I had not been to any country in Central Asia, before, hence I had narrowed my search to countries in that region. Uzbekistan was not that familiar a word to me, but cities like Tashkent, Bukhara, and Samarkand sounded somewhat familiar to me. I read all the travelogues on the net. Each blogger has written affectionately about this country and the people. So I decided to go there.
I searched for visa procedure, and I understood that it was possible to get e-visa. I could have done it myself, but decided to go thru ivisa.com . The documents required were passport scan, a clear photograph and address of the hotel. Proof of return air ticket, financial resources or even hotel booking was not required. So, it was done.
While looking for air tickets, many bloggers had suggested Uzbekistan Air. This airline does not appear on other ticketing websites but offers most convenient and economical connections from Mumbai, Delhi & Amritsar to Tashkent. The booking was done promptly. Fifteen days before the travel, I could select my favorite window seat. The website did not provide tools to book AVML hence I emailed them, and that was also done promptly.
As per the bloggers it would not have been too difficult for me to travel on my own, but I always prefer arranged personalized tours. I looked for some travel agencies in Delhi. They were very slow to respond and were offering stay only in Tashkent. (“Night Life” being their USP. This is a trap. There is no so called “Night Life” in Tashkent and most of the attractions are outside the capital.) So I looked for local tour guides and came across a wonderful organization toursbylocals. The quote was bit costly for a solo traveler like me, but I still went for it. The dealing with these people was wonderful. They did their part of planning and reminding very well.
I knew it would be winter in Uzbekistan, so I packed some winter clothing and thermals. I had written to Shokhrukh, (my selected tour guide), about me being vegetarian and he assured me that it would not be a problem.
I made booking with booking.com with Hotel Grant Arte, in Tashkent for a day. They immediately confirmed my booking and emailed a detailed guide note regarding how to reach them, from airport. (Including how should I bargain with Taxi Driver.)
The flight was on time. To my surprise, Masala Dosa was served for breakfast. The flight route was over Pakistan and Afghanistan. The skies were clear and I had wonderful clicks of snowclad peaks of Karakorum and Hindukush mountains. When we landed in Tashkent the temperature was -2 degrees centigrade.
The immigration and customs did not even take 10 minutes. The only document required was print out of my e-visa (apart from passport.) There was no declaration form required. Shokhrukh was waiting for me at exit. He took me to the hotel, and after check in, we immediately started our tour of Tashkent City.
I had not converted my dollars at the airport, so that was the first priority. We went to Hotel Uzbekistan to exchange. This is a very huge building of Soviet era. This hotel is still operational. You must have seen a photo of this hotel, but this is a different angle.
The exchange was quick. The currency of Uzbekistan is Som and the exchange rate as of January 2019 was 1 USD = 8,440 Som. Som does not have sub units. The notes are available in various denominations from 200 to 50000. Notes of 5000 or 10000 are more convenient to deal in.
It was lunch time. Hence we went to Shalimar Restaurant in Tashkent. The menu was typical north Indian. The ambience was very good. The service was prompt. The food was very tasty too. (It was bit hot and spicy for Shokhrukh.)
Being a capital city, the roads in Tashkent were quiet wide (4 lanes on each side) and there was not much of traffic.
We first went to Abdulla Murodxo’jayev 17a Mosque. It was just the introduction to Uzbekistan architecture for me. It had all the elements like huge prayer hall, minaret, decorated front gate, a lovely garden etc. which I was going to see for next seven days.
Here are some snaps of that complex.
We were allowed to enter the main prayer hall too. (Uzbekistan is very liberal. There are no restrictions on entries to any mosque. Some places require that you dress up decently, but that’s all.) The main prayer hall has beautifully decorated domes.
In Uzbekistan, you find a iwan (a gallery-like structure with one side or two sides entirely open). This structure is usually supported by beautifully carved wooden logs. The top portion of these logs, is always beautifully carved.
Then we went to Khazrati Imam Architectural Complex. (In Uzbeki language A gets converted to O. So Imam may be written as Imom and Naan as Non ) These buildings were restored in year 2007, but the original style was kept intact. All the buildings look very beautiful, but it is difficult to capture on camera. Here are my trials !
Muyi Muborak Madrasah is said to have been built on hair of The Prophet. Besides, it is famous for the great Islamic relic kept in its library, the Uthman Koran (also known as Samarkand Kufic Koran, Samarkand Codex, Samarkand Manuscript and Tashkent Koran; also spelled Osman Koran). This codex, in Kufic script, dates back to the 8th century and is believed to be the world’s oldest Koran copy. We are allowed to see this relic but photography is not allowed. ( Well, that is the only place, where I found this restriction.) There are some other translations of Holy Quran kept in the building.
Then we went to Chorsu Bazar. Chorsu means cross road (similar to Chaurasta in Hindi, and yes Chor means char, four.) This is a very busy market. The beautifully designed dome has salads, meat, dairy products on the ground floor and the first floor has dry fruits stall. The ladies and guys are so generous, that they are ever willing to offer you handful of their products. The products are of first class quality and all reasonably priced. I purchased some cream cheese but the lady offered me to taste at least three varieties of it, to taste. (Well, she made it difficult for me to choose, as all were equally tasty.)
We just had a quick round, over the dry fruits section. Outside this dome, there are various sections, selling colorful fresh vegetables, fruits, breads and other things. It is a very lively but clean place. I wanted to do lot of shopping, but I kept it for my last day. I purchased some fruits and bread, for dinner.
Then we proceeded to Timur and Independence Squares. This is a huge open space, with large trees around. It has a horse ridden statue of Timur ( Taimoor, as we say in India). This Taimoor is forefather of all Mughal kings from Humayun to Auragjeb, who ruled northern India. There is a war memorial too.
The area is so vast, that I was unable to capture the whole area in any single frame. The national bird of Uzbekistan, crane, appears in beautiful sculpture on the arc.
The statue of mother of war heroes, represents the grief and sorrow of all such mothers. The names of war heroes (of Second World War) have been written on brass plates on specially constructed iwans.
The metro station is just nearby. The former bunkers have been converted into metro stations now. Until recently, photography was banned inside these stations. But now, there is no such restriction. We had joy ride of just one station. Due to very cold climate, the photo is not very clear. But I am told that each metro station is beautifully designed. (Wish could, visit all of them !)
The huge building of Hotel Uzbekistan turns into a giant LED screen in the evening.
Well, it was time to return to hotel. We had to catch early morning flight to Urungech, next day.