Practical Information

Ever since Uzbekistan opened its borders to international tourism, it’s much easier to get a tourist e-visa. The site is relatively easy to figure, even if it has a few problems with speed and functionality. Our middle names didn’t show up on our e-visa, but that didn’t create any problems. However, the Uzbekistan Airways ground staff (in Seoul) was concerned with our single entry e-visa and made us sign a waiver form — just in case we were denied entry.

Uzbek immigration doesn’t have biometrics. The immigration officer will try to match your face (can be unnerving) with the photo on your passport. Our photos don’t exactly match our faces (especially after an 8-hour flight from Seoul) causing the immigration officers to chuckle. If you’re not returning to your home country, you need to show your visa/alien card to an immigration officer (next to the counter) before check-in/baggage drop. It will save you the time of having to stand in the line twice. Hotel registration is an online process now and you don’t have to collect registration cards anymore.

The official custom’s site has a detailed list of permitted medications that need to be declared (with prescriptions) before entry. We carried basic medications and had less than 2000 USD per traveller. We passed through the green channel and the guards didn’t even check our bags.

Deciphering the Bro Code

Bromances run high in Uzbekistan. Young boys would greet Basil on the street, teenagers would strike random conversations with him, and if he accidentally bumped into a man — a frown would turn into a smile and friendly pat. Things were a little different for me. Most men barely made eye contact whilst speaking and others would give a piercing stare. Under normal circumstances: I wouldn’t have cared. But we had a weeklong guided trip and I was the only ‘sister’ in the group. I’m not new to such situations and I hoped that in time I’d be welcome in the pack.

Khast Imam Complex

We met A, our tour guide, on the next morning. It was a gloomy day and the air was chilly. I was a little jet lagged and hoped to keep my eyes (and ears) open for the walking tour of Tashkent City. A gave us a quick introduction of Tashkent’s 2000-year-old history. We started our walk outside the mausoleum of the saint, Abu Bakr Kaffal Shashi.

The Khast Imam Complex gets its name, ‘saint imam’, from the 10th Century Islamic scholar and poet. The mausoleum was built in the 16th Century and became a pilgrimage site for many believers around the globe.

Light tricked through the windows of the brick walls and cast shadows on the floor. The inner chamber had three more tombs towering above the ground.

Islam doesn’t permit the use of animals or people on sacred sites. Architects have found an ingenious way of decorating religious buildings without breaking this rule. Geometrical patterns and arrangements are a recurring theme in most sacred buildings. It’s not too hard to understand why. The answer to creation of life and the universe lies in numbers. It’s possible, these architects figured the power of numbers and compared them to a higher spiritualism.

Barak Khan Madrassah

Barak Khan Madrassah isn’t functional these days and its corridors double as souvenir shops.

Stall owners greeted us warmly and urged us to take a look — at no additional cost. One of the owners wished us and his smile stretched to his ears when he learned where we were from. “Mera joota hai Japani“, he sang in Hindi. In 1955, Raj Kapoor‘s iconic song was a local chartbuster and had even crossed international borders to become quite popular in the Soviet Union. This meeting was a hint of the warm relations our countries shared — never mind our checkered and rather tumultuous past.

Muyi Mubarak Library

This nondescript library is home to a very precious religious relic: the Uthman Koran. Quite naturally, it has additional security and photography isn’t allowed inside. The Uthman Koran is believed to have once belonged to the third caliph. Many also believe it’s the oldest Koran in the world — drawing flocks of pilgrims from all quarters.

Its history is as intriguing as the Kufic script on the pale yellow pages. The sacred relic is believed to have been brought by Emir Timur (Tamerlane) from Baghdad. The relic traveled to Samarkand, Russia, and eventually made its way back to the present site in Tashkent.

Hazrat Imam Mosque

Hazrat Imam Mosque is the only building, in the complex, that was built in the present century (2007). Interestingly, the mosque’s architectural style mirrors its 16th century neighbours — making it blend effortlessly in its surroundings. Towering minarets (50m) dwarf the central building that’s decorated with wooden columns and bricks.

