Day 85: City fatigue
Tashkent Travel Blog› entry 120 of 260 › view all entries
Some days are better than others. This was one of the others. I don't know what it was, but from the start the day seemed to be a bad one. Not that any bad things happened to me, but just that it was a bad day.
I will spare you the specifics, but a short summary: the hotel I wanted to stay in turned out to be full (booked for two months, apparently). I had a back-up plan, as I made a reservation at a hostel, but when I arrived there, they had lost my reservation and no beds. The third option had drastically increased their prices since the publication of the Lonely Planet but I was so fed up with travelling across town finding accommodation, that I bit the bullet and stayed anyway. For the second time in a week's time I spent way more than I wanted on accommodation. What made it worse was that it turned out to be a shite hotel as well.
Then the coffee place I had so been looking forward to (first Espresso since Tbilisi) turned out to be closed for refurbishment. The map in the Lonely Planet was awfully inaccurate, with what they describe as “the highlight of Tashkent” missing on the map, resulting in much unnecessary walking and searching. And finally the restaurant I wanted to eat no longer existed *and* the street it was in had changed name, once again resulting in about an hour walking and searching.
So not exactly the worst things in the world that can happen, just a long string of nuisances that kinda ruined my day. And I only had one day in Tashkent, so that made it somewhat worse.
Anyway, Tashkent. It's not the most interesting city in the world, but it has some decent sights. One of them being the Chorsu bazaar, which is allegedly the second-largest bazaar in Central Asia.
Well, large it certainly is. The bazaar has outgrown its original location (an interesting UFO-shaped building) and is now sprawling across a vast area that occupies at least ten city blocks. Great place to wander around and actually not a bad place for shopping either. I didn't need any, so I spent most my money on sampling street food and interestingly coloured cold drinks.
North of the Chorsu bazaar lies the Khast Imom, the religious centre of Uzbekistan. This is the aforementioned area which doesn't show on the map in the LP, because it is located at the spot on the map where the legend is (so it is not is they didn't have any space in the book, but some idiot cartographer decided to stick the legend on the map at the spot where lies what is according to the author of the book the highlight of Tashkent).
It was interesting to visit such a large religious centre in a country which is essentially secular. About 85% of the Uzbeks are Muslim, so obviously the Islamic clergy would have a significant influence in the country. Since the Adijan massacre of 2005 the role of Islam has been somewhat restricted by the Uzbek government. The government claims the Andijan uprising was organised by an Islamic radical movement and thus military action was legit.
One of the many things the government has done to limit the foothold in Uzbekistan was banning the call for prayer from mosques. Uzbekistan is surprisingly quiet without the call for prayer sounding five times a day.
In a small library behind the main mosque lies what is said to be the world's oldest Koran. The 7th century book was stolen by Timur and brought to Samarkand in the 16th century, then when the Russians occupied what is now present day Uzbekistan in 1868 they housed it in a museum in Moscow. The Koran was returned to Uzbekistan (then still part of Turkestan) as an act of goodwill by Lenin in 1924.
I also visited the 'State Museum of the History of Uzbekistan'. It is always interesting to see how countries perceive their own history, especially since Uzbekistan never really existed as an autonomous state before the Uzbek Soviet Socialist Republic was created in 1924 and its present political borders are the result of Stalin's whims rather than any political, cultural or historical background.
The museum's expositions remain fairly close to the truth though, describing how the several city states (Urgench, Khiva, Bukhara) thrived on the Silk Road.
A large section is of course dedicated to Uzbekistan's most famous historical figure: Timur (also known as Tamerlane), who had built the great Timuroid empire out of Samarkand, stretching as far as Russia in the North and the Arab peninsula in the south.
Like Jenghiz Khan in Mongolia, Timur is remembered as a great leader rather than a murdering tyrant (unfortunately the nearby Timur museum was closed, would have been interesting to see that as well)
The upper floor of the museum is dedicated to Uzbekistan's independence. A large section is reserved for its president, Islam Karimov, who has run the country since independence. Pure propaganda of course, but it has to be said that Karimov has managed to build a fairly stable economy in Uzbekistan. Despite not having the oil reserves Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan have, Uzbekistan seems to be doing quite all right for itself.
And while it is obvious that Karimov is a dictator, at least he refrained from building gold statues in honour of himself, like the president of Turkmenistan, or plastering his face on billboards and public buildings all over the country, like the presidents of Tajikistan and Kazakhstan.
And that was pretty much all there was to see in Tashkent. The city's old centre, or what's left of it after the 1966 earthquake, is a rather charmless maze of streets which resembles a shanty town, rather than a historic heart. There is some interesting architecture, but most of the buildings are grey remnants of the Soviet era. Basically Tashkent is just a very large Soviet style city, with wide boulevards and many city parks. Not unpleasant, but not overly interesting either.
One thing was very cool though. Tashkent is a great city for the Dutch. No, let me rephrase, Tashkent is a great city for any nationality doing well in a football world cup. After Holland's win in the quarter final last night everybody seemed to want to be my friend when I mentioned I was from Galandia. No, seriously, complete strangers in the street would ask me the question where I was from, and as soon as I mentioned Holland they'd shake my hand, hug me, or worse!
Football (soccer) is very popular here in Uzbekistan.
Tashkent has a similar system with taxis as Ashgabat: almost every car is a taxi. A nice addition here is that as a passenger you have to tell the driver how much the fare is. This means that competition is quite high and it minimises the risk of rip-offs.
After my failed attempt to eat at a place listed in the Lonely Planet, I opted for a restaurant Dervish, at a stone's throw from my hotel. A good choice. I had stir fried chicken with honey and nuts and a salad with prunes, apple, sour cram and garlic. A delightful meal and without a doubt the highlight of my day!