Sunday, June 19, 2011

A Brief Essay on Uzbekistan

Statue of Timur the Great, Samarkand.
 Central Asia has some enigmatic states. Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan (which I am not visiting. This trip at least) and even Uzbekistan. A country who reveres an historical figure, the all-conquering Amir Timur, more than anyone or thing else. Nevermind that he lived over six hundred years ago, the guy went on a rampage conquering Iran, Iraq, parts of Turkey and India and the Cacaucus as well. For a reasonably small state as Uzbekistan, that's not a bad effort.
Then he set about building one of the most beautiful cities on the Silk Road in Samarkand. I'm starting to revere him a bit myself. He was lame in one leg and 1.7 metres tall - shorter than me. Maybe I too can conquer a few places. But, I don't believe I exagerate, he has acheived deity-like status in Uzbekistan.
It is a country hounded by Mongols and Genghis Khan, Russians and Soviets too. Timur represents the tim they were top of the heap.
Today his spirit is everywhere. A great man casts his shadow over a country that has some reasonably bureaucratic visa laws, and a President, Karimov, who would like to be as enigmatic and great as Timur is.
A wealth of resources and the added bonuses gained by letting the US on your soil (and then kicking them out) gives the impression that Uzbekistan is reasonably prosperous, espeically in the region. There are lots of new buildings everywhere I went. Tashkent gleams, and parts of Samarkand shine, although other older parts hide behind much more recent walls.
The Russian language and alphabet are slowly on the way out. The Uzbek identity is rising strongly. The money is insane. The biggest note one can get is 1000 som. This is roughly 40 US cents. So when one changes 100 dollars you have so much cash finding enough places to hide it is a major challenge! The black market is used by everyone. One gets 2400 per dollar on the black market the official rate is around 1700. Every night you spend has to be registered on a slip and possibly shown as you exit the country, depending on the whims of the border guards.
The climate is insane. In Bukhara I encountered 40 deree maximums, it gets in excess of fifty late July and August! But in the winter I was told there is a metre of snow in the streets! Minus 20 is not uncommon! How do they cope?
I haven't seen a cavalcade of pictures of Karimov, but I hear he is not disimmilar to Nazabaev of Kazakhstan fame. Opposition parties are generally not allowed and usually he wins impossibly high proportions of the vote when elections are held. But Uzbekistan is doing ok right now, so people are reasonably happy!
Central Asia is a fascinating area of the world. I have less than two days here before I must depart. The trip now turns to a couple of days in London, then Cameroon. Then to Europe.
Every place is special and unique in its own right. To imagine what it's like to live here though, that is still beyond me!

Please enjoy pictures of the Registan in Samarkand below. Tomorrow I shall blog about Tashkent, the Uzbek capital. Thanks for reading.

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