The silk road
“What! You don’t exchange your own money?” I heard a man shouting in the hotel lobby, he was flabbergasted, whining about what he will do with the sum he had in his bag? This was a very strange indeed; something I hadn’t witnessed or experienced anywhere in the world before. It was what taught us to stick to the good old dollar for wherever, whenever in Tashkent.
The two-and-a-half hour flight from Lahore to Tashkent left me feeling rather dopey. But stepping into one of the most beautiful cities of Central Asia was like entering an Old Russian movie. The capital of Uzbekistan and also of Tashkent Province, Tashkent is a cosmopolitan city with a large ethnic Russian minority. The city is noted for its tree lined streets, numerous fountains, and pleasant parks.
We rested for a bit after checking in and stepped out for a day of sightseeing. The clean wide roads were very impressive and so we decided to walk instead of catching a cab. Heading straight to the bazaars, we found them rather unique and definitely worth seeing. Walled and gated, the bazaars usually close around eight in the night after opening at six in the morning, and are constantly packed with people trading absolutely everything you could imagine under the sun.
One of the most interesting bazaars we visited in Tashkent was the Chorsu Bazaar in the north-western corner of the city centre. We walked around taking pictures of women in colourful vibrant dresses and men in knee-length boots and long coats. To our delight, the vendors were extremely friendly and loved to get their picture taken. I especially remember the lady selling fascinating little peppers in all shades of red, ranging from pale yellow to maroon, which she held up for us to see.
For the afternoon session, we walked east from our hotel into the Soviet-era Tashkent. We were captivated by the somewhat crumbling apartment buildings, old streetcars and buses. The area had the aura of a place that had seen centuries pass by. Around early evening, we walked over to Broadway, a local pedestrian street. There were karaoke stands along the roadside where kids practiced their singing abilities so that they could become future Tan Sens.
There were portrait artists and vendors selling souvenirs. The night was mild and the sky starry. We walked around and finally found a quiet café away from all the activity and noise where we could enjoy the beauty of Tashkent.
Our trip to the Milliy Bog Park was memorable. Built around a vast pond, secluded from the rest of the city, it was a place where one could hire a boat and read poetry in solitude. Pathways sheltered by huge trees surrounded the water, except one side, which was an opening to a site with flamboyant state buildings.
To be honest, I cannot put my finger on what I liked best in Tashkent because it was all breathtaking. Extremely green and rich with lush parks and gardens that boasted massive, shady trees; the city is blessed with the finest wonders of nature. Even though it is the capital of the country, the local population had a very orderly and laid back attitude. There was hardly any traffic on the roads and the wooded roadway gave one the feeling of walking in a park. Tashkent is also a very safe city, with the most courteous drivers, who hit the brakes the minute you step on the road. Restaurants, cafés and bars along the roads were crowded all day with locals relaxing over meals and drinks, listening to Russian pop music mixed with western oldies.
It is definitely a place we would love to visit again.