Favorite thing: Most of Tashkent is Soviet concrete with lots of green trees in between but it is always fascinating to escape from it on a few minutes Metro ride to the Chorsu Bazar where you really have the feeling to be in Central Asia.
Wild strawberries growing along the side of footpaths in Tashkent's streets and parks sum up the charm and abundent goodwill of the people we met everywhere we went in Uzbekistan. Little red jewels with a tart sweetness nestling among the leaves, growing naturally wherever they can let their runners spread, untroubled by the modern city all around them, just getting on with what they have always done through the ages. Earthquakes, invasions, tyrants have come and gone, the strawberries, like the Uzbek people have prevailed.
With so much to admire in Tashkent's museums - beautiful embroidery, magnificent carpets, ceramics, exquisite jewellery, models of the countries great buildings and more - it was this faded scrap of fresco from a much older time that I found quite the most lovely thing.
Look for it in the Museum of Fine Art.
I'm just back from the Embassy: here's the scoop.
Same price for Amercians and Europeans. $40 for 1 month tourist visa/2 days to process. $50 same day. Drop off in the morning with 1 photo and photocopy of passport and Uzbekistan visa, pick up at 6pm. Open Mon-Fri.
You also handwrite why you want to go. (Example: Dear Sir: I would like to visit the cities of Almaty, etc, as a tourist, blah blah blah. Kind Regards, XXXOOO.) The staff was friendly. You need to specify the specific dates you will be there, also the port/city of entry.
Fondest memory: Address of Kazakhstan Embassy:
Chexov 23 Tel 152-16-54
GPS coordinates: N41 17.810 E 69 16.645.
The metro stop is: OYBEK. The Embassy is just 1 block East, turn left up the block on the right hand side.
Favorite thing: The cops here have a pretty bad rep for shaking down travellers. However, the government has tried to clean this up. They're everywhere, especially the metro, and they do have the right to ask you for ID, so bring your passport. However, they haven't hassled me in my two stops - one of them just figured me for a tourist and wanted to practice his English.
Favorite thing: It's a pain in the ass to get one of these from North America. The travel agencies suggest to me by the consulate in New York were tour operators and would only help me if I booked a tour. Screw that nonsense. I dealt with Dolores Tour and Anvar Makhmudov hooked me up with a letter. It's not free, and they do want you to stay at their Grand Orzu Hotel, but the service is great and it's a much better deal than the North American operators. The website is www.sambuh.com
Favorite thing: You can take the Metro to the Khalklar Dustligi station to see the imposing Palace of the Friendship of Peoples. Not far away are the Oliy Majlis, the modern blue-domed parliament building, and Navoi Park, a good place for a rest or a stroll. On the opposite end of the city, near the Bodomzor Metro station, is the UzExpo Center. On the grounds are a not-very-interesting amusement and water park and the tall three-legged TV Tower. Take the time to go to the viewing platform or the restaurant and bar (passport required) -- the Soviet-style structure is interesting and there are nice views of the city. Closer to the Chorsu Metro Station is the Circus (yet another round, domed building) with its large fountains.
Favorite thing: The old town, to the west, will give you an idea of what the pre-Russian town looked like, especially before the 1966 earthquake. The main activity there is the daily Chorsu bazaar. Vendors fill and surround the blue-domed hall, selling everything from meat and produce to household goods, tools and furniture. Not very far away are the main religious buildings in Tashkent. The Barak Khan Madrasa and the Tellya Sheikh Mosque face one another across Khast Imam Square. The Kukeldash Madrasa and the Jummi Mosque are just east of the Chorsu bazaar.
Favorite thing: It's fun to check out the various Soviet-style and Uzbek-modern buildings and monuments around the city. Mustaqillik Maydoni (Independence Square) is the requisite huge (empty) space for parades and rallies. Look for the large globe with a map of Uzbekistan highlighted on it. Nearby are various government buildings, including the president's office. Continuing to the north are the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, the Turkestan Concert Hall and the Earthquake Memorial. There's also a nice garden chaikhana (teahouse) on Navoi Prospekt next to the Ankhor Canal.
The Khan's second son, Chagatay (d.1242), received the territories then known as Maverannahr (Transoxiana or "The Land Across the Oxus" and Moghulistan (present-day Semirechye and Sinkiang). Along with other Turko-Mongol tribes, the Barlas settled in Transoxiana, between the two major rivers in the region: the Oxus (Amu Darya) and the Jaxartes (Syr Darya). By the time of Timur, Mongol power in the Chagatay ulus was severely weakened.
Amir Temur Museum
Amir Temur Circle
(Opposite Uzbekistan Hotel)
Favorite thing: Temur was born in Kesh, also known as Shahr-i-Sabz, "The Green City" (located about fifty miles south of Samarkand) in 1336. He was the son of a chief in the Barlas tribe, one of the many Mongol tribes which had made up the hordes of Chingiz Khan (1162 -1227) and which had been subsequently Turkicised as a result of the strong Turkic element in the Mongol armies. Upon the death of the great Khan in 1227, his massive empire was divided up amongst his sons, each of whom received an allotment of territory, called an ulus.
Tashkent, Samarkand, Bukhara and Khiva are famous Uzbek cities. Tashkent is the capital, and about 2.3 million people live there. It is the largest city in Central Asia and the only one with a subway! Tashkent has a modern appearance because it was rebuilt after a big earthquake in 1966. Samarkand, Bukhara and Khiva are much smaller, but they have beautiful ancient buildings. They are on the ancient Silk Trade Route, which is in southern Uzbekistan.
Uzbekistan was part of the Soviet Union until 1991. It was communist, but now it is an independent country with a democratic government. Islam Karimov is the president. He was a leader of the Uzbek Communist Party. Uzbek is the official language, but many people still speak Russian in the larger cities
Favorite thing: Opposite the Hotel Chorsu is the Kukeldash Madrassah, built in the mid-16th century by the ruler’s vizier, Kukeldash. After secular use as a Soviet warehouse and museum, the madrassah is reasserting a religious role as money from neighbouring mahalla restores the collapsed second storey, corner minarets and brightly tiled facade. Friday prayers take place on the entrance platform, near the ruined 15th-century Jummi Mosque, constructed by influential Islamic Khodja Akrar (1404-1492). This area formerly marked the city centre or Registan (‘sandy place’), where public executions were held.
Favorite thing: The Khast Imam Square and the Barak Khan Madrassah, founded in the 16th century by descendent of Tamerlane who ruled Tashkent for the Shaybanid dynasty. The ornate facade of blue-tiled mosaic and Koranic inscription conceals a rose garden courtyard and 35 hujra. Tourists must request permission to view the interior, for this is the administrative centre of the Mufti of Uzbekistan, the head of official Islam in the Republic. Directly opposite Barak Khan is the Tellya Sheikh Mosque,first built in the same era and now employed as the city’s chief Friday Mosque. Male visitors may petition the imam for the chance to see its beautiful Islamic Library.