Thursday, October 30, 2014

Days 6-7: Tashkent and Tajikistan

October 29: Flight to Uzbekistan and a Tour of Tashkent

Note: portions in italics and quotes are descriptions of activities from the tour brochure.

Up bright and early for a 7:00 AM flight from Bishkek to Tashkent, Uzbekistan.

Manas International Airport in Bishkek (at about 5:00 AM)

A Cyrillic quiz for you--can you find our flight?

Inside the Bishkek airport--better than LaGuardia

Awaiting our flight

Our flight to Tashkent (and country number 99 for me) was on Uzbekistan Airways.  As is the rule, the quality of the plane and service was better than what you get from American domestic carriers.  The plane was an Airbus A-320 (I think).  Unfortunately, the in-flight magazine was of limited use to me.

Arriving in Tashkent

Customs and immigration in Tashkent was an absolute zoo.  Thanks to Jama for guiding us through this.

After leaving the Tashkent airport terminal, the first car I saw was a Chevrolet Lacetti.  This struck me as unusual, because I have rarely seen Chevys outside the United States, and I've never seen a Lacetti (whatever that is).  It got more unusual when I noticed that almost all of the cars in the parking lot, and around town were Chevys.  I later found out that Daewoo, a big Korean manufacturer, had opened a big plant in Uzbekistan, but later got caught up in a government scandal in Korea and had to sell the plant.  GM bought the plant and started making Chevrolets, using different model names than they use in the United States.  So a good way to win a bar bet is to ask what the top-selling car brand is in Uzbekistan.

A Chevrolet Lacetti

From the airport, we drove to our hotel in central Tashkent.  Tashkent is like Almaty in that is more like the Soviet Union than what we think of as a Central Asian city.  The city was pretty much leveled by an earthquake in 1966, so there are very few buildings that predate the earthquake.

"Although it doesn’t look it today, Tashkent is one of the oldest cities in Uzbekistan. Rock paintings in the Chaktal Mountains about 50 miles away show that humans have been here since perhaps 2000 BC. In the 2nd century BC the town was known as Ming Uryuk. A major caravan crossroads, it was taken by the Arabs in 751 and by Genghis Khan in the 13th century. Tamerlane feasted here in the 14th century and the Shaibanid khans in the 15th and 16th. The Russian Empire arrived in 1865, and Uzbekistan was not an autonomous country again until 1991. Tashkent lost much of its architectural history in a huge earthquake in 1966, and although it is an old city, most of it has been built since then. Today, the city is a jumble of wide tree-lined boulevards, oversized 20th century Soviet buildings and reconstructed traces of the old city with mud-walled houses, narrow winding lanes, mosques and madrassahs (Islamic religious schools). "

Central Tashkent--that's *not* our hotel in the left center

This is our hotel--probably the nicest one on the trip

Our hotel was across the street from the National Theater, which was built between 1942 and 1947 by Japanese prisoners of war.  It was one of the few buildings in Tashkent that wasn't destroyed in the 1966 earthquake. 

The National Theater

Kiosks in front of the National Theater

Our itinerary scheduled us to in Tashkent for one day, go to Tajikistan for a day, and then come back to Uzbekistan for several days.  Since we were coming back, I wanted to get enough Uzbekistan currency to last for our entire stay in the country.  Jama offered to exchange money for us, so I asked him to change $100.  I then found that the highest-denomination note commonly used in Uzbekistan was 1000 Som, which is about 30 cents.   Below is what I got in exchange for my $100--a little more than I wanted to carry around in my wallet.

I'm rich!

After checking into the hotel, we went for a tour of Tashkent.  The city is a mixture of Soviet and post-Soviet buildings--perfectly nice, but not architecturally thrilling.

A building near our hotel

A Symposium Center

Soviet-era apartments

Our first stop was a visit to the Memorial of the Victims of Repression, which is dedicated to those who suffered under Russian and Soviet rule.

"The Shahid Memorial Complex, its blue-domed rotunda reminds the nation of Uzbek leaders, artists and poets shot in 1938 during Stalin’s purges"

Some (presumably) Uzbek soldiers leaving the memorial

Inscription on the memorial (in English for some reason)

A museum next to the memorial

Across the road from the memorial is the Tashkent Tower (about 1300 feet tall), which was the 3rd tallest structure in the world until 1991.

Our next stop was the "Courage Monument", a memorial to the people who rebuilt Tashkent after the 1966 earthquake.  A lot of symbolism at the monument.

Next we headed to "Old Tashkent", an area of the city from the 19th century that survived the earthquake.

Some Soviet housing and shopping along the way

Part of Old Tashkent
A Soviet Lada in Old Tashkent

Some residents acknowledge our presence

Next to Old Tashkent is Hast-Imam (Khast-Imam) square, which is the center of Islam in Tashkent.  In the square is Barak-khan Madrasah (Islamic school), which dates from the 16th century.

Next to the madrasah is the Khast-Imam Mosque (I think).

Next was a stop for lunch...

Another Volga on the streets

Our next stop was a ceramics studio.  On our way, we drove by Independence Square, the main park/square in Tashkent.  We would return to the square later.

Independence Square

More of Independence Square

Eventually, we arrived at the ceramics studio, where we had a demonstration and plenty of opportunities to buy merchandise.

"Visit the private studio of a sixth-generation Uzbek ceramicist whose family has been making pottery since the 1790s. They have revived the lost art of natural dye use, and are teaching contemporary Uzbek ceramicists their rediscovered techniques."

Then we headed back to the center of town to Independence Square.

