Tashkent: Where Modern Uzbekistan Meets The Historic Silk Road
Tashkent: Where Modern Uzbekistan Meets The Historic Silk Road
I had been travelling through Uzbekistan for almost two weeks already before I arrived at Tashkent, my final destination in the country. I was visiting Uzbekistan to follow the old historic Silk Road, to visit the historic and architecturally beautiful cities of Khiva, Bukhara and Samarkand, the cities that the country is really famous for. Tashkent, the huge urban metropolis, hadn’t figured into my travel plans, aside from as a convenient place – well, the only place really – to catch an international flight out of Uzbekistan at the end of the trip.
Tashkent is really a new city, despite the fact that it has been in its position on the Silk Road for centuries. Wars, earthquakes and most recently Soviet redesigns have erased most of its former history and left a modern, socialist-style city that on the surface, really didn’t seem to offer much in comparison to the other culturally rich Silk Road cities of Uzbekistan I’d already visited.
I wasn’t expecting much from Tashkent, but my speculations were soon proven to be very, very wrong. While Tashkent is a new, sprawling city that has lost much of its former history and culture, I soon discovered that Tashkent, the capital, really is the real Uzbekistan. While there were few historic sights left to marvel at, I found that this was a city full of life, where business was growing and where people from across the nation moved to study and to make it. This was modern Uzbekistan. It was different, but it was every bit as interesting as the historic Silk Road I’d been travelling along.
Uzbek culture was very much alive, I ate the best national dishes yet, gorging on Plov and Shashlik daily while taking in the strange beauty of the Soviet, brutalist architecture and socialist-style new city. Every metro station was a work of art, as grand as the designs built in Moscow or Kiev, while still in certain parts of the city I found hidden away the lasting remnants of the old Tashkent, where markets and mosques can still be found – if you know where to look for them.
Tashkent was unlike any other city I travelled to in the country and it proved to be one of the most intriguing looks at modern Uzbekistan that I had the opportunity to see; a vastly different place to the Silk Road cities I’d experienced on the road already – this was not the past, but the future of Uzbekistan.
SEE – Photos & Videos
GO – Getting There
Tashkent, being the capital of Uzbekistan, is the country’s most well-connected city and largest transport hub. The international airport has regular flights to the surrounding Central Asian nations of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan and all of these neighbouring countries can be reached by bus and road network too. Longer distance overland transport can take travellers to Russia, or even China while less regular flight schedules connect Tashkent to Europe, Asia and the Middle East.
Domestically, Tashkent gives travellers easy access to the rest of Uzbekistan, with daily intercity flights, high-speed trains, buses and shared taxis all departing and arriving in the city from major domestic destinations such as Samarkand, Bukhara, Urgench and Nukus.
Do – Activities & Attractions
Tashkent is the modern capital of Uzbekistan, but despite the fact it has occupied this position on the Silk Road for centuries, very little actually remains of its pre-Soviet history due to natural disasters, conflicts and socialist redesigns. It is, however, a fascinating insight into a modern Uzbek city and the ‘New City’ is a prime example of Soviet planning and architecture. Visit the Independence Square and the Amir Timur Square – Amir Timur being Uzbekistan’s national hero – and marvel at the huge brutalist beast that is Hotel Uzbekistan, once the grandest hotel in Soviet Central Asia, before riding the beautifully ornate and designed metro system – it doesn’t matter where, the stations are all incredible examples of Soviet design and artwork.
Tashkent is home to some interesting museums offering an overview of Uzbekistan’s history too, the best being the Amir Timur Museum and the History Museum of the People of Uzbekistan.
Some parts of old Tashkent still remain as well, although the small areas that have survived are ever slowly being taken over by new projects. Visit the Chorsu Bazaar to see one of the oldest market places on the Silk Road; although the building is modern, this huge market has been on the same ground for centuries. The old area around the bazaar is also the place to find mosques, madrassas and older, narrow streets and homes that are a complete contrast to the Soviet-inspired new areas of Tashkent.
Stay – Accommodation
Tashkent has accommodation to suit every price range and standard of comfort. There are cheap, local style guest houses available, and increasingly more backpacker style dormitories catering for travellers too, the best being Tochan Hostel. Cheap accommodation starts around the 10 US Dollar mark for a dorm bed.
