Tashkent, a new city in Uzbekistan
Tashkent is the first stopover of almost all travelers who decide to visit Uzbekistan. Bur for me, it was my last stop, before going to Kazakhstan. Indeed, I didn’t go straight to Uzbekistan by plane, but overland from Turkmenistan… And I already had the opportunity to visit Bukhara and Samarkand, before getting to the Uzbek capital, Tashkent.
Everyone agreed about one thing, when I was reading other traveler’s opinions about Uzbekistan “There’s no need to spend a lot of time in Tashkent, it’s a big city and there’s not much to see. Two days are enough, there’s a lot better elsewhere in Uzbekistan” When you start visiting Uzbekistan with Tashkent, you don’t know what you’re missing elsewhere in the country, because you haven’t seen anything else with your own eyes yet! Moreover, there are things to visit in Tashkent. But when your last stop is Tashkent, like me… Yes I have to admit it, you’re not blown away by the city.
Unlike its comrades Nukus, Khiva, Bukhara or Samarkand, Tashkent doesn’t look like an old city, with an ancient history and 2000 years old tourist attractions. Actually, it looks more like a recent city. That’s what I was thinking and I found out why, after talking to a local.
On April 26th 1966, an earthquake that registers 7.5 on the Richter magnitude scale destroyed most of the city. About 78000 homes didn’t survive the earthquake and were destroyed, and 300000 Uzbeks became homeless. Everything had to be rebuilt, and there’s not much left from the Silk Road era in the city. I met an old man who was there when the disaster happened. He told us he lost everything, and he had left to Samarkand for a few years, before heading back to Tashkent.
I already talked about it before, but in Uzbekistan, I’m a star! They keep asking to get a picture with me. Yeah and they also honk at me, wave at me from their cars, twice guys in their cars did a U-turn when they saw me, and stopped alongside me for a picture! Like Tehran, a brave person asks for a picture, and 15 come out of nowhere to get their own picture as well. Even kids come talk to me (it happened in Mandalay, Myanmar as well).
In fact… They try to communicate with me! Because English hasn’t infiltrated all the different areas in the world. Very few people speak English in Uzbekistan and in Central Asia in general, even the young people! Don’t forget, we are in ex-USSR… In the hostel it’s ok (actually not always!), but in general it’s complicated. You really need to speak Russian in order to completely enjoy your stay in Uzbekistan. The few ones who speak English almost all came to me in the street, asking me if I was lost, if I needed some help… Very kind 🙂 And they keep asking me if I’m married, if I have kids, what I’m doing for a living in France…
Anyway, this area is really a crossroads between Asia, Russia and the Middle East. I can see readheaded guys with green slanting eyes in the street. There’s also an important police presence outside. Cops are all over the place, every 50 meters (164 feet) you can see one. I was seriously wondering if they put all those cops to combat the unemployment rate in the country.
Because when you take the subway in Tashkent, it’s the same. A first guy at the subway entrance search through your bag. A little bit further, after paying your subway ticket (a token for 1200 som, less than 0.15€…), two other guys do the same. Three guys to search through one bag, I don’t know if it’s necessary… They’re bored as fuck, for sure! I saw a cop on duty hitting on a girl, taking her phone number, and leaving her with with a knowing wink. Daily routine!
I didn’t stay very long in Tashkent, since I followed other travelers’ advice who visited the city before me. Still, there are a few places to see. Amir Timur Museum, that you can also find on the 1000 soms bills. Museum in the honor of Amir Timur (also called Tamerlane), a conqueror who lived in Samarkand during the 14th century. I can’t tell anything more. Yes I passed by the museum, yes it was open, and no I didn’t get in. I’m not much into museums…
But there’s also the Amir Timur Park not very far, with of course a big statue of Amir Timur. A lot of young people in the park when I went there, and couples. Just behind the park, you’ll see the Hotel Uzbekistan, and its particular architecture. Back in the days, when tourists were coming to visit Tashkent, they had to stay in this hotel. Yes, there was only one hotel in the city, this one.
Independence Square deserves a stopover. Formerly called Lenin Square, Independence Square is in the heart of the city (there’s no real city center here…), and attracts a lot of locals. Independence Square hosts special events of the city, military parades…
But there’s also the Hazrati Imam mosque, the cathedral of the Assumption of the Virgin, the Chorsu bazaar (no pics, a big crowd formed around me to get pictures. When I finally left one hour later, I realized I didn’t take any picture of the bazaar!), Alisher Navoi park, Kukeldash madrasah, Tashkent “sirk” (circus), the Tashkent Television tower (it’s possible to get on top for 45000 soms, less than 5 euros, but it’s forbidden to take pictures once you’re on top), the plov center next to the tower to eat the best plov in the city…
As you probably noticed now, there are things to see in the city! Take three days to discover the Uzbek capital!
Info to visit Tashkent
- Like Iran and Turkmenistan, I wrote an article with several travel tips about Uzbekistan (visa, money, safety…). Check it out!
- You’ll probably need a visa to get in the country (check the visa policy here!). Go to the embassy in your home country (if there’s one!), or if you’re long-term traveling, you can apply on the road like I did. I applied for the visa in Baku, and I asked to pick up my visa in Tehran (to avoid wasting time). I paid 75 US dollars, for a 30-day visa. Check the fees if you apply in your home country, it might be different.
- Do not go to Uzbekistan without a travel insurance! You never know what could happen!
- From Samarkand, it will cost you 50000 soms (a little bit more than 5 euros) to go to Tashkent by train. It will take three hours and a half. From Bukhara, they have afrosiyob, their fast train. It takes three hours to go to Tashkent from Bukhara by afrosiyob. But I don’t have the prices.
- I stayed in two hostels, Topchan Hostel and Art Hostel, because I went to Tashkent twice. Both are great! Topchan is the reference of the city when it comes to hostels, and that’s where I stayed first. When I went back to Tashkent, Topchan was fully booked (victim of its own success!). So I went to Art Hostel, a bit more expensive but also great! And there’s a swimming pool if you wanna take a dip…
- If needed, get an Uzbekistan travel guide.
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