Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Tashkent - 7 September 2019

We had previously thought about travelling to “Stans” a few years ago, but other destinations took precedence.  In the intervening years, the area has opened up significantly in terms of welcoming travelers.  Of the 4 countries we visited this trip: 3 were visa free for NZ passports (Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan & Kazakhstan) and the other (Tajikistan) had an easy online visa application system. 


We had left Bangkok at 09:00am and traveled via Dubai arriving into Tashkent at 3:00am local time (5:00am Bangkok equivalent).  The immigration process turned out to be totally painless.  There were no immigration forms to fill in.  This is a huge contrast to 18 months ago when you had to fill in declarations detailing every cent on you and declare any medications.
The taxi to the hotel was a 10 minute drive at high speeds on clear roads at 03:30am.  The hotel staff were lovely contrary to reports of surliness. The staff had carried the bags up 2 flights of stairs and disappeared before we could offer them any money. A short sleep we were up again at eight. We did catch up on a couple of hours in the afternoon. But generally we transitioned very well.



We had a quiet day planned in Tashkent, walking about and getting into the swing of things. The weather was a dry heat at about 26 degrees. While it was sunny, there were plenty of shady trees, making us very comfortable.  It was lovely to see mass plantings of basil, along the edges of flower garden and streets.


At the statue of Timur, down by the Soviet styled Hotel Uzbekistan, we got interviewed for a few minutes by journalism students. We couldn't add much insight to their questions about our impressions of the country, as we had only been in the country literally a few hours.




We visited the Central Department store, a bit of a hangover from Soviet times.  It looked like a street shopping mall from the 1970s – not highly sophisticated, but there was some interesting Uzbek cotton items.  I read the day after that Uzbek cotton has only been removed from the banned substances in the US in May this year.  In the past, the cotton industry has had a very bad reputation, including using child labour to meet cotton quotas.  But the country has cleaned up its act and practices have improved.  There is some comment that now without the child labour  more "normal" workers are being forced to participate to make up the labour shortfall.

Lunch was delicious, at Afsona.  We got a bit off track (lost) walking there, but it was worth the extra few blocks. Delicious beef and mini fried dumplings. The dark, dark draft beer was surprisingly refreshing




After a quiet afternoon at about 6pm we walked 15 minutes to a recommended restaurant, Jumanji. There, we were turned away from a room that was less than 50% full.  I think we got “face controlled”.  This a local procedure whereby, if you don't look good enough - they turn you away.  A bit miffed, we walked 15 minutes back to the park which we had walked through earlier in the day.  Gone were the quiet lanes, instead the place was full  of families riding bikes, scooters, eating etc 
We went to the Registan cafe in the middle of the park.  They didn’t turn us away! And the food was delicious. 145,000 som  for two burek soups and shared kebab & 3 beers – USD 15.  It was so good that we returned the next might.  Everything works out in the end. 

We walked down to the metro and found the entry and ticket purchase process not too difficult. On the train men automatically stood for seats for women. The metro stations were grand soviet style



We had a walking route recommended by Caravanistan website and we set out for Tinchlick area There we walked to a more local market, which was basically only selling bread by late-morning. Andrew charmed a few ladies to take their photo and they responded by holding the bread up in front of their faces.



Old prams were the transport vehicle of choice for the bread. There were also long lines of melons and watermelons.   We walked through a cemetery before retreating to a mall for a lunch pizza. 


The route took us alongside a canal which gave us a look at the high walls of local houses with a lot of mud brick. And at one point we came across a wedding party. There were lots of trumpets but no bride, so probably it was the send off from the grooms home. 

Our next stop was the Khast Iman Square surrounded by lovely and large scale Islamic buildings.


By this time it was 3:00pm in the afternoon and we made a beeline to Chorsu market. We hoped to get a flavour of it before it closed. It was enormous. The lines of food stalls looked great. It had been our planned lunch stop but times had not worked for us.  There was one pop-up stall where ladies were selling a type of dumpling covered with red sauce which looked like some sort of fermented concoction. They were being run off their feet with people crammed around them jostling to get this delicacy, whatever it was



In the market vegetables were lined up en masse around the outside and if you knew what you wanted there was probably everything you could ever want.  Inside, in the circular hall, it was dominated by meats of various types, with everything from nose to tail. There were also cheeses and processed meats and upstairs nuts and dried fruits.


At 7 we went back to hotel picked up our bags and got them to organise a taxi to the southern train station. 22,000 som and about 20 minutes drive, we worked out how to convert our internet tickets into real tickets. We went through security,  and within 10 minutes were allowed to get on the train. Luxury 1st class it is not. But it is 1st class :-)  8.30 on the dot we headed off, expecting to be in Khiva at 11 tomorrow. 


Train and blurry photo of people picking cotton in the fields


Stayed at Sharq hotel which was quiet, well run and conveniently located.

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