As my Central Asian journey continued I walked over the border into Uzbekistan.. COUNTRY NUMBER 50!! – And half way to my goal!
Gone are the stunning landscapes of Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan and the surprising modernity of Kazakhstan. In its place the Silk Road. The ancient network of trade routes – yes there wasn’t just one singular route – between Europe and Asia from the 2nd Century BC to the 15th Century AD. In the centre of the northern route was Uzbekistan and the famous Silk Road cities of Samarkand, Bukhara and Khiva with their vibrant and grand Islamic architecture.
It is because of this that Uzbekistan is the most visited nation in Central Asia. You will definitely notice the tourists in Samarkand and Bukhara but interestingly in the capital city Tashkent, not so much. The Uzbek capital and largest city is not as often visited or talked about as the other regions of Uzbekistan.
History and Facts
Uzbekistan’s history is similar to that of neighbouring Tajikistan in that it was influenced heavily in the beginning by Persian states. It was part of Samanid Empire, the Mongols and then the Timurid Empire.
When the leader of the Timurid Empire, the conqueror Amir Timur died, the Empire was in turmoil. This gave opportunity for nomadic Uzbek tribes to settle here and eventually established numerous city states of Khanates, ruled by Khans, and Emirates, ruled by Emirs.
When the Russians arrived in the 1860’s – 1870’s Tashkent was annexed into Russia. The Emirates of Bukhara and Khiva remained as Emirates, but now within Russia.
In 1925 all three separate Uzbek speaking republics within the Soviet Union, including neighbouring Tajikistan, were all united to create the Uzbek Soviet Socialist Republic – one of the 15 fifteen republics of the Soviet Union. Tajikistan later separated from Uzbekistan in 1929.
Uzbekistan declared independence on 31 August 1991.
Uzbekistan is one of only two double landlocked countries in the world. That is, a country (Uzbekistan) landlocked by other landlocked countries (Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Afghanistan). The other double landlocked country is the small European Principality of Liechtenstein.
Uzbekistan is the third largest country in Central Asia by area but the largest in population with almost 33 Million people living in the country.
When: Days 13 – 18: 31 August 2018 – 5 September 2018
How: By foot.
An hour away from Khujand, Tajikistan there is a border crossing, Oybek. The Tajik frontier was smooth and easy. There was then about a kilometre walk to reach the Uzbek border where, not going to lie, it was a little chaotic. There were lines and, at the time, Uzbekistan had just introduced an e-visa system, which one of the computers of the border officers wasn’t recognising. Some patience, keeping our cool and then a customs check and we were through.
Tashkent: Hotel Wyndham – excellent hotel in a central spot for you to explore Tashkent.
Samarkand: Hotel Grand Samarkand
Bukhara: Komil Boutique Bukhara – a stunning hotel with wonderful staff and excellent location
Khiva: Hotel Asia – nice hotel, terrible wifi, but right next to the old city walls of Khiva
Visa: As of 2019, Australians, New Zealanders, British, Canadians and Europeans (except Albanians and North Macedonians) can visit Uzbekistan for 30 days, single entry, visa free. Which is way better than the stress I had to go through to get my e-visa in 2018.
Citizens of the USA, Albania and North Macedonia can apply for an e-Visa at a charge of US$20. You can check your requirements in more detail here.
Currency: Uzbekistani so’m. AU$1 = 6,704 So’ms. Uzbekistan is still heavily cash based, so having the local currency will be very handy. You can exchange US$ for so’ms but you will not be able to change it back at the end of your trip and it is not able to be exchanged elsewhere.
Tashkent is the capital and largest city of Uzbekistan with 2.5 million people living in the city. It was definitely busier than other cities on our trip. The other Uzbek cities of Samarkand, Khiva and Bukhara are, honestly, more exciting than Tashkent but I would still recommend giving it a day or two to explore it, even if at least to break up the journey to your next destination. Regardless, the highlights listed below can all be done in 1 day.
Monument of Courage:
One of my favourite sites in Tashkent was the Monument of Courage. This statue is dedicated to the victims of a large 5.2 magnitude earthquake (registered as around 8 because of its depth) that destroyed Tashkent on April 26 1966. It features a black stone that has a clock showing 5:23 (am), the moment when the earthquake struck. The stone is cracked, signifying the epicentre and the crack is followed by a larger crack in the ground that leads up to a man protecting his family from the earthquake.
Behind the statue are reliefs showing the restoration efforts where people from all over the Soviet Union came to Tashkent to help rebuild.
The monument is within walking distance from Central Tashkent, down the road from the Wyndham Tashkent Hotel.
Metro Stations: Another one of my favourite things to do while in Tashkent was admiring the metro stations. Tashkent has an extensive rapid transit system across the city and the metro stations have all been beautifully designed. Access to the metro station is by a token which costs approximately 1400 Uzbekistani Soms = AU$0.22. Remember cash is king here.
National War Memorial:
This memorial is quite sobering as it depicts a large statue of a mother mourning the loss of her son who died at war. The picture of pure grief over the woman’s face truly shows the horrors of war. She faces an eternal flame which has the grave of an unknown fallen Uzbek soldier under it. The names of all those who have died in wars are engraved on the walls around the area.
Down the road from the National War Memorial lies this fun pedestrian street. A wonder through here will give you a true insight into Tashkent nightlife. A variety of restaurants, clubs, shops and even street artists line this pedestrian boulevard. At night, the street was adorned with colourful and playful lighting, possibly because the next day was the Uzbek Independence Day holiday. The street links two important squares in Tashkent; Independence Square and Timur Square.
As a side note, Independence Square is also noted for containing the Monument of Independence of Uzbekistan, which is a globe with a map of Uzbekistan on it.
Timur Square is just two blocks down from Wyndham Tashkent Hotel (on Amir Temur Avenue) so if you were staying there you could walk the city in a big square – easily done in a day. The remaining two highlights can still be done in a day but are a little out of the way so you will need to look at some transport options.
Khast Imam Square: The square itself is vast and empty, no trees or shade. The square is similar to a number of squares you will see throughout Uzbekistan, flanked by a mosque and madrassa (an Islamic educational instituion). However, of particular interest here is the Muyi Mubarak Library which is said to have to oldest surviving version of the Qu’ran. This one is a little out of the way and not in walking distance. If you are using public transport, the metro will get you close to here but you will still have to walk a bit.
Chorsu Market: The main bazaar in Tashkent where you can find a variety of foods, Uzbekistani delicacies, handcrafts and goods and meet some locals. For me, any excuse to find some souvenirs to display at home is a very worthwhile.
Food wise, we decided to opt for some comfort food at a cafe for out dinner in Tashkent. Nothing special, nothing unusual, just some good old creature comfort foods like a cheeseburger and a coke. It’s the little things you miss and sometimes you have got to enjoy the little things.
One thing I did miss out on visiting was the Tashkent Tower. This is a tall TV signal tower that is the 11th highest tower in the world and has an observation deck on its top floor and two revolving restaurants below that.
And with that my one night in Tashkent was done. The next morning we boarded a high speed train that took me to the ancient and very well known city of Samarkand.
Have you been to Tashkent or Uzbekistan? Or are planning a trip there? Let me know your thoughts below.
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