Chorsu Bazaar

Chorus Bazaar (meaning crossroads) is quite popular with locals as well as foreign tourists. I gaped at the gigantic aquamarine domes that enclosed the ultimate paradise for a foodie.

Kimchi Stalls

I’ve never been too fond of local markets. The close confines, bustling activity, and putrid smell of meat is hard to take in. In comparison, Chorsu Bazaar didn’t feel too chaotic. It’s a treasure trove for someone who’s genuinely looking to stock a larder. Each section is dedicated to a different speciality. The meat section has an interesting selection of items including horse meat sausages. The next few sections are dedicated to unending rows of vegetables, fruits, and dry fruits. However, it was the earthy and warm whiffs of spices that took me back home.

Local Madrassah

Abul Kasim Madrassah

Built in the 19th Century, Abul Kasim Madrassah was a place of learning for the brightest minds of the time. The madrassa is named after Abul Kasim — an educator and eminent personality of Tashkent.

The madrassah was shut down during Soviet rule and eventually began to fall into ruin. In the late eighties, it was reconstructed and opened to visitors.

The inner courtyard had bare trees and gave a sense of the internal structure of the building. These days, the students’ classrooms are occupied by masters of traditional Uzbek arts and crafts. The Rishtan (Fergana Valley) masters had a fine collection of porcelain and we bought a couple of small bowls as souvenirs.

Parliament of Uzbekistan

Lunch

Samsa & Non

Without a doubt, Plov and samsa are the local favourites in Uzbekistan and sell out like hot cakes. Samsa has a soft outer crust with a minced meat filling in the centre. On few occasions, I could request for a potato or pumpkin filling instead of meat. I explained to A: I preferred vegetarianism by choice. It had little to do with our nationality. He nodded in agreement, like most guides do. Ironically, we are a family of hearty meat eaters and I’ve often had to face flak for being the odd one.

Plov

Plov is a long-grain rice dish cooked with chickpeas, capsicum, and topped with meat. The rich flavours of the rice reminded me of mum’s Sunday ‘pulav’. Travelling along the Silk Road stirred up warm, fuzzy memories of home that I often repress as an expat. It also explained a lot of our own history and how culture isn’t born within borders — but evolves and grows — as it travels from one region to another. The Silk Road was ahead of its time. It created a global corridor between countries and continents. We seem to have regressed these days and are more focussed on drawing borders — than promoting cross-cultural and intellectual exchanges.

Monument of Courage

In 1966, a massive earthquake, measuring 8.3 on the richter scale, rocked Tashkent City and destroyed most of the local housing. Uzbekistan was under Soviet rule at that time. The ruling government got engineers and builders to create housing for those displaced by the earthquake. The present day monument is built next to the epicentre of the earthquake.

The soviet-styled apartments may look spartan on the outside, but are equipped with heating and all the necessary amenities inside. A’s parents also received an apartment after the earthquake and they continue to live there with their two sons.

Emir Timur Square

Tashkent Congress Centre
Hotel Uzbekistan

Tashkent is a heady mix of the old and the new. Timur Square is surrounded by buildings that are very different from the buildings and architecture of the old city.

During Soviet rule, the central statue of the square changed as frequently as the ideology of the ruling power. Busts of Lenin, Stalin and Karl Marx were replaced in succession. After independence, Uzbekistan’s local hero, Emir Timur’s statue captured the main spotlight of the square.

Tashkent State University of Law
Emir Timur Museum

Some may say, depending on where they’re from (like us), Timur could be ‘negative’. A took offence to that statement. I should have been more careful with my words. A argued that he and I could be negative depending upon one’s perception. Although I didn’t quite buy into his argument; I could understand his point of view. For example, Chinggis Khan is disliked in Uzbekistan, but revered in Mongolia. What makes a man a local hero? Is it the paucity of inspiration or the triumph of character? Or is it the subliminal need to forge one’s own identity?

