Everybody Wants To Rule The World
Tashkent Travel Blog› entry 73 of 80 › view all entries
Uzbekistan is technically a republic, but most travel guides are reasonably scathing about the level of democracy practiced in the country, as the president (and the police) exercise control over most aspects of everyday life. However the situation in reality seems nothing like as bad as the guide books make it sound and for visitors, apart from the large number of police (who generally leave tourists alone), and the bizarre currency, it is actually an easy and reasonably relaxed place to visit.
I had been expecting Tashkent to be packed full of lavish public buildings and indeed it does have its fair share but there is a refreshing lack of statues of the president - in fact I can not recall seeing any - quite a contrast with China where every town seems to have a statue of Mao.
The Tashkent underground is impressive, many of the stations are modern architectural masterpieces. You are not supposed to take photos of the stations, and wary of a run-in with the police we stick to the rules, but I suspect with a small camera you could easily get away with it. We are expecting a police shake-down in the underground but it can't be as common as in the past as we make 6 or 7 trips and are only stopped once and then they are very polite with not the slightest attempt to extort money from us. (We hear that in the last two or three years there has been a big crackdown on corrupt police).
We take the metro to the Chorsu a huge covered market on the edge of the old town and walk back into the centre via the main mosque and two very pretty mausoleums.
We walk through the main park which has a couple of large and strangely designed conference halls, but the place seems oddly quiet. Later we discover that today is a public holiday (Teachers Day). Clearly locals don't sit in the park on their day off. Better are the memorials in the centre of town. One is the Crying Mother a monument to the Uzbeks who died in WWII and the other we visit is a memorial to those who died in the massive 1966 earthquake that left much of Tashkent in ruins.
This is our last day in Uzbekistan and we have enjoyed it, much more so than I ever expected. The sights, particularly the 3 cities of Samarkand, Khiva and Bukhara are all excellent, but to me Samarkand especially the Registan is the standout. The big surprise is how easy it has been to travel independently. Hotels and guest houses have generally been comfortable and reasonable value. The people have been particularly friendly with little evidence of the shady dealings and corruption we had been led to expect. The worst aspect has been the food which is uninspiring and based on my experience, hygiene standards are low as I was ill (though not badly) 3 times in 2 weeks which is the worst I have been in any country. I'm not sure I'll be rushing back but if the rest of central Asia is anything like Uzbekistan I'd been keen to see some more of this part of the world (but I should learn a little Russian first).