04.28.2019 - 05.27.2019
This morning marks the end of our trip to Tajikistan. It has been wonderful. Thank you to our great guide, Bek, and our drivers. But mostly thanks to the wonderful people of Tajikistan. The scenery was marvelous, but it is the warmth of the people that I will always remember.
We had to do my favorite stretch of road back to Khujand before turning towards the border. We were no longer in the high mountains. Instead we had fields with hills in the background. It seemed a bit drier. But there still was sheep along the road and overloaded trucks.
We passed quickly through the passport control on the Tajikistan side and then had a long walk to the Uzbekistan side. Lynley, Begaim and I were the last of our group and ended up in a large crowd in the Uzbek immigration building. It was a bit warm, and then for some reason a man came and turned off the air conditioner. I had a nice chat with three Tajik boys who were going to Tashkent for the TOEFL (test of English) exam that is required for attending universities in North America. They asked about schools in Canada, and I tried to recruit them to come to Newfoundland. There was a big group of Chinese tourists. We met their tour leader, who is from Shanghai.
Uzbekistan customs did a perfunctory search of our bags. With the walk it took about 45 minutes to get through, so not the big deal that we had been told we might encounter.
That might be related to the changes being made by the current president, Shavkat Mirziyoev, who came to power after the death of the long time president, Islam Karimov, who had ruled from its independence in 1991 until his death in 2016. Mirziyoev has taken steps to open up the country to tourists. One change was that Canadians no longer need visas. So that saved me a little money. Americans still need visas.
Sasha, our new guide, was there to meet us. He has a Russian background. His great-grandfather (or great great?) was exiled to Uzbekistan during Stalin’s time. The family has been in Uzbekistan ever since. Sasha’s first language is Russian, and he speaks English with a strong Russian accent.
At independence all 5 Stans established their local languages as their state languages. But the better education was in Russian, plus there are a number of ethic Russians still living in Central Asia. Much of the business of Central Asia is done in Russian. Our guides all speak Russian. Begaim used Russian to communicate with the drivers from the other countries.
The alphabet is another issue. Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, and most recently Kazakhstan have legislated changing to the Latin alphabet from the Cyrillic, although progress has been slow. Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan still use the Cyrillic alphabet. We saw road signs in both.
Sasha gave us some information on the country. Agriculture is a major part (45%) of the Uzbek economy, mostly made up of cotton, fruit, and vegetables. We passed a field of apples under netting. Sasha said they were Greek apples and most of the production will be sent to Russia.
It took a couple of hours to reach Tashkent, which is the largest city in Central Asia. Sasha said that the official population is over 3 million but that unofficially it might be over 5 million. The city is over 2,000 years old. It was destroyed by Genghis Khan in 1219 but was rebuilt and then was a hub on the Silk Road. It was the capital of Russian Turkestan and is now the capital of Uzbekistan.
Everything in the city was rebuilt after an earthquake in 1966, so the city is quite modern and at times quite Soviet.
When we reached Tashkent, one of the first things to impress me was the number of white Chevrolet cars. Sasha told us that Chevrolet manufactures cars here, and there are huge duties on all imports. That explains the number of Chevrolets. The second thing is that almost everyone prefers a white car since they do not show the dust. So here I was in a historic city, and I was busy taking photos and videos of Chevy cars. I thought that the streets looked like Chevy dealerships, except we passed a Chevrolet dealership and none of the cars were white. They had all been sold.
After a brief search for an open money exchange at the Hotel Uzbekistan (it was closed), we went for lunch. The restaurant was quiet, which has been the case everywhere during Ramadan. We ended up sharing the place with a very large tour group. The food was real tourist fare, nothing like the quality of the food that we have been given to date. Until now we may have been spoiled with the quality and amount of food. We were not spoiled this afternoon. I was able to order a cappuccino. I had to pay this time. I think that other times Begaim had used her “slush fund”, money allocated to buy small things for us.
Our first sight seeing stop was the Khast Imom Complex. The Hazrat Imam mosque with its two 50-meter-high minarets is in the front of the complex. It was built in 2007. There is a rebuilt madrassa. The original was built in the 16th century. We saw a Quran which is said to date from the 8th century and supposed to be the oldest Quran in the world. Or did we see it? We were not supposed to take photographs (although a young tourist pulled out her phone and took some). So, without photographs, how do I know that I really saw it?
Sasha really kept us moving. Michael kept using the term “herding cats” with our guides in the first three countries as they tried to keep our group together. Sasha had no such problems. He was a like a Russian drill sergeant.
From the Khast Imom we marched through the Chorsu Bazaar. We had to race to keep up with him.
Sasha then took us for a ride on the subway. It is quite unlike most other systems in the world. The stations on the Tashkent subway are beautiful. One of the stations that we visited features Russian cosmonauts. Another has detailed mosaics in the form of flowering cotton plants in honour of Uzbekistan’s cotton industry, and the third resembles a mosque with turquoise ceramics.
Our next stop was the Museum of Fine Arts which is located in the former home of Imperial Russian diplomat Alexander Polovtsev. There is a nice display of carpets, carved wooden doors, and ceramics.
We then headed off to our hotel for one night, the Hotel Wyndham. It was keeping with our excellent standard of accommodation.
For dinner we took a short walk over to the Hotel Uzbekistan. We ate in the roof top restaurant. The view was great even if the food was not.
I was happy to be able to walk after supper. The people on the street were friendly, but we were in a big city, so they were sophisticated and not so excited to meet us.
It was not a really remarkable day, considering that the highlight for me was the white Chevrolets. Tashkent is not considered a highlight of tours of Uzbekistan. Tomorrow we will be in Samarkand, which should be a lot more interesting.
I tried to phone Po, but the WhatsApp call was really robotic so that it was impossible to have a conversation.
We have an early wake up since we have to go to the train station. Breakfast will be at 6:30. I took some Tylenol, hoping that it would work faster tonight.