The “Lonely Planet” introduces Uzbekistan in the following way:
The region’s cradle of culture for more than two millennia, Uzbekistan is the proud home to a spellbinding arsenal of architecture and ancient cities, all deeply infused with the bloody, fascinating history of the Silk Road. In terms of sights alone, Uzbekistan is Central Asia’s biggest draw and most impressive showstopper.
Samarkand, Bukhara and Khiva never fail to impress visitors with their fabulous mosques, medressas and mausoleums, while its more eccentric attractions, such as the fast disappearing Aral Sea, the fortresses of desperately remote Karakalpakstan, its boomtown capital Tashkent and the ecotourism opportunities of the Nuratau Mountains, mean that even the most diverse tastes can be catered for.
Despite being a harshly governed police state, Uzbekistan remains an extremely friendly country where hospitality is an essential element of daily life and you’ll be made to feel genuinely welcome by the people you meet.
The “Lonely Planet” introduces Tashkent in the following way:
Sprawling Tashkent is Central Asia’s hub and the place where everything in Uzbekistan happens. It’s one part newly built national capital thick with the institutions of power, one part leafy Soviet city, and yet another part sleepy Uzbek town, where traditionally clad farmers cart their wares through a maze of mud-walled houses to the grinding crowds of the bazaar. Tashkent is a fascinating jumble of contradictions that’s well worth exploring over several days.
Like most places that travellers use mainly to get somewhere else, Tashkent doesn’t always immediately charm visitors, but it’s a surprisingly fun and interesting place, with the best restaurants, museums and nightlife in the country. There’s also plenty of opportunity to escape the metropolis for great hiking, rafting and skiing in Ugam-Chatkal National Park.
The “Lonely Planet” goes on to say:
The Soviet men and women who rebuilt Tashkent after the 1966 earthquake are remembered in stone at the Earthquake Memorial. Soviet propagandists made much of the battalions of these “fraternal peoples” and eager urban planners who came from around the Soviet Union to help with reconstruction. But when Moscow later announced it would give 20% of the newly built apartments to these (mainly Russian) volunteers and invite them to stay, local resentment boiled over in street brawls between Uzbeks and Russians in the so-called Pakhtakor Incident of May 1969.
It’s worth taking the metro to reach different sites around Tashkent, if only to visit some of the lavishly decorated stations. A must is the Kosmonavtlar station with its unearthly images of Amir Timur’s astronomer grandson Ulug Bek and Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin, among others.
The old town (Uzbek: eski shahar, Russian: stary gorod) starts beside the Chorsu Bazaar. A maze of narrow dirt streets is lined with low mudbrick houses and dotted with mosques and old medressas. Taxi drivers get lost easily here. On foot, you could easily get lost too, but that’s part of the fun. Wandering around you may be invited into someone’s home, where you’ll discover that the blank outer walls of traditional homes conceal cool, peaceful garden courtyards.
Tashkent’s most famous farmers’ market is Chorsu Bazaar, which is dominated by a large green dome, It is a delightful slice of city life spilling into the streets of the old town’s southern edge. If it grows and it’s edible, it’s here. There are acres of spices arranged in brightly coloured mountains; Volkswagen-sized sacks of grain; entire sheds dedicated to candy, dairy products and bread; interminable rows of freshly slaughtered livestock; and – of course – scores of pomegranates, melons, persimmons, huge tomatoes and whatever fruits are in season (cherries and strawberries were common when we visited in mid-May). Souvenir hunters will find kurpacha (colourful mattresses for sitting on), skullcaps, chapans (traditional cloaks) and knives.