“Somebody save me” – Theme Tune from Smallville which features Clark Kent (not Tash Kent).
A few Uzbeks have been in touch recently – Bek and Akmaljon. They don’t like the way I have written about their country but I can only write about what really happens when I travel. I don’t want to be a fake. I didn’t enjoy all of my time in Uzbekistan and that’s the truth. But my final stop in Tashkent did it’s best to send me out of the country on a high. Without the need for a cape, I was on a Superman mission to save my own world from Lex Luthor when I arrived in the city of Kent, Clark Kent? No, sorry Tash Kent. Uzbeks reading – I liked Tashkent. It seemed to reignite my passion for your country, you done it well in your capital and you probably saved me.
“Maybe you’re gonna be the one that saves me” – Oasis.
After a journey from charming Samarkand, bustling Bukhara and the wacaday madness of Nukus in Karakalpakstan, I arrived in the capital city, Tashkent. Or Toshkent. I wasn’t expecting to be blown away here, but yet amongst beeping horns, boulevards that are fenced off and a friendly bazaar, I realised it wasn’t all that bad. Tashkent rocks along with international intent. No doubt the people of Tashkent are more “global” and outward looking and yes they have common sense in this city, unlike some of the rural towns and villages I visited. Time seemed to tick by with no importance in some places, notoriously in Termiz, Karshi and Navoi. Oh, and Urgench too…sure just let your life pass by and be internal. Just laugh at foreigners, rip them off and stop 10 times when once will do. Tashkent however works hard with no lazy ugly intent.
So forget all those other places (especially Urgench) – I loved my stay in Tashkent, made even better since I was in such a homely Guesthouse Gulnara. From this base I picked up a map and headed on a mission to enjoy my final breaths of Uzbek air before border towning it north to shy Shymkent in Kazakhstan. I become a bit oddball on this blog and if you read me using the words “Kenty” or “the Bek”, I’m just being silly and referring to Tashkent and Uzbekistan. Enough of that, here’s my personal top 8 from a city that I liked. Again, my personal top 8, not a definite must see, everybody travels different.
Take your bazaars from Iran, China, Kyrgyzstan, Azerbaijan, Israel, Palestine, Northern Ireland and Afghanistan and bung them all in a tidy massive roundabout and you get Chorsu Bazaar.
It’s very cheap but you still have to bargain down. You can also (coughs and winks) change your US Dollars here on the dark coloured market and treble the worth of your cash! I think I finally got my money back after having the opposite happen to me some five years earlier on the day of the black market crash in Venezuela.
2.Independence Square (Mustaqillik Maydoni)
If you didn’t already know, Uzbekistan is independent. It’s the country for Uzbek people mostly and despite the independence of it all, of course Russians still live here and Russian is well spoken too. But there is a pride to be savoured at Independence Square with its huge arch, relaxed park and the independence monument. Lenin has gone and a new independence monument sits.
Uzbekistan is a strict country politically. It seems to be controlled by the military. Proud Uzbek soldiers wear badges, cloned uniforms and hats. But it’s the politicians here that make the decisions that have shaped this nation. In fairness to Uzbekistan, at least it’s consistent. At least it stands out. I won’t forget it. Too many police, bag, passport and border checks and lots of time wasting, but it was well organised and consistent.
That tells me that what happens here in the Government Buildings is actually hard work. The world could do with more politicians like the Uzbek ones as they have a consistent togetherness at the very least. Though I still disagree with right-wing military dictatorships. Find me a bar to have a pint with David Cameron wearing Bermuda shorts, a Northern Ireland shirt and we can exchange tales about backpacking through Afghanistan. But in the here and now, this main building is where Uzbekistan’s politicians plan the future.
I’m a sucker for historic Soviet Hotels. I remembered my time in numerous hotels in China, Belarus and “Norf Korea bruv” and how I love the dear dear charm of what is essentially a hotel of cloned rooms, no fancy shit and downright good Soviet hospitality. In Tallinn, I toured the notorious KGB headquarters, in Termiz I stayed in the Hotel Sorxan.
Hotel Uzbekistan is on the edge of Amir Temur Square and looks every bit as Soviet as you’d expect. Charming and doesn’t need to change. I loved my Guesthouse of course, but perhaps if I ever return to Kenty, I’ll stay the Hotel Uzbekistan. Quick pint inside? No, I didn’t strangely. I was here in the morning time and it was just after breakfast so touring the sights and a coffee stop were my preferences.
Again it’s my desire to backpack through some textbook Soviet style cities that gives me an excitement even on a 7 minute train journey. I loved the metro system in Tashkent and despite scares that it was over-policed and they would check my bag everywhere, this was a lot more relaxed than I thought, certainly less bag checks than in Kiev or Minsk.
But I was really impressed by the police here, they spoke to me, they were nice. Not once did they ask to see my passport. It’s a shame I had arrived in Kenty last, as if I had came here as my stop in the Bek, maybe my mind would have changed.
6.Khast Imom Square
This is the Wow factor! This complex and square sold Tashkent to me when I was least expecting it. A marvellous modern day square, pristine, neat and with friendly locals who wanted selfies with me and were kind. I loved the square, the Mosque, the Madrassa and the next point 7 – the famous Kaliph Utman Qoran.
7.Qoran of Kaliph Utman
The Hazrati Imam building housing the Kaliph Utman Qoran is the sublime moment, possibly my favourite sight in all of Uzbekistan. Here is housed an original Qoran by Kaliph Utman, this unique original source of the Islam holy book that was written in the middle of the seventh century. Entry costs 8 grand (8,000 Uzbek Som/ $1.2 USD) and is totally worth it.
It’s an ancient manuscript, one of only two of these in the world!! It consists of 353 parchment sheets with the original text in black ink of the Qoran for centuries was kept in the treasury of the Kaliphs (in the cities of Medina, Samarkand, Damascus and Baghdad). No photos inside of the Qoran, but so so worth it.
8.Amir Temur Square and Museum
My time in Samarkand taught me all about Amir Temur and the huge empire he once ran – right from Turkey to China. But if you didn’t make it there, no sweat. The museum here is excellent and nearby, there is a square dedicated to Temur himself – heroic figure in Uzbek history.
I also had to try some local Tashkent Pilov in a modern restaurant called Afsona which was great, and as I was craving a final beer, I even popped into the Irish Pub for a pint of dark Uzbek beer (pretty good).
I left Uzbekistan behind with a flurry of happiness at the end. Thanks Tashkent, I liked you. Again, a real travel story from a long term backpacker.
Here are some videos I made in Tashkent: