My first view of Tashkent, the capital of Uzbekistan was at 2 am on a September morning in 2015 when my flight from Delhi landed. Of course, I saw nothing except lights !
An hour later, after having cleared immigration and customs, I was out and had my ‘second’ look at Tashkent on the short drive from the international to the domestic airport where I was to take my connecting flight to Nukus. The street lights revealed clean and broad tree-lined roads and a deliciously cool and crisp night air — a welcome relief from the heat and humidity of Mumbai and Delhi. A few hours later I saw Tashkent again, this time in daylight and again from the air. A green and lush city spread out below me and I could see only a few buildings breaking through that cover. I looked forward to returning to Tashkent and exploring if before boarding my return flight home.
10 days later, I was boarding the Afrosiyob bullet train at Samarqand for a super smooth and fast ride to Tashkent. But once there, I wasn’t as excited as I was expecting it to be. Maybe it was the prospect of my Uzbekistan trip coming to an end or maybe it was because the hotel I was staying in Tashkent goofed up my booking, or maybe it was because I didn’t get a decent vegetarian dinner that night. Or maybe it was all of the above.
The strange, reluctant mood spilled over to the next morning as I set off to meet Natalya, my guide, rather half-heartedly. On the way, I came across a building with colourful artwork painted on one of its walls. I can’t tell you what a mood changer that sight was and quite suddenly I was ready to explore the Tashkent 🙂
Tashkent is considered to be about 2200 years old based on archaeological findings. The earliest settlements in the area date back to the 1st or 2nd century BCE. Tashkent was on the Silk Route and at major caravan crossroads. Tashkent’s famous bazaar, the Chorsu (or crossroads) is supposed to date back from that time.
The city got its name Toshkent — which means ‘City of Stone’ in Turkic — sometime in the 11th century CE. Like all places in Uzbekistan, Tashkent has had many rulers — Arabs, Khorezmshahs, Mongols, Timurids, Shaybanids, and finally the Khan of Kokand till the Russians annexed it in 1865.
When the Russians took over Tashkent, it was a walled city with 11 gates, of which nothing remains today. Due to its location, Tashkent became the centre for Russian/Soviet espionage activity in Asia, especially during its rivalry with Britain (also known as the Great Game). Most Indians connect with Tashkent due to the Tashkent Declaration that ended the 1965 Indo-Pak War and the subsequent death of the then Indian Prime Minister, Lal Bahadur Shastri.
Not much remains of Tashkent’s historical past due to a devastating earthquake that leveled the city and left thousands homeless in April 1966. The Tashkent that one sees today, even the historical part, has been rebuilt through the 60s to the 80s. Modern Tashkent is a sprawling city and is a mix of the traditional Uzbeki villages and neighbourhoods, the stodgy Russian part, and the modern part that the city is developing into.
I was in Tashkent for 2 days and on the first day, I had Natalya to introduce me to the city and its history, its recent past, present and possible future and take me to some of the city’s sights. Natalya is of Russian origin and it was good to get a different perspective of Uzbekistan through her life’s experiences and little nuggets of information and wisdom. She also introduced me to lemon green tea, of which I have become a lifelong fan !
There was no guide the second day, which was a Sunday. I spent that morning attending mass at the Uspensky or Holy Assumption Cathedral, a Russian Orthodox Church, and then at the Amir Timur Museum. That afternoon was devoted to exploring some of Tashkent’s beautiful metro stations and each one’s unique designs. Unfortunately, photography is prohibited and the descriptions of my favourite metro stations there will have to suffice: the terracotta-like work on the walls of the Hamid Olimjon; the woodcut-like artwork at Bunyodkor; the painted reliefs of men playing the daf, reading the Qur’an, etc. at Chilonzor; lamps shaped like cotton flowers at Ozbekistan; and the ethereal, softly-lit glass pillars with pictures of Russian and Uzbek astronauts at Cosmonaut.
Presenting some captures of Tashkent taken over my two days there. Clicking on any of the photographs will enlarge it and open a slide show. You can then use the left or right arrow keys to navigate the photographs and their accompanying captions.
Prior to my visit to Uzbekistan, I had tried to read up on the basics of each of the places I planned on visiting. I was surprised to find just howl little information there is on Tashkent, and what little there is quite dismissive. This includes guidebooks like Bradt and Lonely Planet as well. After having visited Tashkent, I can say that this is quite unfair and harsh. True, Tashkent is not grand as Samarqand or charming as Bukhara or mysterious as Khiva, but that doesn’t mean the city has nothing going for it.
My two days of exploring Tashkent was deliberately slow and relaxed. Even though, I didn’t see most of what the city has to offer I came away both surprised and delighted by this city of parks, memorials, museums, and canals.
I was delighted to see how clean and well-maintained the city was, and surprised to see how few people there were on the roads. Yes, I was there on a Sunday, but still.
I was delighted to see a Braille version of the Qur’an at the Islāmic Centre. It stood out prominently among the tens different versions, sizes and types of the Qur’an from all over the world and from different periods in time. I was surprised to see only Tamil and Hindi versions of the Qur’an from India.
I was delighted to see the cosmopolitan nature of Tashkent and variety of facial features seen, much like in India. But I was also surprised to find fewer people who understood English, unlike in other cities in Uzbekistan.
I was delighted to see a variety of restaurants in the city, but surprised at the options for vegetarian fare. I actually ended up eating Pizza Margherita !
I was delighted to find a beautiful, modern city with traditional enclaves and surprised to see so few tourists there.
I do plan on visiting Uzbekistan again to explore the regions I haven’t been to yet. That time, Tashkent will not just be a transit city, it will be a destination too. 🙂
My Dream Trip Uzbekistan Series:
Dear Uzbekistan | A city called Nukus | Art in the Desert: The Savitsky Collection at Nukus | Mizdahkan: A city for the dead | 3 forts & a dakhma | Itchan Kala of Khiva | There’s something about Bukhara! | Monumental Bukhara | The Jewish Heritage of Bukhara | Shakhrisabz: The home town of Amir Timur | The Registan Square of Samarqand | The blue city of Samarqand | The silk paper factory at Konigil | The surprise & delight that was Tashkent | Uzbekistan: The food & markets special | The Uzbekistan trip planner |