Arriving in Uzbekistan
In the plane to Tashkent a proper portion of meat is served, Soviet style. It comes with… more meat: A huge piece of turkey leg in a fat crust and as side dish two heavy sausages. A common proverb in Russia states “The Russian always wins.” Vegetables are obviously for losers.
Once landed we are immediately introduced to the Nation’s #1 sport: pushing and shoving. By the way it seems to be the only sport they exercise on a regular basis: The average Uzbek man and woman have rather stout features. I think this fits perfectly to the local woman fashion: velvet is the favored cloth, and it comes in floral prints or with glittery strass – most of the times both.
A homely feeling… behind the walls
Our guest house is in a district of Tashkent which at first glance looks peculiar to us: Besides walls and iron gates there is not much to see! It looks as if all houses have turned their backs towards the streets. Later we will learn that this type of living district is typical for Uzbekistan and that we should not judge from the outside looks: behind every wall hides a cozy backyard, where the social life takes place. The guest house is no exception and we find a few trees, some banks to sit on and a welcoming host family that receives us with a steaming pot of tea and warm words.
Guess what: Traveling can make you a millionaire in a minute!
Hell, yeah, we are happy to have sold our car in Georgia and thus have enough cash in hand when we enter Uzbekistan. Here, things are a bit different than back home: Money withdrawal from our bank account at the ATMs is possible – and of course at the official rates. What we did not know: there is an inofficial rate, which is almost double, that means changing your cash USD or EUR on the black market makes everything you pay in this country half as expensive.
We are lucky to meet a nice Belgian, who explains us the black market exchange rates and even exchanges his last local currency – the Uzbek Som – to us. By the way, the recently introduced top-end 5000-Som bill is worth about 1 US-Dollar (October 2015), and not very common in other places than the capital. Imagine us changing 100 Dollars and getting back a plastic bag full of 1000-Som notes as the money would not fit any of our pockets.
Our favorite: Exploring the Chorsu Bazaar
We roam the sheer endless corridors of the Chorsu (that means “Grand”) Bazaar. Resembling a circus tent, the huge domed central building holds hundreds of counters offering meat, salads and dairy products. Looking down from the first floor (the nut and snacks compartment) the Bazaar looks a bit like a financial stock market after a farmers’ riot.
Also the buzz and hassle in the streets just outside the Grand Bazaarof Tashkent are enchanting. Several black market money exchangers sing „Change Dollar Euro Som“ in an endless repetition while a corpulent woman grabs firmly into her bra to store a bundle of Som notes from her last sale. You smell some fresh local flat breads rocking back and forth in huge baskets on the handles of the bakerboy’s bike passing by. Next to you a modified baby carriage serves as mobile sales counter for the lemon saleswoman. And so forth…
Sampling the entire street food stands we discover several culinary delights that day, including:
- Uzbek Baklava (recipe)
- Lagmon (a Schawarma like sandwich, russified by adding a huge blot of mayonnaise),
- Small Sharon apples
- Roasted apricot stones
Try them out when you have a chance!
Discovering Tashkent’s sights
The city itself does not have many historic sights. We begin our city walk at the impressively vast architectural complex Khazrati Imam – our first encounter with One Thousand and One Nights. Many more shall follow in the next weeks. Also the Juma Mosque next to the Chorsu Bazaar is a pretty, old building.
The old town’s alleys are nice, but you cannot see much more than wall and door, and an occasional bakery stall. In contrast to the appearance of the old town, the modern part of the town is built from scratch and reminds us of the bloodless buildings of Skopje, Macedonia.
Nevertheless, we absorb the top-notch socialistic architecture of Hotel Uzbekistan and walk around the proud statue of Amir Temur, the father of the nation, posing like Alexander the Great in Skopje in the saddle of a mighty, rearing stallion. In contrast to the Macedonian capital, the new city district has plenty of green areas, which adds a fresh, light touch to the concrete-heavy monuments making the area much more enjoyable.
Tip: Use the metro system and taxis to get around Tashkent – it is a too huge city to walk! Also, the marble walled metro stations themselves with crystal chandeliers are worth discovering.
With the old town on one hand and the modern town on the other, Tashkent seems a bit stuck in traditions, but halfway arrived in modernity. The capital’s colorful and very Uzbek scenes make a lovely experience no visitor should miss. Other cities in Uzbekistan are much more touristic and of less authentic character.
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