housing. At the first gas station we encounter we stop and the driver looks at me anxious for a contribution and I pay him as always half of what I owe him. Now hés got money to pay for his gas and I’m sure he will take me all the way. It is hot in the car when the warm wind blows through the windshield window and also does my ass after an hour already very; I bet there is no suspension in the back seat anymore. After 4 hours of driving on a reasonable road - always better than 12 hours of bumping in a train that makes a terrible detour - we arrive in "Urgench" where I just had to miss an accident where a car makes a half somersault through the air. Now I understand why the authorities leave car wrecks on the side of the road as a warning!

Hitchhking in Uzbekistan

When we arrive in what likes like the centre of Urgench I get my big packpack from the trunk, I pay the other half of het money we agreed n and ask him where the public transport is to "Khiva". The man points at the trolleybus stop further in the street. As I get into the trolleybus that just arrived, I remember something written down in my travel guide: "do not take the trolleybus because it takes 2 hours for the 35 kilometers to your final destination". I get out after a number of stops and only stand at a stop next to a newly constructed empty park and wonder if this was so wise to do. Ten minutes later a car stops next to my stop with loud music coming out of the open windows. A young boy hangs out the window and asks where I want to go. They too have to go to "Khiva" and they ask 1000 Som for the ride on which I say immediately 600. If I get in and sit in the back I realize how little this is and do not hope that they meant 6000. Some questions are exchanged on which the boys that look very different than the shy shepherd boys I encountered in neighbouring Kyrgystan with their high cheekbones. These boys are tough, cool, play with their cellphones and are very curious about me and my stuff. These guys wouldn’t look strange back in Amsterdam. I am neatly dropped off at the western gate of the walled part of "Khiva" and they press my hand back with money and say it was a gesture. I thank them on which they say goodbye to our company with full gas.

KHIVA - history: 

Legend has it that the city "Khiva" originated from the discovery of a source by the son of Noah. Details are unknown but it is certain that it was created as a small trading post and fort in a side-arm of the famous “Silk Road”. After Timur Lenk’s empire declined there became a large slave market and an alliance was forged against the Kazakhs with the Turkmen. In 1740 the city became an outpost of the great Persian Empire. It lost a big battle in the year of 1873 against a Russian supremacy under General Kaufman. Big protests occured until 1918 when it became an independent state but still under the rule of the Bolsheviks from Moscow. In 1924 the part of the Uzbek country became the SSR.

The old walled city

Standing on a large parking lot in front of the gigantic high mudbrick walls that have been completely rebuilt after the Persian battle, I notice that this once again has been "too" thoroughly renovated. In the high gate called "Ichon Qala" an entrance fee is asked but I intend to stay in the walled city and therefore I can go inside for free. The gate was completely destroyed by the Russians in 1920 and only renovated in 1970. It turns out to be very compact in the village and despite the fact that my hostel is on the other side, I am there in a split second and the negotiation of the price for a single room can start with the owner. Back on the street I notice that the renovated quiet streets are a mix of "Dubrovnik" and "Jerusalem"-style and are full of museums and medressas. It's hot in the middle of the day and I'm looking for an information center where I hear that a trip to "Elliq Qala" ruins is quite pricey and I decide not to do it. It seems to be outside the old center and I walk through the north gate into the real city. On the window outside hangs a yellowed old picture of a train and behind the glass two young ladies are sleeping in their arms. I tap the window and give them a piece of paper with my intended travel-train-schedule. Both look at me with their glassy eyes and I fear that this will take a while. 

“Kalta Minor”

In the end I can buy a trainticket back to Tashkent, the capital, I go looking for a convenience-store and find it on the side where I left the car earlier and eat something in an almost empty restaurant. I order "laghman" with goat meat and then walk back into the center where I admire the turquoise "Kalta Minor" minaret that looks a bit like a big blue candy cane. Unfortunately, he has never been finished; the "Khan" who had ordered a tower that you could see from Bukhara, fell dead and the work was never finished. A large slave market used to be kept at the East gate and I do not know if it is original but in the gate itself there are still a number of "cells" with iron bars. I find here on this side also a few local shops where I do some groceries and lay down later on bed to enjoy a well-deserved luxury: TV!

tips & advice (2009)

Just before the Northern Gate there are often shared taxis to and from Urgench, the city where you can find further transport back to the east. The journey takes about 45 minutes and the costs are around 1000 Som.

  • Name: Hotel "Islambek"

Address: Toshpolatov 60

Price: $ 11 (single)

Phone nr. : 375 30 23




There are 20 rooms in this hotel that look great - maybe even a bit "over the top" with AC and a large TV in every room. It is located in the center within walking distance of all the sights within the old city walls. It is clean and the staff is friendly and helpful even though no English is spoken. Breakfast is included but can vary per person (price). WC and shower are also located in the room. On the roof there seems to be a terrace where you can see the whole city. A great hotel to stay a few nights.

see also: