Discovering Uzbekistan – Tashkent, the spacious, modern city

In September/October 2019, I was in Uzbekistan. Our tour started in Tashkent, the capital of Uzbekistan. After the earthquake of 1966, the Soviets rebuilt Tashkent to become a model city, with spacious squares. There is even a metro decorated with luxurious stations. Modernisation continued after Uzbekistan had become independent in 1991. In addition, old mosques and madrasas were renovated and new ones were built, all in the traditional style with mostly blue tiles and cupolas. The city benefits from water canals fed by the Chirchiq river which touches Tashkent in the south.

We spend half a day in Tashkent and collect a few impressions:

Source: “Usbekistan”, Trescher Verlag 2019, my own photos


Timur and our Hotel Uzbekistan welcome us

Coming from Moscow, we land in Tashkent in the early afternoon and get to our hotel Uzbekistan, a Soviet style building made from precast slabs, beautified by oriental style ornaments. My Dumont says that this hotel is for “Ostalgiker” (people with a nostalgy for (east) soviet style tradition). Yes, the hotel reminds me of that.

The hotel is comfortable and the rooms are spacious and well renovated.

At the hotel bank, we change money. I lose control of the huge pile of bank notes that I have received for 200 Dollars. We come across a street singer and give him some 1000 Som… one THOUSAND looks like a lot of money to us. We sit down on a bench and reflect, and now we blush: 1 Dollar is around 10’000 Som – and 1000 Som is just 10 Cents. A meal that costs 30’000 Som is equivalent to 3 Dollars. The easiest way to cope with these huge numbers is to just take four “0”s off the price in Som and then we understand, what the price really is in Swiss Francs, Euros or Dollars (which are all pretty close to one another). I prepare two wallets, a slimmer one with a few bank notes in the “10’000 and more Som sizes” for direct use and a fat wallet with the rest of the pile of bank notes as a reserve. And I keep some 1000 notes separate for those useful public places – this is what you are asked to pay for there.

I find out that in many Turkish languages “som” means “pure” which alludes to “pure gold”.


We meet Timur, the national hero

The Hotel Uzbekistan is located at the spacious Amir Timur Square, and Timur rides a horse here.

Timur is the national hero of Uzbekistan; he counts as the founder of the nation (see my blog about the history of Uzbekistan). We will come across him and his successors again and again in Uzbekistan.


Strolling around and to the Independence Square

We cross a busy alley and walk to the Independence Square. We are surprised to find lines and lines of fountains. Tashkent derives water from the river Chirchik and uses some of it for all these water games.

It is an endless line of water games, here with galleries of columns.

Storks are on top of the galleries. Various modern buildings appear behind the trees and the water games. This is a business center with an oriental touch.

Behind the water line, there is another park with the Independence Monument. The sun is setting.

On our walk back to the hotel we join the Uzbeks strolling in their commercial centre that is also spacious and green.

We have dinner near our hotel – we need time to get used to these horrendous looking prices of 20’000 to 50’000 Som for a dish – which is only two to five Dollars. We sleep well in our comfortable Hotel Uzbekistan.


The patron of Tashkent, Hazrati Imam, and the ancient copy of the Koran

At the next morning we first visit the Hazrati Imam Ensemble.

The Imam Abu Bakr Kaffal Shashi (903-976) was a metallic worker (shashi) that became Imam and the saint patron of Tashkent. It is said that he convinced the then ruling Kara-Khanids to convert to the Islam. Abu Bakr Kaffal Shashi is buried in this mausoleum built in 1542.

Abu Bakr Kaffal Shashi is the Hazrati (holy) Imam that gave the name to this ensemble of mosques, madrasas and Islamic administrative buildings arising around his mausoleum.

The newest mosque of the ensemble is the Hazrati Imam Mosque. It was completed in 2006. It is a modern mosque built in the “traditional” style with blue cupolas and glazed tiles mixed into the raw brownish bricks.

The small building in front is the library museum that holds the Osman Koran from the 7th century which is said to be one of five existing copies. Timur  took it from Irak to Samarkand, then the Russians transferred it to Moscow, and Lenin returned it later.

The entrance to the new Hazrati Mosque is beautifully carved. Under this roof, men are now rolling out their carpets to pray.


Strolling through the Chorsu Bazar

South of the Hazrati Imam Ensemble, we visit the Chorsu Basar, another blue cupola. It looks a bit like a spider with too many legs.

The disposal of vegetables and fruits is enticing.

I believe that this man rents out the trolleys, what a hard job!

The market under the blue cupola takes place on two levels. From the upper level I take the photo of the meat department – “go’sht” means “meat” in the Uzbek language, and it is written in the Latin and in the Cyrillic alphabet.

Uzbekans are multi-lingual. This round box contains a selection of spices, and they are labeled in Russian (набор) and in English (mixed). Each of the spices has two names on the label, the Russian and the English one.


The foster brother of Abdullah Khan – Kukeldash

The foster brother or “kukeldash” seems to have been an important concept in Uzbekistan: One woman feeds two boys from different mothers, and they become foster brothers. Adullah Khan (ruler in the late 16th century) had a foster brother, just called Kukeldash. Various madrasas in Uzbekistan are called after him such as this one in Tashkent. It is a working madrasa that is closed for visitors.

In the background, the Hodscha Archrar Mosque has opened its gates. The Friday service is over. It has been well visited.


Tashkent is proud of two monuments, one for the earthquake, one for the mourning mother

We have lunch in the restaurant Полянка (Poljanka), where this joyful old man welcomes us.

Not far from the restaurant is the earthquake monument. In 1966, the epicentre was  exactly here, some 3 to 8 kms below surface. With 7 to 8 points on the Richter magnitude scale, the earthquake devastated much of Tashkent. The memorial reminds of the hour: It happened at 5:23 in the morning. This is a Soviet style monument, and the Soviets seem to have supported the reconstruction of the spacious city that we experienced.

Another monument reminds of the mothers that lost their sons in the Second World War. “You will always be in our hearts” (Ты всегда в наших сердцах), the inscription says and adds that the memory of the compatriots that have given their lives will always remain alive. I am not aware of Second World War fights in Central Asia, but I believe that the Uzbeks fought in the Soviet army.


Good-bye – whenever I return, I will visit some of the museums

We leave Tashkent. Whenever I return, I would like to visit the museum for history and archaeology to learn more about the country or to see some of their arts museums, and perhaps the puppet theatre is an additional idea.

Sources: “Der grosse Plötz – Atlas zur Weltgeschichte”, Komet Verlag, Köln 2008; Isa Ducke and Natascha Thoma, “Usbekistan”, Dumont Reisehandbuch, Ostfildern 2017; Irina and Bodo Thöns, “Usbekistan”, Trescher Verlag, Berlin 2019; Irina and Bodo Thöns, “Reise durch Usbekistan”, Stürtz, Verlagshaus Würzburg 2018, Sanjeev Mehan, “Ein vergessenes Land holt auf”, Tagesanzeiger 21. September 2019 and various wiki entries.

One thought on “Discovering Uzbekistan – Tashkent, the spacious, modern city

  1. Anna says:

    I have enjoyed your recent Uzbekistan posts, as I hope to go next year!

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