Friday, February 28, 2014
a short extract from my latest ebook - Short Journeys: Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan.
I have been talking lately a bit about Kyrgyzstan, so here is a bit of information straight from the book about Tashkent, the Uzbek capital.
The book is available now for Kindle, and is only $1.39. Please support independent epublishing!
Gulnara Bed & Breakfast. Single room, shared bathroom, breakfast. $20 (February 2014)
This is the place to stay for the budget traveller in Tashkent. They have all manner of rooms in buildings set around a nice courtyard, including dorms. It’s very popular and was full of people waiting for onward visas and the like when I was there. The room I had was really nice despite no private bathroom. Despite no air conditioning it was cool, quiet and had a comfortable bed. The place had simple cooking facilities and the people who stayed there were friendly and a good crowd.
It’s cheap, registration was simple, good family running the place, spacious. Ok, I don’t need to go on, a great place to stay, as were all my guesthouses in Uzbekistan.
On top of that, my first night in Uzbekistan and Tashkent I was taken in by a man I met on the taxi rides from Kazakhstan to Tashkent. He was really friendly and when I discovered the above guesthouse booked out for that night, he very kindly offered me a place to stay even though I had decided to go to a different hotel. He had a very well appointed apartment, but I will always remember the generosity.
Tashkent is a much bigger city than Bishkek. More grandiose and wider than Almaty, it didn’t appear to be overpopulated, but it did appear to take up a fair amount of land. It was cooler than the other parts of the country that I visited thankfully, and has a selection of museums and again plenty of parks to keep the visitor amused for a couple of days at least.
Getting around it by taxi isn’t too expensive, and there is also a bristling metro which doesn’t yet cover the whole city, but if there’s a station close to where you want to go it’s the best deal around and well run. Be prepared to have your bags searched at metro stations coming in, Tashkent is pretty security conscious. The Metro in 2011 was 600 som for a trip.
History Museum of the Timurids (Entrance 3000 som)
You may not have heard of Timur, but for today’s Uzbekistan, he is the most important historical figure. The somewhat eccentric President of Uzbekistan, Karimov, has moulded modern Uzbekistan on the back invoking the memory of this Uzbek warrior, who lived 600 years ago and seems to be the Uzbek answer to Genghis Khan. Like Kazakhstan, since the breakup of the Soviet Union there were some dark years followed by a resources’ boom which has delivered financial stability to the country.
Timur has since become a symbol of pride for the Uzbek people, and Karimov has used his image to inspire the Uzbek people and increase national pride. So, they built a museum to Timur housed in an interesting domed building. The ceiling of the dome is particularly beautiful, and the circular building itself is impressive. A very fancy chandelier hangs from the centre of the dome, and the visitor is treated to all manner of images of Amir Timur.
The building is more interesting, sadly, than the contents of the museum which doesn’t have much in the way of English and is telling the story of Timur. You will find a quote there from President Islam Karimov –
‘Anyone who wants to understand who the Uzbeks are, if somebody wants to comprehend the power, might, justice and unlimited abilities of the Uzbek people, their contribution to global development, their belief in future, he should recall the image of Amir Timur.’ Yes, it probably doesn’t make a lot of sense. But there’s some passion there for you.
If you’re done with the museum but not done with Amir Timur, then opposite the museum is a huge square that is called the ‘Amir Timur Maydoni’, which I’d say means ‘Amir Timur Square’. Roads and paths seem to stretch out from it in most directions and the Hotel Uzbekistan stands very tall to one side. But in the centre you will find a very fine, tall statue of Timur himself taking his place in modern Tashkent. What more could you ask for?
For the record Timur lived somewhere between 600 and 700 years ago and was a bit of a blood thirsty tyrant. Still, using his image to shape modern Uzbekistan has appeared to be successful, you would have to say Karimov’s ideas for motivation have been a big hit.
The History Museum of the People of Uzbekistan (entrance – 4000 som)
If you’re looking for a more traditional museum with more interesting contents, then this one fits the bill. For historians and archaeologists there’s a lot here from different periods of history and regions, and if you like your pottery old and broken bowls, you’ll be well catered for too. I must confess I was more taken by the staff using the wide screen televisions which I presumed were meant to be showing informative videos to watch Turkish soaps. Not such a great look… But amusing nonetheless!
The third floor has more about modern Uzbekistan, future projects and of course parts devoted to the President, Karimov. One thing the region is not short of is leaders with healthy egos. Do note that strictly speaking you are supposed to pay extra to use a camera in the museums in Tashkent, and often in other places in Central Asia too. In fact a camera can often cost twice the regular ticket. Don’t be surprised about it. Museums are not always the best place for photos anyways.
Next to the Chorsu Metro stop and not far from Gulnara B & B, the Chorsu Bazaar is housed under some impressive domes and has all manner of vegetables, fruit and meat that you’d expect to find in a bustling bazaar. Not only that, but outside the central bazaar are shops for jewellery, postcards and other sorts of souvenirs and the prices are pretty reasonable so if you are looking to do some shopping, then this might just be the place for you.
Holy Assumption Cathedral
This Orthodox Cathedral is proof that there are still a few Russians living in Uzbekistan. When I visited I found it a bit out of the way, so I had to take a taxi, the metro didn’t come close to the area. The taxis in Tashkent generally only cost $3-5 for a ride, so it’s not a huge strain on the wallet. They were in the middle of some renovations, and some sections had scaffolding, but it’s big and serene inside. It has lovely dome with a candle chandelier hanging from it. It also has numerous gold domes not just on the church but over the entrance gate as well. It was built in 1871 and was apparently the first Orthodox cathedral in Central Asia.
Of all the parks in Central Asia, this simply was the finest. And the biggest, it seemed to go one for acres. In fact it very probably did. And still does. And you know the best thing about parks; they are almost always completely free.
There is a man-made lake in the park which was set up as a sort of makeshift beach, and in the sun and heat it was a hit. You can walk around for hours and relax. There were plenty of pools and fountains with kids escaping the heat without their parents having to pay for them to go into the ‘beach’ area. There were also amusement rides, restaurants and ice cream carts. Easy place to lose yourself in for an afternoon.
Not far from the Chorsu Bazaar is the Kulkedash Medressa, well worth a visit. Although it has been restored many times (thanks to earthquakes) the medressa dates back to the 16th century. This would make it one of the older buildings (or at least the site) in Tashkent. It’s really beautiful and was abuzz with activity when I visited; it is still very much a place of learning. Inside the outer walls the courtyard is a well appointed garden, a little bit of paradise away from the outside hustle and bustle of Tashkent.