Alisher Navoi Uzbek State Opera & Ballet Theatre

The Alisher Navoi Theatre in Tashkent is named after Alisher Navoi — a renowned 15th Century Chagtai-Turkik writer and poet. Architect Alexey Schusev, the man behind Lenin’s Mausoleum in Russia, designed the building. The construction of the building started in 1942 and was finally completed — with the help of the Japanese prisoners of war — in 1947.

Tashkent is dotted with interesting buildings and parks. It’s one of those cities that deserves a couple of days of exploration — to truly appreciate its contrasting visuals. Getting lost would be a rewarding experience.

Mustaqillik Maydon (Independance Square)

My pointed questions must have made A curious about me. He asked if I worked. The tables had been turned. It’s a question to which I haven’t found the correct answer. I gave him the standard answer of being an unemployed writer living on a dependant visa. Like most people, he asked if I write books, and then had his own interpretation of my ‘situation’. He thought it was ironical that I spent my days cooking, cleaning, waiting, and creating an ‘atmosphere’ for my husband. It had been a long day and my patience was wearing thin, but I managed to control my anger. It took me days to understand why he said that, but at that moment: I felt like crumbling.

During Soviet rule, a bust of Lenin was installed at the centre of this ginormous square, and the square was called: Lenin Square. After Uzbekistan got independence in the nineties, the bust of Lenin was removed, and a globe on a pedestal was installed in its place. The woman, in front, represents the motherland. The entrance arch has a globe with three birds circling it.

The memorial for the soldiers who lost their lives in World War 2 isn’t too far from the central arch. A long corridor with an array of wooden plaques, printed with the names of the martyrs, leads to the statue of a forlorn mother sitting in front of an eternal flame. This statue made me wonder if we place too much importance on women to become ideal mothers/nurturers — often at the cost of losing their own identity.

Ankhor River
Ankhor River

Independence Square is strangely calming with the presence of trees and quiet. The emerald green waters of Ankhor River can make your forget anything.

Applied Art Museum

The former residence of Alexander Polovtsev, a Russian diplomat, is now the Applied Art Museum of Tashkent. Although, we were tired and the biting cold was starting to get to us, the museum turned out to be a hidden gem. The exterior has a confluence of cultures (Persian, Jewish, & Islamic) and elements.

The museum has an impressive collection of suzanis (hand embroidery), silk carpets, and also woodwork.

The true beauty of the museum lies in the residential quarters of the statesman. Masters from different schools across Uzbekistan contributed to the intricate carvings on the walls and rooftops.

The dim lighting makes it hard to capture the true splendour and opulence of the rooms.

There’s a stunning collection of porcelain in the last exhibition chamber.

One of the courtyards has been converted into a handicraft shop with an interesting collection of local arts for sale.

Kosmonavtlar (Tashkent Metro)

We ended our tour before sunset and that left us with a couple of minutes to explore Tashkent Metro. A lead us to Kosmonavtlar Station — dedicated to the cosmonauts who explored space.

Tashkent Metro has only 3 lines and you can buy the ticket (a blue chip) at the counter. The security guards were very friendly and were even hesitant to check my bag.

The platforms were practically empty and we may have attracted some attention from the people who waited for their train. Most Uzbeks consider the metro to be a means of transport. Foreign tourists, like us, can’t seem to get over those otherworldly designs.

Dinner

Mastava Soup
Non and green tea

On the recommendation of our driver, we visited a family restaurant that served the perfect remedy for a cold, winter’s night. It was quite a walk from our hotel and it even snowed. The hot soup, non, and tea hit the spot.

Vodka with Baklava

Our hotel was situated in a trendy neighbourhood. Some of the local pubs attracted a flurry of expensive cars and women dressed in their best. We preferred to rest in the quiet and warmth of our hotel. Besides, we had an early flight to Urgench on the next day.