Tashkent is also home to some of Uzbekistan’s most luxurious hotels. They are also the most expensive in the country too of course. International chains such as the Intercontinental are starting to emerge in the city, complete with international standard facilities and dining.
Eat – Restaurants
Uzbekistan’s national dish is Plov, a rice-based dish served with meats and vegetables. Tashkent is the place to find some of the best Plov in the country, and is home to the National Plov Centre, where every lunchtime – and only lunchtime, as Plov is prepared in large batches in the morning! – hundreds of locals descend on this huge dining hall to eat this cheap, delicious meal.
Other local food found all over the city are Shashlik – simple, but delicious grilled skewers of meat – and Somsa – pastries stuffed with meat and vegetables, baked in clay pots or ovens.
Food at local restaurants and street stalls are always cheap, only costing 1-2 US Dollars per plate, but in the new city can be found more expensive restaurants catering to international tastes, with fine dining options at hotels and even the odd Irish Pub.
Time – Seasonality & Schedules
Summer in Tashkent can be overwhelmingly hot, and the months of June, July and August can be brutal and are best avoided. Winter months can be cold, especially at night, and really the best time to visit Tashkent is before the cold of winter or before the excessive heat of summer.
Safety – Possible risks
Tashkent is one of the safest cities to visit not just in Uzbekistan, but across all of Central Asia. Partly, this is due to the fact that the rather strict government keeps a huge police presence in the capital. Uniformed soldiers and police are on every corner, guarding every metro station and constantly within sight. While the locals may not always appreciate this police state, for tourists and visitors the upside is one incredibly safe city.
Please Note: Travel inherently comes with an element of risk (just like crossing the road does). You are putting yourself in elements that are unfamiliar and foreign to your usual lifestyle and with that, become more susceptible to fall victim those who try to play off those unfamiliar to their local scams. There are also potential dangers in the environments to which you may not be accustomed to.
Please take extra care in travelling, ensure that you have adequate medical insurance (accidents seem to happen when you least expect them), and have let a trusted colleague, family member or friend know your whereabouts and activities.
Where Sidewalks End travel advises you to travel at your own risk, and to be extra aware of your surroundings (without letting it spoiling your time).
Pay – How much does it cost?
The Uzbek Som is the very inflated local currency. Until very recently, it was only possible to find notes in denominations of 1000 Som, or occasionally 5000 – and when 8000 Som was the equivalent of 1 US Dollar, travellers were forced to carry around huge wads of local money to pay for anything.
The government are now reforming this archaic financial system though, and have begun circulating larger denominations, while the old black market money system – local market rates were at one point double the government and bank rates – has been effectively closed down, and travellers can now use official exchange rates, at the same rate as the ‘actual’, i.e. what was the black market, rate.
There are, however, still very few ATMs in Tashkent, and few places accept foreign cards – large hotels aside of course. If possible, it’s best to take into Tashkent as many US Dollars or Euros as you will need for your trip in Uzbekistan, and exchange them once inside the country for local Som. Just be sure to shop around for the best market rates first.
Responsible Travel – Best Practices
In Tashkent, the best way to be a responsible traveller is to support small, local businesses. Uzbekistan’s government has a bad reputation in terms of human rights abuse and overbearing state control, and many larger companies and businesses are run by or connected to government figures. Smaller business, more locally owned hostels, guesthouses and restaurants can be visited to make sure the money stays with the people who need it most, rather than going towards the government operations.
Reality Check – Be Aware
Uzbekistan was for many years after its independence from the Soviet Union a difficult place for foreign tourists to travel too. Visas were a bureaucratic nightmare to secure and travel was heavily policed by the government. Things are starting to change, visas are easier, and the currency is slowly being reformed, but many of the old vestiges of Soviet bureaucracy will make life just that little bit harder for people not used to it. Ensure you have your passport and visa ready at all times, as even travelling the metro system requires identification and searches.
English is not widely spoken outside of hostels or large hotel chains, and travellers that do not speak Russian or Uzbek will have extra difficulty getting around. Knowing even basic Russian, or carrying a Russian phrasebook or translation app will help immensely.
But that all means too that Tashkent is still an off the beaten track Central Asian city to visit, and for those willing to explore the Uzbek capital, there are many hidden spots and local attractions waiting to be discovered.
Things to do in Tashkent: https://www.travel-tramp.com/top-things-to-do-in-tashkent-uzbekistan/
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