Bukhara Travel Blog› entry 29 of 94 › view all entries
I think I have aged about ten years since leaving Delhi. The reason was because of a nervous and prolonged wait at Delhi airport where after checking in and getting the boarding passes, we were asked for our visa invitation letter. Proudly I produced the piece of paper that said boldly VIZA TALABNOMASI. As I didn't read Uzbek, I assumed that this translated to "Letter of Invitation" and the stamps, which we needed, were in order. Unfortunately, it didn't and they weren't therefore it meant a long and stressful hour or so waiting for a man from the Uzbekistan Consulate to arrive and say "yay' or 'nay' to us flying to Tashkent.
Time ticked as we waited patiently, looking fearfully at anyone official looking who turned up to the airline counter.
The flight from Delhi to Tashkent was on Uzbekistan Airlines and I'm not sure if service was taught or even valued by the crew. Drinks were provided while we were sitting on the tarmac and I asked if one of them was diet (due to an allergy I have), only to have the stewardess roll her eyes at me, walk away and from the seats behind me yell out in a strong Uzbek accent "No Diet!" Right, first impressions of the people were not off to a good start.
Arriving at Tashkent airport, we made our way to the 'Visa On Arrival' office.
The man didn't ask for anything else, just US dollars for the visa, printed off the sticker and passed the passports back.
Arriving in Tashkent airport you have to go through the customs and have your baggage checked before you can go outside and haggle for a taxi. Taxis in Uzbekistan are easily identifiable - it's a car. From my understanding anyone who has a car supplements their income by offering rides as a taxi and this is how we travelled to our accommodation. The man drove like he was time trialing for the Formula One and we broke several land speed records as well as orange, and very dark orange, lights to get there. Finally checked in, we had a chance to explore the city.
Walking outside in Tashkent was like walking in an oven, which someone had obviously kept on for few hours and had the fan bake setting on high.
Impressions of Uzbekistan are of a country not quite Asian and not quite European. Although there is still a Russian feel to Tashkent with regard to the architecture, a lot of the Russians left the area to return to the motherland after Uzbekistan independence in 1991. As I am so fascinated with the location - Central Asia, I have been asking random Uzbekistan people how they feel themselves; Asian or European? And depending on their heritage, you get a different answer. A lot of the Russians, who still live there consider themselves Uzbekistaneze (upon reflect I'm not sure what the correct term is for a person from Uzbekistan), but also definitely Russian.
While in Tashkent, we braved the Metro. We had heard anecdotical reports of the police hassling foreign travellers, but I found them helpful and quick to laugh (especially when practicing my recently learned Uzbek). The stations themselves are stunning and quite spectacular - like a museum building with the beautiful stained glass windows and marble, except unlike a museum there are no photos allowed within the stations.
Tashkent is very easy to get around and the Metro very affordable. Each ride is 500 som, which equates to about 0.30 US cents (based on the official exchange rate as there is a well established black market which gives you a much better rate).
With regard to the Black Market, much like the 'taxi drivers', everyone appears to be in the money racket. This was further confirmed to me when an elderly lady approached us in the supermarket asking in a hushed yet strongly Russian accented voice, "Do you need money?" I was walking past her in the aisle, stopped and asked her to repeat "Do you need change?" she said. I thanked her, but told her I had enough money for the moment where she smiled, walked on and said "Don't mention it." Possibly she meant 'don't mention it because this is an illegal trade and I am part of the Russian mafia and if you say anything to anyone I will hunt you down', or possibly she was just being polite.
From Tashkent we drove to Samarkand (approx 6 hours) that is home to the famous Registan. This city blew my mind - everything I had read and dreamed about was here - huge domes ... check, mardessa ... check, mausoleums ... check, tomb of St Daniel who is said to grow 18 centimetres each year and now his sarcophagus is 18 metres long ... check, Zoroastrian sites ... check, bazaars ... check. Nothing I write can explain the sheer joy I had just being here and after hours of sitting in the Registan, I felt satisfied having seen it. This was definitely one of the things I had on my bucket list - but for those who know me, this isn't surprising.
Samarkand was replaced with a new city - Bukhara (5 hours drive). This beautiful city was also on the Silk Road and walking around the old part provided numerous opportunities for photographs. Bukhara was certainly a photogenic destination and hot. Actually it was so hot that I think my eyeballs have been sweating. It is quite amazing to think this land suffers extremes in temperatures - so hot you stand outside for less than a minute and you are dripping with sweat, and severe cold temperatures which reach well into the minus during the winter.
Yes, Uzbekistan is a land of extremes - being part of the Silk Road, and also a location for Alexander the Great's campaigns, and a former member of the USSR, furthermore with a muddled bunch of ethnicities this place has been the centre of the known world for a long time, not just Central Asia. I am very happy to be here to share in their history ever so briefly and say that I too am in far east East Europe.
Salom from Uzbekistan