If compared to any Central Asian or even European capital, what Tashkent misses by the absence of a true commercial city center, it more than makes up with thousands of fountains. Every large park worth its name would have a display of dancing fountains with hundreds, if not thousands, of streams of water sending across a happy message. The city is amazingly green with wide roads and very little traffic. For some strange reason, we always saw loads of cars parked around and only a handful on the road. I haven’t seen all the Central Asian country capitals but the two that I have seen, have a well spread out city center with a monument and the backdrop of archaic-looking hotel names after the country. Hotel Uzbekistan held its ground, all the same, illuminated by cheap lights that made it look like an advertising hoarding at night. The monument of Taimur was quite impressive, though.
The entry process was quite smooth unlike what some of the blogs said. The immigration took about 5-10 minutes and the baggage and customs another 10. There was the unfortunate incident of at ATM deciding not to part with my debit card that caused a 30 odd minute delay but we were on our way quite soon. The prepaid cabs were a charm, though they charged about double of what you could negotiate outside – if you are the negotiating types. It still wasn’t a lot.
Hotel Lotte was very nice and especially the breakfast and the location – right across the road from the local Opera house and also a short walk from the central pedestrian-only district which was quite lively. The Opera House was an active one with shows every night. In the walking area, there were many street shops, food stalls, and bicycle rentals. As the night set in, this area became very lively and was brilliantly lit up. Very close by is a statue of Taimur and Hotel Uzbekistan. Several small European restaurants served up some amazing steaks and chicken wings served up with strawberry lemonade. Surprisingly, even some of the more fancy restaurants did not serve alcohol, and the ones that didn’t have much variety. Clearly, drinking was not a large part of the culture of the country, though it wasn’t looked down on or prohibited.
We took an Uzbekistan version of the Hop-on Hop-off tour of Tashkent. The tour started from outside of the glorious Hotel Uzbekistan and unlike the typical Hop-on Hop-off it stopped at each destination long enough for you to make a quick visit and we stayed with the same bus as most of the destinations did not require much ‘experiencing’. The monuments, even the mosques, were even built quite recently. The soviets never bothered to rebuild or repair the damage after the 1966 earthquake. Most of the repairs and the reconstructions started in the 90s and it shows in the quality of construction. Some of the mosques look exquisite – maybe a little too clean and new. One of the most amazing of these creations was a souvenir shop that looked like a mosque and we took a lot of pics before we went in and found out.
There are some lovely gardens, mosques, and monuments on the way but by the look of things, none were constructed too long ago. The glorious history and culture of the country were lost in the modern architecture of the city, though they did try to retain the blue ceramic facades. There was a lovely garden with the Monument of Courage, their equivalent of a war memorial. There are several recently finished mosques, a couple of viewpoints, and a TV tower.
One of the most famous landmarks of the city is the Chorsu Bazaar. The glass dome houses two levels of sales floors. The lower one is dominated by butcher shops selling all forms of meat and some sellers of cheese and honey. The upper floor is mostly aromatic spices and dry fruits. The dome itself is surrounded by other marker areas that sell anything from clothes to spices (the cumin is quite famous) to household things.
Just like all the old USSR major cities the metro stations are worth a visit. It is the cheapest tour you can take. It costs about 10 cents to enter the metro system and then you can get off and back on as many stations on any of the three lines. A quick online search can get you a list of the stations worth visiting – there are about 8-10 that are worth a visit, including one of the interchange ones. The decor includes ceramic mosaics, stories told via colorful tiles, fancy chandeliers, and even a tribute to Russian cosmonauts. This experience is not to be missed
Going around the city is quite easy and cabs are quite cheap. Getting from one place to the other should usually cost less than a dollar. There were instances where we took 2 cabs and for the same route got charge significantly different amounts. So make sure you either agree on the fare before boarding or keep track of the route. The metro is quite efficient but usually requires at least some walking. The city center is small enough that you can walk around to a lot of places. There are a lot of parks to see with fancy fountains making it a very green and open city. If you plan to take a nap in one of the green lawns just remember that all parks have built-in sprinklers that turn on more often than you would think is needed.