Saturday, May 13, 2023

[TASHKENT] Welcome to the Capital


I was expecting Tashkent to be yet another Soviet era fossil, pretty much like Bishkek, but what I got was something halfway between Almaty and Astana. I guess this is the direction most ex-CIS capitals take, which is to beef up the city with grandiose monuments and buildings which is perhaps just the right thing to do to flaunt that post-commie progress. Unlike Bukhara and Samarkand, though, the city has lost most of its Silk Road related historical sites to an earthquake that leveled it in the 60’s.


Maybe that’s the reason why everything feels so modern, but that is just a prerequisite if you have a big city like this with such high population density. The underground metro has a reputation of having grand interior design and I did want to check it out, but can you blame me for Yandexing my ass everywhere when it is just so cheap? Do download that app to make your lives comfortable. It works in Tashkent, Bukhara, and Samarkand, but payment by credit card only works in the capital.


I flew in from Almaty in an Uzbekistan Airways flight that lasted just an hour and a half. Flight connections between the two countries are plenty and you also have the option of just crossing the land border if you are already in Shymkent in the south. A Ucell sim card loaded with 20 GB of data and valid for 30 days is available at the airport for UZS50,000 (~PHP250) which is incredibly cheap. The country will block your PHONE’s IMEI after a month without registration, though, which means that you wouldn’t be able to use the same phone even if you purchase a new sim card in case you return in the future.


Since this was more like a weekend transit, I only had a day to spare for sightseeing, which came easy because Yandex made it so. This is shameless plugging at this point but I am really amused. I decided I wanted to check out a museum because this is what I usually do in countries whose histories I know next to nothing about. Luckily, the State Museum of History is centrally located with most of the other main tourist attractions just within walking distance.


The admission fee is UZS50,000 (~PHP250) for foreigners. As is customary with most museums, everything begins with pre-history where you see the ceramics and dioramas of how our common ancestors lived back then. You can skip this part if you want to. Things start to get interesting as you reach that portion where everything becomes more Central Asia. That’s civilization for you. The museum has an ample collection from most of the country’s regions but the caveat is that most of the info boards are only available in Uzbek, sometimes Russian, and rarely in English.


You can just do your own research after you leave. The topmost floor doesn’t have this problem but it is focused more on modern Uzbekistan post-Soviet Union, which is still good because you get to know the country as it exists in modern times. Taking photos and videos requires an extra fee but you can always play hide and seek with the old grandmas guarding the place. Just be discreet and you’ll be fine.


Once done, you can take the underpass to go to Independence Park which is not at all relaxing under broad daylight when the sun is just so stark raving mad. I spent just around five minutes there before crossing over back to the area of Amir Temur Park where you will see a monument erected in his honor. We can’t blame the guy for being every Uzbek’s hero. Google Timur or Tamerlane to get an idea how revered the guy is. His achievements are phenomenal, though, so I guess he deserves the fandom.


Depending where you stand, Hotel Uzbekistan, in all its architectural glory will be the backdrop. Its golden design that looks like glittering chainmail armor gives this area’s skyline a visually appealing look. Across the street from it is the Palace of International Forums which I suppose hosts events every now and then, its white marble façade complementing the hotel next door quite well. And of course, let’s not forget the State Museum of the Temurids down the street which lends some variety in terms of architectural style.

[TASHKENT] Welcome to the Capital

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