Khiva, a gem in the oasis

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23 & 25 October 2013

With the sceneries of the vast plains and its autumnal fringes still vivid in mind, I was transported into yet another sight to behold.

Here inside the Ichon Qala, it feels like a world from hundreds of years ago. This inner fortress is said to be the last resting place before the caravans crossed the desert into Iran. The old town is well preserved, as much a legacy of its ancient builders as that of its contemporary master restorers (the proprietor of the guesthouse I stayed in is a retired restorer. The guesthouse itself has a very grand high ceiling dining room said to have been designed by the proprietor himself).

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Inside the Ichon Qala is a living breathing city till this day. Even if the rooftops are now dotted with satellite dishes, the city has a certain quality of timelessness: little motor vehicles within the city, people going about their daily life, walking at an even pace with no hurry. Yes there are tourists like me, but not so many. Bathed in the glorious hues of the setting sun, the old town is simply resplendent.

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Sunset over Ichon Qala. Photo taken from the western part of the city wall.

Every morning, I go up to the guesthouse’s rooftop for a quiet sitting, waiting for the sun to rise, absorbing the stillness of the city as it wakes up, taking in the smell of burning wood fire as households start their day even if day after day I could feel less and less of my fingers with the dipping temperatures. One day, it rained and even snowed a little.

Inside the Ichon Qala are a litter of architectural gems…

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Inside Juma Mosque, simple and serene as the lights stream through the intricately carved wooden pillars. Khiva.

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Islom Hoja Minaret

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Pahlavon Mahmud Mausoleum

Inside Kuhna Ark.

Inside Kuhna Ark.

… and lovely people.

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There is some pretty delicious food outside the Ichon Qala, at the bazaar.

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Somsa – buns with delicious meat and onion filling, piping hot from the oven.

Weddings are a big affair here. Back at the guesthouse, we watched a home video of the proprietor’s niece’s wedding. Actually home video is an understatement, since it is very well edited. On one morning alone, I encountered 3 entourages of newly weds taking a turn around the old town, going from holy site to holy site for prayers, thereafter kicking the party up a notch with an impromptu dance (by the groomsmen mostly) in the middle of the town.

It's a local custom for newly weds to take a turn around the Ichon Qala. This is the third entourage I bumped into that morning.  Inside the mausoleum of Pahlavon Mahmud, a poet, philosopher and legendary wrestler who became Khiva's patron saint. Considered to be a holy place and people come here for prayers.

It’s a local custom for newly weds to take a turn around the Ichon Qala. This is the third entourage I bumped into that morning.
Inside the mausoleum of Pahlavon Mahmud, a poet, philosopher and legendary wrestler who became Khiva’s patron saint. Considered to be a holy place and people come here for prayers.

Khiva is really a unique place. The city morphs with the various weathers and changing times of day. One particular feeling which I couldn’t capture on camera was walking through the old town at night: it is absolutely quiet, the silence perhaps reinforced by the sturdy enclosures of the city wall. As the old town is sparsely lit, moonlight leads the way through cobbled then unpaved roads in the silhouettes of leaning minarets.

One traveller commented that Khiva feels like a scene out of the story of Aladdin and the magic lamp. To me, Khiva certainly feels magical.

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