If you visit the Central Asian jewel of Uzbekistan, the likelihood is that Tashkent will be either your entry or exit point.
The Uzbek capital is unsurprisingly somewhat in the shadow of the fabulous Silk Road cities of Khiva, Bukhara and Samarkand and if like me it happens to be the 4th major spot on your tour, you are likely to be somewhat underwhelmed.
The Uzbek Crown Jewels – moving clockwise, Samarkand, Khiva & Bukhara
This is actually a tad unfair as Tashkent in fact has plenty to offer. I would venture to say that if it happens to be your first port of call you will be pretty impressed with your hors d’oeuvres course.
This is how my visit panned out……
We arrived in Tashkent in the early morning after an overnight train from Urganch, which was in 2018 the main route from Khiva (it now has its own dedicated train station).
Having crossed into Uzbekistan from Turkmenistan, this was our first time in the capital. We would have 12-hours to explore before flying home.
Luckily we had use of a driver for the day, so could cram in a fair bit.
Arriving at 7am, our knowledgeable driver took us to an operational cafe where we could feed and freshen up to rid ourselves of any sleeper train skankiness.
Our self guided tour then went as follows:
The Railway Museum
This was first up. The open air museum displays an array of Soviet era locomotives, carriages and equipment dating from the early to late 20th Century, all garishly re-painted.
We spent a good hour clambering up and down ladders into loco cabs, pulling levers and twiddling knobs. It certainly kept us entertained!
The Earthquake Memorial
Tashkent suffered a devastating earthquake in 1966 when much of the city was destroyed.
The monument sits in a small park and consists of a statue of a defiant couple standing tall against the fearsome force of nature and a cracked block of stone displaying the 26th April 1966 date and clock showing the 04.25 time when the terror struck.
Three hundred thousand citizens were left homeless as much of the city was reduced to rubble. Amazingly there were however not too many casualties, officially so anyhow.
The Tashkent Metro
The metro? Yes indeed. Much like Moscow, Tashkent has some amazing stations that are architectural marvels.
We visited three – KOSMONAVTA, ALISHER NAVOI & PAKHTAKOR.
Unfortunately back then we were told that photography was forbidden (misinformation it annoyingly turns out).
I am therefore reliant on Sophie from @uzamassador for some pictures. Give Sophie a follow on Twitter if you have any interest in the Stans as she is a font of knowledge regarding the region.
Tillya Sheikh Mosque
Knowing that the constructions are modern (completed in 1857) and comparing with the majesties seen before, we hardly noticed the impressive buildings.
That’s not to say that they are not worthy sights. Following the now familiar Timurid style of grand arches, cobalt blue domes and exquisite tile work, they are indeed fine reproductions. We just happened to be ‘mosqued out’ by then.
The complex was however a great place to buy some last minute souvenirs.
The main market is housed in a large domed building in Tashkent’s old town.
What a colourful spectacle there awaits inside too. Nuts, seeds, pulses, spices, dried fruit, sweet treats dripping with syrup, garish looking candies and every kind of fresh fruit & vegetable that you can imagine.
There was stall upon stall of almost identical produce, making you wonder how they all survived. There was however no hard sell and we contented ourselves with sampling a few wares and purchasing some baklava for the folks back home.
Mustaqillik Maydoni (Independence Square)
Tashkent’s main square is flanked by the huge Soviet construction hotel that is unimaginatively named Hotel Uzbekistan. We stopped there for tea and cake and a chance to rest our weariness in comfy chairs.
In the square itself the main attraction is a huge black statue of Timur the Great sat atop his gallant steed.
In a comical twist that remains a mystery, somebody hacked off the horse’s appendage one night after dark. Nobody knows who or why and for some reason the city authorities have decided not to tackle replacing the tackle!
A gelding it therefore remains!
My Train Travel Books
Uzbekistan will feature alongside all of the other former Soviets (Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Georgia, Armenia, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, Azerbaijan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Latvia, Lithuania & Estonia) in a future book in the Wilbur’s Travels series.
Part One detailing my travels by train across all the Balkan countries is available now from Amazon.