Our high-speed train from Samarkand to Tashkent had us arriving in the Uzbek capital city in the evening. After driving down wide modern boulevards, we were a little surprised to find our hotel located on what appeared to be a residential street. The hotel itself was nice, though, and a short walk to a major road and the Russian embassy. When our city guide, Marifat, arrived the next day, we discovered that the hotel was also a short drive to many of the main sights as well as conveniently located to the airport.
Our first touristy stops in Tashkent were at the Khast Imam complex (16-20century), billed as “the spiritual heart of Tashkent” followed by Barak Khan madrassa which has one of the oldest extant copies of the Quran. Both of these were beautiful, particularly the large mosque of the Khast Imam complex, but they were similar to the Five M’s [mosques, minarets, madrassas mausoleums and markets] we’d seen across Uzbekistan.
At this last stage of our Uzbekistan travels, I found myself intrigued by the differences Tashkent offered from the other places we’d visited. Tashkent suffered extensive earthquake damage in the past and has been largely rebuilt. This makes for a more modern city than other stops on our journey. The huge domes of the Chorsu bazaar were a step beyond any market we’d seen.
Descending from the bazaar into one of the spectacular Soviet-era metro stops was a real treat. For about 10 cents apiece, we rode the métro to the Cosmonauts stop, decorated entirely in a space theme with art honoring the first cosmonauts and even the Apollo-Soyuz handshake mission from 1975. The subway cars themselves were mostly vintage but, as in Moscow, the stations are really magnificent.
Exiting the Cosmonauts métro stop, we rendezvoused with our driver near the circular domed glass Interpol building. Our next stop was the Amaliy San’at Muzeyi (Applied Art Museum) of Tashkent housed in a beautifully tiled former mansion. We enjoyed the displays of fabrics, suzani, carpets, musical instruments, furniture and ceramics. The rest of our tour involved a drive down wide boulevards past the vast Independence Square the State Museum of the Timurids, Amir Timur Square and other gleaming modern buildings. David and I made note of interesting places to return on our own later, but first we were hungry! We’d postponed lunch to finish our tour, but now we asked Marifat to recommend somewhere to eat and asked her to join us.
The Uzbek restaurant Marifat originally recommended in an upscale strip center was completely full, but we spotted a Chinese restaurant, Dimsum Bamboo, a few doors down. The change in cuisine sounded great to us and Marifat was intrigued. We had a great time visiting with Marifat whom we found charming. She shared her worries about a new job with a Canadian tour company that was set to start in a couple of days. The job was a huge deal to her and would entail being in charge of her first big group and a two-country trip. All had been well until she’d gotten a call the night before from her new employer questioning whether she was ready for the job and asking her to take yet another test. Marifat also shared more personal issues and the challenges for a young single woman in her country wanting to make her own way. We felt no doubt she’d succeed in whatever she tried and told her so. We’ve stayed in touch since our return and have rejoiced with her as her new job has gone well and she’s gotten rave reviews from people in her tours.
After a quick refresh and rest in our hotel, we used the Yandex Go* app to summon a ride and headed back to Amir Timur Square to do a little exploring on our own. We wandered the square, then crossed the street to admire the Timurid museum before heading back through the square to “Broadway” a pedestrian street we’d noticed when with Marifat and our driver. Broadway turned out to have more of a carnival vibe than we expected. We joined families, couples and groups of friends strolling between booths of games and fair food. *[Note: Marifat recommended Yandex Go and I’d read about it before leaving, but didn’t find the right app. It’s important to search “Yandex Go” not just “Yandex” when looking for this app on Google Playstore. There are lots of apps with the name Yandex. What we used is Yandex Go which has a simple icon with a rectangular yellow bar on the top and two equal squares on the bottom, one white and one black. Alternatively, use the above link and choose the download option from the dropdown menu. Yandex Go works like Uber or Lyft, but we paid cash rather than loading a credit card. Rides were plentiful and very cheap.]
We decided to use Google Maps to find our way back to Independence Square, a made our way past a large police station where lines of uniformed police gathered in formation for some sort of ceremony. With the sun dropping low, we passed an enormous new Hyatt, turning to walk along a wide, colorfully-lit boulevard past a concert hall and a haunting memorial square with a large statue of a grieving figure bent towards an eternal flame.
We finally reached Independence Square just as evening was falling. A basin of fountains separates Sharaf Rashidaf Avenue from the vast square which boasts a wide colonnade the center of which is crowned by a sculptured stork atop a globe. Beyond that in a park stands a bronze-colored globe which replaces a statue of Lenin.
With daylight disappearing, we used the Yandex Go app again to hail a car to take us back to the strip center where we’d lunched with Marifat. This time the restaurant she’d recommended, Afsona, had a table available and we enjoyed a topnotch final Uzbek dinner.