Tashkent, Oct 2019
Oct 26, 2019
The flight from Urgench (Khiva) to Tashkent was a short flight of 1hr and 10mins; we arrived at the domestic terminal, which was empty & collected our suitcases from the roller belt. We had booked at the Simma hotel near the airport, the night before in Khiva; we had picked this hotel as it was near a metro station; so, transportation to and from downtown would be easy. After haggling with a couple of taxi drivers; got the fare down from $20 to $5; even that was high as I had read the cab ride should be about $3.
A little about Tashkent which was historically known as Chach (Persian); it is the capital and largest city of Uzbekistan, as well as the most populous city in Central Asia, with a population of about 3M. It is in northeastern Uzbekistan, near the border with Kazakhstan.
In pre-Islamic and early Islamic times, the town and the province were known as Chach forming a trade center between the Sogdians and Turkic nomads. In 558–603, Chach was part of the Turkic Kaganate. Under the Samanid Empire, whose founder Saman Khuda was a Persian Zoroastrian convert to Islam, the city came to be known as Binkath. However, the Arabs retained the old name of Chach for the surrounding region, pronouncing it ash-Shash instead. At the end of the 10th century, Tashkent became part of the possessions of the Turkic state of the Karakhanids.
The city was destroyed by Genghis Khan in 1219 and lost much of its population as a result of the Mongols’ destruction, but slowly, it profited from the Timurid and subsequent Shaybanid dynasties, the city’s population and culture gradually revived as a prominent strategic center of scholarship, commerce and trade along the Silk Road. During the reign of Amir Timur (1336-1405), Tashkent was restored and in the 14th-15th centuries Tashkent was part of Timur’s empire. In 1865, Tashkent fell to the Russian Empire, and became the capital of Russian Turkestan. In Soviet times, it witnessed major growth and demographic changes due to forced deportations from throughout the Soviet Union. Much of Tashkent was destroyed in the 1966 Tashkent earthquake, but it was rebuilt as a model Soviet city. It was the fourth-largest city in the Soviet Union at the time, after Moscow, Leningrad and Kyiv (Kiev).
Tashkent is also famous for the Tashkent Declaration, which was a peace agreement between India and Pakistan signed on 10 January 1966 that resolved the Indo-Pakistani War of 1965. This agreement was not popular in either country; and it was tainted by the mysterious death of the Indian Prime Minister, Lal Bahadur Shastri the day after the signing of the peace agreement, while he was still in Tashkent. The conspiracy theories suggest that his death was due to poisoning.
Today, as the capital of an independent Uzbekistan, Tashkent retains a multiethnic population, with ethnic Uzbeks as the majority. In 2009, it celebrated its 2,200 years of written history.
The Simma hotel was a very nice 4-star hotel with decent rooms, and good facilities like an indoor water park with slides, spas, massage areas etc. Cost was $78 per night breakfast included but with taxes, it came to $95 per night. The logo for Simma hotel looked suspiciously like the Sheraton logo 🙂 .
Since it was only mid-day, we decided to go downtown and check out Tashkent. So, I asked the hotel staff where the nearest Metro station was, and they informed me the only way to get to downtown was to take a taxi. I showed them on Google maps the metro station nearby, and they smiled & told me it was under construction and would be ready the following year. So much for Google maps and making assumptions from that. 🙁
The hotel had no tourist info at all, so we asked the hotel staff where the tourist info office was, so we could start there. They researched this, and found a location downtown, next to the Oybek metro station and wrote down the address for the taxi driver. They told me that the Yandex taxi app we had used in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, would work here and would be best for us, as no haggling, and no conversation required due to lack of English speakers. So, I used Yandex and requested a taxi. The taxi came and the hotel staff explained to the driver where to take us; very few people spoke English here.
Some scenes below of Tashkent below, along the drive to the city
The taxi driver drove us to the address, but there was no tourist office there that the driver or we could see; only apartment buildings. So, he drove around the area and asked several pedestrians nearby if they knew where the tourist office; but nobody knew.
So we got out on a main street, and paid the driver 16,000 Som (about $1.70) as specified in the Yandex app, for a 20min drive. We started walking around and asked several people if they knew where the Tourist Office was, but to no avail; no English. Dilshad then asked a couple of high school kids in school uniforms if they knew. Fortunately, they spoke a little English; they did not know where the tourist info office was either; but they asked us where we wanted to go. We told them we did not know what was worthwhile seeing and visiting in Tashkent; & they offered to take us on the metro to show us some sights in downtown. What great hospitality 🙂 . We asked them if it was OK with their parents and time; and they said their school got over at 2PM, and so they were free till evening, and they wanted to take the opportunity to practice their English; a win-win situation 🙂 . How wonderful. Khoumayoun the boy, wanted to study Law at Harvard in the US, and Sharada, the girl, wanted to also study law, but in Australia.
