Khiva: Lighthouse in the Desert

A mirage appeared on the horizon – a tall tower faceted with blue tiles rising above the beige walls of a fortress. Like something from a Boys Own novel, Khiva appears. An ancient walled town marooned in the desert. I could imagine a fire burning in the crown of the tower to guide the camel caravans across the dusty desert to safety.

Up close Khiva is not quite so remote; there are small pockets of modern buildings outside the walls, but once we pass through the gates the old world reappears. The crazy streets which acted like a maze for invaders, the tall minarets which were used as desert lighthouses, the sloping walls surrounding the markets, hovels, shops and palaces.

 Inside the walls there remains so much of what was once a thriving town on the Silk Road; markets with their mix of Russian Fur hats, beautiful camel scarves and oddities of Central Asia. There are also the harem quarters, reception rooms and the mint of the palace. Cramped beneath the merchant entrance are the slave cells where the most prized beauties were kept before being bought and sold. There is such a mix of genes here, it’s easy to play ‘Spot the Conqueror’ as blue eyes in dark faces, or Chinese eyes on pale faces are found on the streets.

One corner of Khiva I particularly love is the junction of the main streets North, South, East and West; here is a coffee shop (Central Asia style) and it’s a place to refresh out of the sun and dust.