On the streets of central Tashkent

Independence Square is a huge park containing monuments, memorials, and Soviet-style buildings.  One of the memorials was the Statue of the Grieving Mother, a World War II memorial.

Below are a couple of more views of Independence Square.

We then went down into the Tashkent Subway and took a ride to the next stop.  The Tashkent subway, like other subways in the former Soviet Union, is a work of art, with marble and chandeliers everywhere.  Photography is prohibited so the picture below of the interior of the subway is stolen off the internet.

Entering the subway station

Inside the subway

After emerging from the subway, we walked back to the hotel, had dinner, and retired for the evening.

October 30: From Tashkent to Khujand, Tajikistan

Today we drove from Tashkent to the Tajikistan border (and my 100th country!), and then on to Khujand.

View from my room in Tashkent

Train museum in Tashkent

Shopping on the outskirts of Tashkent

Bazaar area on the outskirts of Tashkent

On the road from Tashkent to the border

Rural Uzbekistan

Eventually, we arrived at the Tajikistan border, where we did the usual border dance--get off the bus, say goodbye to our Uzbekistan local guide, get our luggage, go through Uzbekistan immigration and customs, walk through no-man's land with our luggage, go through Tajikistan immigration and customs, get on the Tajikistan bus and meet our local guide.  The only difference was that when I crossed the border into Tajikistan, I had 100 countries under my belt, so I can stop traveling :-)

I did not take this picture--I stole it off the internet


Our local guide in Tajikistan

It was a short drive through the Tajikistan countryside to Khujand.

Rural Tajikistan

Rural Tajikistan
"Khujand, situated at the entrance to the Fergana Valley on the Syr Darya River, is the second largest city in Tajikistan. Its origins have been attributed to both Alexander the Great (in 329 BC) and Cyrus the Great of Persia (several centuries earlier); whichever is true, the city is an ancient one. A former religious center and a Silk Road center, Khujand is home to several medieval monuments."

Entering Khujand

On the streets of Khujand

Our first stop in Khujand (Khojand) was the local bazaar.  Next to the bazaar was a big plaza and a mosque.

"Upon arrival depart for a city tour of Khujand including a visit to the exciting Panshanbe Bazaar. Khujand's pink-painted covered bazaar is overflowing with goods to buy. The huge columned structure shelters orderly rows of tables covered with bags of brilliant spices and nuts, straw-bedded melons with macramé handles, hanging haunches of meat and piles of vegetables."

In the plaza

The mosque

Unlike Almaty, they let us take pictures in the Khujand bazaar.  I wanted to get some pictures of some of the vendors in the bazaar, but I was worried that the vendors wouldn't let me take any.  I shouldn't have worried.  When I showed them my camera, they were very happy to pose.

In the bazaar

Central Asia has some of the best looking bread I've encountered.  Unfortunately, most of it was pretty tasteless.  But, it makes a good picture.

The streets outside the bazaar were just as crowded, and the people were just as anxious to have me take their picture.

What they're watching in Tajikistan

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After visiting the bazaar, we hung out in the plaza near the mosque.  This was the pigeon capital of Tajikistan.

Even the old guys were happy to be photographed (or at least they didn't object)

After leaving the bazaar, we had lunch at the ХУбАХТИ КАФЕ.

After lunch we stopped along the Syr Darya River, which runs through the middle of the city.  On the riverside there is a monument with a series of busts of significant people in Tajik history.

View of part of Khujand across the Syr Darya River

Close up of a statue across the river

We then walked to the Historical Museum of Sughd (Khujand is in Sughd province).

"We enter the new Historical Museum of Sogdiana through a reconstructed medieval city gate. Displays include ancient Sogdian artifacts and exhibits from more recent Tajik history "

Outside the museum

The museum was excellent.  The highlight was series of mosaics depicting the live of Alexander the Great, who was one of the many conquerors of the area.

Inside the museum

Alexander the Great

This was one of several museums where they devoted a lot of space and positive spin to the Soviet era.

Salute to the Soviet All Stars

From the museum, we headed across town to our hotel. Below are a few shots from the ride.

Shortly we arrived at the Hotel Sugd, our home for (fortunately) one night.  The facilities were a bit spartan and cramped, but at least the toilet worked.

Hotel Sugd

Plenty of room to stretch out...

...and beautifully decorated

After checking in, we went to visit Arbob Palace, a few miles outside of Khujand.  According to what we were told, the head of a collective farm near Khujand wanted to build a replica of a classic Russian palace in Tajikistan, and apparently he had enough clout with the Soviet government to get it built.  The palace is used mostly for cultural events (of which there aren't many), and has a museum.
(Note that this excursion doesn't seem to be included in the current version of the itinerary).

Front of Arbob Palace

The palace is one of the most significant buildings in the area, so it's a prime destination for wedding pictures.

View from the front of the palace

As was the case throughout the trip, every time we took out our cameras, the locals wanted to have their pictures taken with us.  The males in the picture below are locals; the females are not.

The inside of the palace was pretty spectacular.  There is an 800-seat theater in the center.

In the theater

More of the inside of the theater

Some of the design work on the ceiling

More from the ceiling

In the museum (which was mostly dedicated to the head of the collective farm who had the palace built), there were exhibits which, if not celebrating Stalin, at least acknowledged that he existed.

Back outside, the wedding pictures continued.

As did the pictures with the crazy Americans.

In the palace garden

More locals posing

Can you read what they are selling at this stand?

After leaving the palace, we returned to our spacious hotel rooms and prepared for the next day's trip to Samarkand, Uzbekistan.

Next: Days 8-9: Samarkand, Uzbekistan

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