The distant lands of Khorezm are formed and fed by the Amu Darya delta and its history is inextricably linked to the river, like Egypt's history to the Nile. It is the farthest destination of a traveller visiting Silk Road and Uzbekistan. Its waters set apart the red and black deserts on either side to color the desert island oasis. It divided Turks from Persians and provided a cradle for Central Asia's earliest civilization.
Today, this land of shifting rivers, trade routes, capitals and nomads, is divided into the Khorezm region and Karakalpak Autonomous Republic. It still maintains its distinct character. It echoes little of Ferghana's religious revival, but enjoys the best of Central Asia's hospitality.
Khiva - a museum city under open sky
Khiva is the most intact and most remote of Central Asia's Silk Road cities, the final destination of a trip back through the centuries from Tashkent to medieval town. Khiva is a museum city under open sky. Where Samarkand leaves the imagination exhausted, Khiva's khanate romance is plain to see and where Urgench lies restricted to two dimensions, Khiva revels in all four, as visions of the past float through its narrow streets like an old film.
Khiva has existed for as long as trade caravans have pulled up alongside the sweet waters of its Khievak Well, on a transcontinental pit-stop from Gurganj to Merv. Shem, the biblical son of Noah, is said to have marked out the city walls during a fiery desert mirage and as early as the 10th century the town entered into Arab chronicles. But regional dominance only arrived in the 16th century, as nomadic Uzbek tribes swept through the oasis to establish the khanate of Khorezm in 1511. By the end of the century, Khiva replaced the dying Kunya Urgench and became the capital.
The early years of the khanate were racked by instability, infighting and invasion by the rival Shaybanid clan of Bukhara and the region was unable to develop into anything more than a loose confederation of semi-independent clans whose unity depended largely upon the strength and charisma of its khan. The accession of Abul Gazi Khan in 1642 and his son Anusha Khan in 1663 finally ushered in the formative age of Khivan consolidation. The entire population of Gurganj was repatriated to Khiva and military expansion took war to the gates of Bukhara and Meshed. The khan also wrote the history of Khiva and his ancestors.
However, the khanate was fast approaching the end of its life. A series of nomad rebellions led by the Yomut Turkoman Junaid Khan rocked the town, culminating in the assassination in 1918 of Isfandiyar Khan. On 27 April 1920, the Khorezm People's Republic was proclaimed and Khan Abdullah abdicated, later to die in a Soviet prison hospital. Restless local invaders continued to hound the region and in February 1924, 15,000 people besieged the town for three and a half weeks until Soviet reinforcements eventually pacified all revolt. In 1922, the region gained promotion to a Soviet Republic and in 1924 joined the republic of Uzbekistan.
In present days, Khiva is reviving, with tourism industry bringing in new blood and life. Local residents are happy to see many tourists from all over the world. Their hospitality and friendliness leaves a great impression in every person. Having Ichan Qala - a whole castle with its walls and buildings intact, Khiva is the best place to finish the journey to the history.