Having seen pictures of the city, I was really excited to travel to Khiva. I imagined bustling streets, full of local people selling fruits, textiles, fur hats, carpets, ceramics and souvenirs. There would be dust in the air, rising from under the feet of crowds, dispersing the golden light of late afteroon. The domes and minarets would look magical in the haze and craze of the Orient. Instead I came during a rainy day and the streets were more or less empty. It was like coming into a ghost town. To be honest, I already disliked the alley that leads from the new train station to Itchan Kala, the walled inner town. Soulless hotels on both sides, all looking exactly the same, just like in Shakhrisabz. At the end of the alley stands a new gate. It’s just for show. I went around it, but still had to walk half a mile to get to the real entrance. On the left side there is a slum-like settlement, hidden behind a temporary fence. This was the first indication of the renovation plans: making everything look nice for our eyes. In Shakhrisabz they tore down the old bazaar, leaving only a few huge monuments constructed by Tamerlane. There is now a big boring park in its place, surrounded by lookalike hotels and shops. The aformentioned settlement at Khiva’s East gate is also supposed to be demolished. I think here lies the reason they hid it behind that fence.
The next day was sunny, Itchan Kala was livelier, but there still was something I was missing. Turns out there were almost no local people apart from the sellers. This just made the whole experience a bit dull. I went outside the walls and explored places not meant for toursits’ eyes. I found them more interesting and prisitne. I’m always searching for life as it is, so I can learn something from it. Sure, madrasahs are beautiful, especially at sunrise, but people mean more than bricks. Observing women working in a private courtyard or old men playing cards on a tapchan. It’s about getting to know the current culture, not just the glorious history of a once great empire.