Additional Reading

1. Goodbye Lenin, Hello Timur

2. Uzbekistan’s secret underground – in pictures

3. Inventing a National Writer

Posted by:twobrownfeet

Walkers. Wanderers. Travellers. Now in Seoul.

21 replies on “A Whirlwind Walking Tour of Tashkent City

  1. By taking a guide, you saw a lot more of Tashkent than I did, and learned more too. It is interesting how often they’ve replaced statues along the way. I guess that happens in a land in flux. The metro stations are so beautiful and simple, one of the highlights of the city in a strange way.

    1. We sure did! πŸ™‚ By choosing a local tour, for the entire duration, it saved us the effort of having to book local trains, transport, and flights. Although, we saw many solo travellers who were doing all of this on their own. I did have an overload of history and information. That’s the flip side of a guide. πŸ™‚ I wish we had more time in Tashkent.

  2. My passport photo, which was taken 7 years ago, doesn’t match my face at all πŸ™ˆπŸ™ˆπŸ™ˆ wander, if I could manage to get in! I’ve never really considered to visit Tashkent, but the more I read about it the more I want to go. Especially to see its amazing architecture. Thanks for sharing and have a good day πŸ˜€ Aiva

    1. Hi Aiva! πŸ™‚ I perfectly get your predicament. Passport photos rarely represent us. πŸ™‚ Central Asia is a hidden gem. Definitely worth adding more countries on your bucket list. Thanks for stopping by!

    1. It’s been on our list for ages! I’m so glad that we finally just decided to go for it. There are some fantastic hiking courses and beautiful mountains — if you have more time. We could barely cover the UNESCO trail in a week. πŸ™‚ Thanks for stopping by!

  3. Maybe it was the grey skies but this place didn’t call out to me at all till you got to that museum at the end. I think you could leave me there awhile πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚

    1. I know what you mean. Basil struggled with the photographs and it’s possible the city would have looked more appealing on a sunny day. The weather was quite iffy on our trip. But, I was so happy to explore Uzbekistan and I kind of made my peace with with the changes. πŸ™‚

  4. Plov and Samsa are not hard to imagine from this part of the world. We have been updated that Samosa and Pulav owe its origin to Persia. But who knows? we don’t have any historical records. Tashkent has a strong flavor of the Soviet era rather than the ancient country. The Soviet rule is known for destroying local “flavor” including religious influence.

    1. I’ve been such a science geek for a long time and haven’t paid as much attention to history. That’s slowly changing with expat life and travel. πŸ™‚ Uzbekistan does have a Persian influence and that explains a lot of their cuisine. Tashkent is a mix of everything. In a couple of years, development will change its skyline and travellers will also get to see some skyscrapers. πŸ™‚

      1. Well, I think it is best when high rises don’t dominate the skyline. That’s not what we look forward to when we travel. πŸ™‚

  5. Lucky duck getting to Uzbekistan! I am so eager to go. The architecture and design look great (even under dismal skies, I must say), and the food and wares for sale were fun to see also.

    1. Hahah. I was a very happy duck! πŸ™‚ I’ve been dreaming of Uzbekistan for such a long time. It was a last minute decision. I was getting to comfortable in Korea and had to break the monotony. πŸ™‚

    1. Thanks a lot for such a wonderful comment! These posts are so long and I’m never sure if they get boring. I love writing about culture and people, I often lose count of the number of words. I’m so glad you enjoyed our journey. Means a lot!

    1. We have the other “stans” on our list and can’t wait to go back. We found the architecture so fascinating. It was so different from anything we’d seen before. But, I also understand your point of view. Thank you for joining the conversation. Thank you for nominating us for the sunshine blogger award. Means a lot! I used to participate in our earlier blogging days, however, I find it hard to keep up with existing posts. I’ll try squeezing in a post of give you a shout out. Hope that works! Once again, thanks!

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