As for most visitors, Tashkent was our first stop in Uzbekistan. As we arrived early in the morning we decided to go to our hotel for a quick show and a nap before heading out to explore the city. Tashkent is not the most exciting city in the world, especially not if you are walking around in a slight , travel-induced, daze. From an architectural point of view it definitely cannot compete with Khiva, Bukhara or Samarkand, although its history is as old. Much of old Tashkent was destroyed by a powerfull earthquake in 1966, while other parts, like the Shayhantaur Complex, fell victim to over-zealous Soviet city planning. Nevertheless, there are enough places for you to visit to keep busy for a day or two – one of the most stunning places being the Tashkent Metro.
The Tashkent Metro
The Tashkent metro was opened in 1997, the seventh to be build in the former Soviet Union and the first in Central Asia, and each station is designed around a particular theme, like the Alisher Navoi Metro station, which is dedicated to the medieval poet Ali-Shir Nava’i. The Tashkent Underground also doubled as a nuclear bunker and hence was considered to be a military facility for most of its lifetime and as a consequence it was strictly forbidden to take pictures of the metro stations and the trains. Fortunately, the ban was lifted in 2018 and you can now take photos to your hearts content with or without tripod (something that is definitely not allowed on the London underground !! If you are setting up a tripod you might get approached by one of the security guards, but in my case it was always out of curiosity and we ended up having a friendly chat – one of them being amazed how I managed to make people vanish in my photos due taking long exposure shots.
At the entrance of the Metro Stations we occasionally saw a security guard looking like they might check luggage and bags but it never happened to us. Using the Tashkent Metro was very easy and completely hassle-free.
Tashkent Metro consists of 3 lines and to enter the network you have to buy a Metro token at the ticket office, which, in 2019, set you back about 12 pence (or the equivalent of 1400 Uzbek Som). Once you are inside you can take as many rides as you want and explore the stations to your hearts content. Alisher Navoi and Mustallik Maydoni Train stations are, in my opinion, two of the more beautiful stations to visit.
If you want to experience “local Uzbek life” than you could do much worse than visiting the Chorzu Bazaar in Old Tashkent. The market is bustling with people buying, selling and bartering over everything from rugs to Naan Breads. The main blue dome caters mostly for “carnivores” as nearly all of the ground floor is taken up by stalls selling meat products (such as horse meat sausages etc), while on the second floor the shopkeepers flog dried fruits and nuts to the jostling crowds. From the main blue dome, the market spills out into surrounding halls and onto the streets and alleyways of old Tashkent. There are “halls” solely devoted to vegetables, fruits and sweets – there is even a hall that sells nothing else but Naan Breads – while at the makeshift street stalls you can pick up produce that has probably come directly from a farm in the morning, not to mention any household items you might need. The market is definitely a local affair as there are not many tourists around and definitely worth exploring.
Unfortunately, my partner and I visited the Chorzu market the day we arrived in Uzbekistan and were too knackered to fully appreciate the size and the wonders of Chorzu bazaar. However, this gives us a good reason to return to Uzbekistan one day, one of many.
Walking north from the Chorzu Bazaar takes you into the old heart of Tashkent and eventually to the Khast-Imam Square. Unfortunately, parts of the Old Town, which has been described in one guide book as: “Ladas rust under mud and timber entrance halls once reserved for horse and cart. Open doorways afford a glimps of vine-shaded courtyards and quiet prosperity”, has been destroyed in order to build a new, humongous, mosque right next to the Khast-Imam Square. Hence, rather than walking among mud-baked walls and scurrying through narrow alleyways you may end up walking among rubble, depending from which side you approach the square. Nevertheless, large parts of the Old Town remain intact and there are still plenty of alleyways left to explore and to get lost in.
Finding the Khast-Imam Square took a little while, as it is not sign-posted, and some of the alleyways on our map had disappeared. However, after having walked what seemed like an eternity through stifling heat and having bought some drinks at a corner shop, we finally emerged on the square. This complex consists of the Tellya Sheikh Mosque, the Muyie Mubarak Library and the Hazrati Imam Jome Mosque, nowadays the largest mosque in Taskent. However, I am not sure how long the Hazrati Imam mosque will retain this status, considering the large construction site right next to it.
