I was captivated by Samarkand’s majestic azure Registan Square the first time I saw a picture of it as a teenager many years ago. Soon after, I added Uzbekistan to my travel bucket list.
Located in the heart of Central Asia, Uzbekistan is rich in history. It was there where Alexander the Great conquered Sogdiana and Bactria in 327 BC and where he met and married Roxana a daughter of a local chieftain. Its cities were once busy centers of commerce during the time of the famous silk route.
I finally checked Uzbekistan off my list in 2014, a journey for me that was filled with discoveries.
When in Uzbekistan, be prepared to carry wads of wide bills. A dollar is equivalent to 2,400 Soms with the largest denomination in 1000 and the smallest in 5. I had to keep them in a plastic bag before we were given big wallets by our tour operator. My friend Choi and I joined four other travelers from Mexico, France and England and together with our guide; traveled for 9 days from one historical city to another beginning in the capital of Tashkent.
“Tash” means stone and “kent” means city. An earthquake destroyed it in 1966 and due to soviet redevelopment very little remains to show for its ancient history, but the sights are not limited to those of the Soviet era, there are still a few that reach further back to Uzbekistan’s past. I took very little photos around the city because it is forbidden in some areas especially Military installations that include the metro and government buildings.
Our first stop was at the State Museum of Applied arts that holds more than 7,000 precious artifacts made by the best artisans of the country. Among the exhibits are hand-made works of wood and varnished miniatures. The building itself represents a model of architectural decorative art. It was a former residence of a Russian diplomat and was built in the end of the 11th century. A short drive took us to the vast Khast-Imam Square where the famous Quran of Caliph Uthman has been preserved. In the complex are madrassahs, Mosques and the Mausoleum of the Abu-Bakr Kaffal ash-shashi. It is a place of Muslim pilgrimage and was built in an unusual architectural style. It is interesting that the door faces to the north and not in the direction of Mecca as in most of the mausoleums. I had my first taste of Plov for lunch, a traditional dish of Uzbekistan but is loved and cooked in many countries of the former Soviet Union, like in the Ukraine and, Kazakhstan. There are countless regional variations of it that contain rice, beef, chicken, lamb, horse meat sausage and some other odds and ends. A must see is the Independence square. It is the main square of the country surrounded by administrative offices of the Cabinet and Senate.
The arch of good and noble aspirations with the sculptural images of storks frames the entrance to the square.
In the other side of the Square is a beautiful park with the monument of the Sorrowful Mother and the eternal fire. The newer part of Tashkent is sprawling with lush parks, fountains and wide avenues but with very little traffic. To me, it resembles a university campus, a very large and old one that contains structures from the middle ages, buildings from the 19th century and imposing soviet era administrative offices and apartments. We stayed at the Shodlik Palace hotel very close to the park. It was an old one but with very clean and spacious rooms and bathrooms.
The city has its charms and although English is not widely spoken, you can get by with sign language with the friendly locals.
Tashkent was our jump off to explore the rest of Uzbekistan. We left for Samarkand after a morning of sightseeing in the city and at the end of our 9 day trip, with several hours to spare before the flight back home, we checked out the Chimgan mountains, a popular winter and summer destination for locals just 85 kilometers from the city.