They took us on the subway to Chorsu market, showing us the subway stations along the way, which were beautifully decorated, very clean, nice, efficient, and cheap. You purchased tokens for the metro, and 1 token took you anywhere in the metro for $0.15 cents. The subway stations themselves were a tourist attraction 🙂 .
At the Chorsu market, there were a lot of outdoor stalls selling all kinds of vegetables, fruits, nuts/dried fruits, spices, household goods, chinese clothes etc. It was now mid-afternoon, and the market was winding down, so we decided to come back here another day on our own. Some scenes from the outdoor portion of the Chorsu bazaar below
Khoumayoun and Sharada then took us on the subway again, this time to the downtown Amir Timur Square (Amir Timur subway station). Some scenes from here below
The Uzbekistan hotel was built during the Soviet times for hotel to accommodate dignitaries and Govt officials and that tradition continues today.
Soon it was time for Khoumayoun and Sharada to leave as they had an English class to get to, but before they left, they pointed us to a great chicken place they said we should go eat at and pointed out what we should do and see while in this downtown area. So nice & hospitable of them for spending the afternoon with us. Very refreshing to experience this kindness.
The Chicken place was quite busy, so it must be a good place to eat at. We ordered what we wanted by pointing to pictures on the menu; no english 🙂 . We drank the red juice in the glasses above, which was quite tart and did not know what to make of that, until we noticed observing others around us, that it was a dipping sauce for the chicken/bread to eat with 🙂 . The assumptions we make is based on what we are brought up with; glasses contain drinks, not dipping sauces. But not everywhere is that the case 🙂 as we learnt here.
After this dinner we strolled around this nice area, and saw the Amir Timur Museum, Law School, and an entertainment area. Pictures below
After stopping for a coffee at a nice coffee shop in a trendy area here, we returned to the Simma hotel using a Yandex App taxi. A pleasant day.
Back at the hotel, we used the pool/spa/sauna and Dilshad got a massage ($20 for 50 mins). The facilities were all very nice and clean. We ordered a pizza, fries and soup for a late-night room service snack, and went to sleep.
Next couple of days, we explored more of Tashkent, mostly using the cheap Yandex taxis. There were multiple unique buildings, architecture, and mosques we noticed & visited in Tashkent; scenes below
We took a taxi to have plov at a Plov Center, but the driver could not find it at the address we had, so instead, he took us to a Plov center he knew of nearby. Some scenes below at the Plov center.
Cooking the Plov in the huge cauldrons
How to serve Plov
Inside of the Sheikh Zainiddin mosque
We asked a local at the Plov center how to get to the Barak-Khan Madrassa, and he told to take a local taxi to Hazroti Imom Mosque. The Yandex app was not working, so the kind local gentleman helped us; flagging down several cars (which locals were using as nondescript taxis), but all wanted too much money; he finally found one for 7000 soms. (about $0.70). The taxi dropped us off at the mosque area, which seemed to have many cars in parking lot as well as a couple of tour busses.
In this complex, was the Muslim HQ office for UZ, as well as the Hazrati Imom Mosque, the Barak-Khan Madrassa and a building that housed the oldest known Koran..
After prayers, we went around the side of the mosque to get to the Barak-Khan Madrassa at the back; this complex was very well reconstructed; with a huge open square where the mosque, madrassah and the building that housed the oldest Koran were housed.
Then we went to check out the Koran which was USESCO certified as oldest of 6 Koran’s by the 3rd Caliph Osman, sent to various parts of the Islamic world for safekeeping; only this one has survived. Very nice, with many other Korans and different calligraphy on view. Unfortunately, no photographs allowed inside 🙁
We then went across the street to the Osh Saroy café for tea and a snack
We then called a Yandex taxi (now working) to take us to the Chorsu bazaar, which was a complex of several large buildings. Some scenes below
Inside view of the main Chorsu bazaar building
That evening, we booked a flight out the next morning to Istanbul on Turkish airlines, and then onwards back to Dallas.
We had come to the end of a long and wonderful Epic journey, which had taken us from Kyrgyzstan, through Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, a journey of 3,700kms by car, train and two local flights, over a period of 42 days. We met the most wonderful, friendly, and helpful people everywhere, which helped to uphold our faith in the goodness of humanity. The variety of landscapes, altitudes, housing, foods, people, languages, history, heritages, customs, and culture was eye-opening and gave us the most wonderful experiences which we will always cherish. What always stood out everywhere in this part of Central Asia was the kindness, hospitality and helpfulness of complete strangers; something that is not common in the world we live in.
In our travels through central Asia, we observed that Tajikistan was the least developed country, especially in the GBAO region, and Tajikistan had the least tourist ready structure, followed by Kyrgyzstan. Uzbekistan on the other hand, was the most progressive country and had a decent tourist infrastructure except in Tashkent, the Capital. We welcome any questions or inquiries about this Central Asian region.
Our Central Asia journeyThis entry was posted in Asia, Silk Road Uzbekistan Sept-Oct 2019, Uzbekistan