The main attraction on the square, however, is the Muyie Mubarak Library, which contains the Uthman Quran. Until very recently, the Uthman Quran was thought to be the oldest Quaran in the world. However, recent research suggests the the oldest version of the Quran is not located in Uzbekistan but at the University of Birmingham in the UK. The UK copy has been radiocarbon dated to the period between 568 and 645 CE with an accuracy of 95.4%, while the Uthman Quran was most likely written in the 8th or 9th century CE making it “only” the 6th oldest Quran in the world!
The TV Tower
The final destination on our first day in Uzbekistan was the TV Tower, which happened to be close to our hotel. The TV Tower, at 375m is the second tallest structure in Central Asia, the tallest structure being an industrial chimney in Kazakhstan. Outside the TV Tower, you can find a collection of models of all the tallest structures in the world (apart from the chimney). After paying about £1.00 and handing in our passports, my partner and headed up to the 100m observation deck, where we had an ice tea while waiting for the sun to set over Tashkent. Sunset was not overly exciting because of haze and because Tashkent does not really have a skyline, it being a flat, featureless expanse of houses and low-level apartment blocks.
After visiting the TV tower we started to look for a spot of supper and stumbled across the Sarbon Art Gallery Restaurant. Things did not go quite according to plan as we had not quite worked out how to communicate that one of us was a vegetarian, i.e. we did not quite manage to get the message of “no meat” across, even with a translation app on the phone. Some of the dishes which we believed to be vegetarian were definitely not vegetarian. Although, this was probably due to a breakdown in communications, the fact that some dishes turned up uncooked wasn’t. So we made a mental note to find another place next time and to improve our communication strategy, even though my chicken dish was OK.
After having a good night’s sleep and some breakfast my partner and I headed to the Independence Square. On the way we met two friendly and well-dressed (suit and tie well-dressed) students, who helped us to decipher the Cyrillic Metro station names and then accompanied us to the Independence Square, which actually looks a bit more like a park than a square.
The Independence Square is the main center of the Uzbek government with the senate, the treasury and varies other government buildings located around it. One of the nicest parts of the Independence Square area is the “Glory and Memory Alley”, which was constructed in honour of the Uzbek soldiers who died in WW2. The alley starts with the Motherland Statue and the “Eternal Flame” and is lined on both sides with wooden carved columns. Between these columns gilded steel panels, inscribed with the names of the soldiers who died in combat, are located.
The Shayhantaur Ensemble is tucked away in the grounds of Tashkent’s new Islamic University, just nort of Navoi Street. We would have missed the turning if it hadn’t been for a friendly Uzbek who pointed us in the right direction. The ensemble consists of three 15th century mausoleums (probably the oldest in Tashkent) and are the only survivors of a Muslim complex of about 16 Mosques and Madrassas founded in the 14th century with the burial of a local saint. An old coniferous tree, called the Saur of Iskander, sprouts from the interior of one of the mausoleums. As I found out later, the Saur is a local conifer variety, which apparently was already all but extinct in the 15th century.
The Shayhantaur is a short walk from the Independence Square and there is no entrance fee.
After we left the Shayhantaur Ensemble we suddenly realised, while walking back to the tube station, that all the cars (well, most of the cars, about 98%) in Tashkent were white. On closer inspections it turned out that not only were all these cars white but they were all white Chevrolets. It turns out that the Chevrolets are produced by GM Uzbekistan, a Joint venture between Uzbek OJSC UzAvtosanoat and General Motors in the Uzbek town of Asaka. In 2012, 94% (OK not 98%) of all the cars sold in Uzbekistan were Chevrolets, making it the car’s company most monopolised market. The reason why all the cars are white has more to do with the price than with reflecting the sunlight and preventing the cars getting hot inside.
After visiting the Shayantur Complex we jumped into the next metro and headed to the Alisher Navoi National Park.
