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Around Khiva

Khorezm is studded with obscure mausoleums and holy sites, many of which predate the khanate by several hundred years and any of which provide ample excuse for an exploratory foray into the kishlaks and cotton fields of the Khorezmian countryside, where, after all, some 80 per cent of the local population live. They are most conveniently seen in a half-day hired taxi, but all are served by public bus.

Head east through the Koi Darvoza Gates of the outer city wall towards the town of Gandymian, where in 1873 Mohammed Rakhim signed away the independence of his khanate and all lands north of the Oxus. Two kilometres past the huge cotton- ginning factory lies the Atajan Tura Ensemble, named after the Khivan prince royal who received the Russian forces while his brother, the khan, hid in the surrounding desert. The mosque, baths and well stand in excellent condition and provide a creative home for yet more woodcarvers.


This unusual, four-storeyed, stepped tower looks as if should be squeezed into a gap between high-rise buildings. It is actually the 19th century out-of-town summer residence of a local nobleman or rich merchant, desperate to escape the baking streets of the Ichan Kala. Above a ground floor stables and storehouse rise two diminishing living quarters which form a bala khana (from where we get the English balcony), whose high and easily defended iwans point north to catch the cool prevailing breezes. The tower echoes the kushka form of the much older Ak Sheikh Bobo Bastion in the Ark in a remarkable continuity of style and, as the only one of its kind to survive, it gives a rare peek into non-nomadic country life. The Chadra Hauli lies in a collective farm two kilometres past the hamlet of Sayat, some 11 kilometres east of Khiva. A local caretaker can unlock the tower. Aging Soviet buses run to Sayat every half hour from Khiva's east gate.

In the town of Sayat lies the renovated Bibi Hadj Bibi Mazaar and Mosque, focus of female prayers and Friday communal plov.


This extraordinarily complex building lies near the village of Ostana, 20 kilometres east of Khiva in Chapaev Kholkhoz and can be easily combined with a low-key visit to the Chadra Hauli. Mukhtar Vali was a holy man from Khorasan and rival of Pachlavan Mahmoud, who lived as a hermit in Khiva and was buried here with his brother-in-law, the equally holy Sayid Ata, a deputy of the Sufic master Yasawi. In 1287 a tomb was built in the wake of the Mongol storm and the final touches were added in 1807 by Mohammed Rakhim Khan I. The 22-metre high drum spills down into a profusion of sub domes and side rooms on two storeys which over the years have provided regular pilgrim refuge from Turkmen raids. The 16-sided drum diffuses soft light through ganch grills and a heavy still saturates every nook and cranny. If locked, local imam Ismael Ibraghim will provide the key and doubtless invite everyone present for tea.


Also known as Toza Kubla Beg (New South Garden), the summer residence (1893-1913) of Mohammed Rakhim Khan II stands halfway between the European and Central Asian worlds, two kilometres southwest of Khiva. Its 0.5ha plot is 2km south of the city centre, and its design incorporates both central Asian and Western features. Craftsmen from St Petersburg brought square windows and large doorways to the traditional pillared iwans of the servants' courtyard and girikh designs of the green ganch reception rooms. The buildings are made from fired bricks, in some places decorated with plasterwork and gilt, and the wide wooden doors were carved by German craftsmen. The palace was restored for Mohammed Rakhim Khan's 150th birthday in 1992, but today its three courtyards languish in peaceful neglect, occasionally hosting a tour group lunch.


"Another popular pilgrimage site was Sultan's Garden, an inaptly named wilderness of rocky hills littered with tombs, located halfway to Nulcus. A trip to Sultan's Garden, about 30 miles away, was the furthest most of the weavers had ever travelled in their lives, and it was one of the few places permissible for groups of women to visit. Red and white votive rags were attached to the few bushes that clung to the hillsides near carefully piled stones, symbolising wishes, placed next to the tombs of saints."

Christopher Aslan Alexander "A Carpet Ride to Khiva" 2010