I was up at 4:20 a.m. for my 6:45 flight to Tashkent, Uzbekistan. I said good-by to my trusty guide AK and my fabulous driver Farhat, who had been absolutely wonderful during my time in Kyrgyzstan, and was in Tashkent by 7:00 a.m. (1 hour time change). Unfortunately, I ended up having to wait 40 minutes for my luggage, which may be the longest I have ever had to wait for luggage.
Anyway, a driver from Steppe Journeys met me at the airport and drove me to the hotel for a few hours rest before meeting my guide at noon. I ended up sleeping for two hours and then met Mehru, a lovely young woman who would show me Tashkent. Now Tashkent is the capital of Uzbekistan and was at one time the capital of the Turkistan region, which was once comprised of all the Central Asia “Stans”: Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan. In the late 1800s Russia annexed the
“Stans” and later when the Soviets ousted the Czar, divided up the Stans and made Tashkent the capital of Uzbekistan.
In driving around Tashkent, it is apparent that Tashkent is a mix of Islamic and Soviet influence, and appears to be in a bit of a building boom with at least two massive complexes comprised of shopping malls/hotels/apartments and office space under construction. (The type of construction underway immediately reminded me of the kind of construction I have seen in Dubai.)
The Tashkent I would be seeing is relatively new since massive areas of the city were destroyed on April 25, 1966 following an 8.6 earthquake. The Soviets then rebuilt the city in the 60’s and 70’s and now new construction is under way.
Anyway, first up was a trip to the Museum of Applied Arts, which was located in a 19th century house that was the home of of Russian diplomatic official Aleksandr Polovcev. In 1937, the home was converted to a museum. The building was absolutely gorgeous and was constructed of brightly coloured plaster, carved wood and gorgeous ceramic tiles (which looked very similar to Persian styles I saw in Iran).
The museum was filled with decorative arts and craftwork from all over Uzbekistan dating from the 19th century forward. The displays included examples of textile fabrics and embroidery, carpets, Uzbek clothing, pottery, inlaid wood and wood carvings, jewelry and musical instruments. As we left one wing of the museum, we entered a large room where three young men played musical instruments native to Uzbekistan. I stood and watched two entire songs before we moved on.
After the trip through the museum we stopped for some lunch and when it was time to leave, I mistakenly opened a car door and started to get into what I thought was my driver’s car. Turns out the woman in the front driving was as shocked as I was when I realized my mistake. I kept apologizing over and over and she kept telling me OK, OK. By the time my driver picked us up, Mehru and I we were laughing so hard I had tears in my eyes. What a bonehead mistake.
With lunch out of the way, Mehru and I toured the Hastim Imam complex located in the old residential area of the city. The complex houses the Friday Mosque, the Barak Khan Madrassa (a former religious school) and the most important site, the Muyi Mubarek Library Museum, which houses the 7th-century Osman Quran (Uthman Quran), said to be the world’s oldest Quran.
As we entered the library, we removed our shoes, and I immediately noticed the gorgeous dome made of beautiful ceramic tiles. (Unfortunately, no photos allowed.). Below the center of the dome sat the ancient book in a glass case. The book was enormous, the pages were made of animal skin and the script was in an ancient style of writing that even scholars have a difficult time reading. According to Mehru, the book once belonged to Uthman ibn Affan, the third Caliph (of the four Caliphs who succeeded the Prophet Muhammad), and still has blood drops on its pages from when Uthman ibn Affan was stabbed in the neck. And yes, the blood was definitely visible. Yikes!
Apparently, the book was brought to Samarkand by the Turk/Mongol military leader Amir Timur and Tamerlane, then taken to Moscow by the Russians in 1868 before being returned to Tashkent by Lenin in 1924. The museum also contains a number of rare books as well as copies of the Quran in every language you can think of.
We left the museum and walked across the massive Hastim Imam square to the 16th century Barak-Khan madrassa. While the building is no longer used as a school, you could certainly visualize students residing in the rooms we visited.
As we were walking around, we encountered a young Russian Uzbek woman who was having a difficult time with the heat and appeared dehydrated. She was lying down while an elderly lady was fanning her, and a young man was applying a cold bottle of water to her head. I immediately told them she needed to drink the water not apply it to her head, and that she should fill the bottle with rehydration salts. Fortunately, I always carry rehydration salts with me so I gave the young man a packet and instructed him to fill the bottle. When last we saw her, she was up and moving and heading to a bathroom. My good deed for the day!
After a few pictures and a nice chat with a German couple who is also visiting Uzbekistan, we headed to the Chorsu bazaar. We wandered around the old section for a bit before heading across the street to the massive indoor food bazaar where I ended up purchasing some yummy candy and an apricot and honey concoction. Mehru purchased some apricots and then as we walked proceeded to be propositioned by numerous young men operating the candy and nut stalls. Mehru assured me this was pretty standard for Uzbekistan.
We then wandered outside to an improvised outdoor bazaar where local farmers were selling produce and other entrepreneurs were selling everything under the sun. People from all walks of like walked around looking for bargains.
Mehru then took me for a ride on the Tashkent subway system that was built by the Soviets in the 1970s. The subway system is similar to the Moscow system (which is a art museum standing on its own) with lots of art, chandeliers and tilework. We road the subway for two stops before switching to another line and ending up at the Independence Square stop. We left the subway way and took a walk around Independence Square to end our day. Unfortunately, most of the square was closed for renovations, but I was able to see the good-luck iron pelicans that guard the gates to the square, as well as spectacular fountains, the large Senate building and the tip of the Uzbek “White House”.
All in all, it had been a wonderful day, with a wonderful guide. Next up, a train ride on the relatively new bullet train from Tashkent to Samarkand.