Alisher Navoi National Park
The Alisher Navoi National Park is s one of Uzbekistan’s largest urban parks and was founded by the All-Union Leninist Young Communist League in 1932 on the site of an quarry of an old brick works. It is name after Alisher Navoi (1441-1501) who was one of the greatest poets of Central Asia. The park contains a large variety of plants and trees ( as horse chestnut, spruce, willow, sycamor) as well as some that were completely unkown to us. We strolled through the park for a while, past a lake, through tree lined avenues to the “world’s largest monument” of Alisher Navoi, a huge rotunda under which stands a large statue of the poet. Other notable buildings in the park include the Uzbek Parliament and the Abdulkasim Medressa.
Having done some research the previous night we then headed to the Afsono restaurant, which did get good reviews and seemed to be vegetarian friendly, for a spot of dinner.
After two days in Tashkent we flew to Urgench in order to visit Khiva and this nearly went horribly wrong . After getting up at 5.30 in the morning we caught a taxi and drove to the airport and we got there in good time. We walked past security into the terminal, thinking that we had plently of time on our hands. Unfortunately, we could not find our flight on the departure board. Slightly bewildered we asked the Uzbek Airline ground staff what was going on and they told us that we were at the International Terminal (Terminal 2) but our flight was leaving from the Domestic Terminal (Terminal 3), which happens to be on the other side of the airport. So we grabbed our bags, ran out of the Terminal, past the security and jumped into the first available taxi. We were so panicked that we did not even negotiate properly for the fare, plus we were now running a bit late. The taxi driver must have been used to tourists mixing up the terminals as he only overcharged us a little bit and then drove us at great speed round the airport to the Terminal 3. We just made it in time to catch our flight.
Tashkent: General Information
Eat & Sleep
Our favourite place to eat in Tashkent was the Afsona Restaurant (30 Tarras Shevchenko Str.) which served, what I would call, contemporary Uzbek food, including a variety of vegetarian options. The food was absolutely delicious and they serve the most amazing rasperry tea! On our arrival we stayed at the Navruz Hotel Tashkent while on hour way back we spend a night at the Jahongir B&B Tashkent. In both cases, the staff were friendly, the rooms were clean and they are both easy to get to. However, if I went again I would probably go to the Jahongir as it is a bit more atmospheric and authentic than the Navruz Hotel, but you won’t go wrong with either of them. If you want you can also try the Sarbon Art Gallery Restaurant, maybe you have better luck than us.
Getting around Tashkent
The easiest way to get around Tashkent is by metro as it is cheap, easy, safe, hassle-free and it stops you getting stuck in traffic jams which is always a risk when taking either a bus or a taxi. Similarly, to the metro buses are very cheap (~1400 Som) and run between 6am and 12pm. Alternatively you can grab a taxi of which there are two varieties, namely those that you call via a ride-hailing app such as Yandex (the Russian Version of Uber) or you flag down from the side of the street. Although the latter might be cheaper, make sure that you agree a price with the driver before you get into the cab. The prices of the former are pretty much fixed. Apart from getting to and from the airport we did not use taxis or buses in Taskent and relied solely on the Metro and walking to get around.
For onwards travel to Khiva, Bukkhara, Samarkand etc, you have the choice between rail and air-travel as Tashkent is connected to every major city in Uzbekistan either by train or by air. In addition, trains leave for Russia and Kazakhstan from Tashkent Central Station, but if you want to travel to Kyrgistan, Turkmenistan or Tajikistan you need to get a flight.
Tashkent, has several train stations but you are most likely to leave from the Central Train Station, which is located at the end of the Taras Shevchenko Street. Note that, in order to buy tickets you need to go to the ticket hall, which is located in a separate building.
For domestic flights head to Tashkent International Airport Terminal 3 while international flights leave from Terminal 2. Note that both terminals are seperated by the runway and the only way to get from one two the other is by taxi or by bus. As a consequence you will have to pick up your luggage, go through security and check-in again for a connecting flight