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krisek Tashkent - A travel report by Krys
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Tashkent,  Uzbekistan - flag Uzbekistan -  Toshkent
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krisek's travel reports

Great Silk Road. Uzbekistan. Pleasant Tashkent.

  8 votes
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Uzbekistan's capital is Central Asia's largest city. But it does not feel like it. It is rather pleasant with wide alleys, spacious pedestrian areas, shaded with big leafy trees. Sadly little remains from the city's glory when it was the Silk Road's post.

Kukeldash Madrassah
Kukeldash Madrassah
Tashkent welcomed me with temperature officially measured at 42C. I have no idea what it was in the sun, but I could feel my body panicking by generating several litres of sweat per hour. Last time I experienced temperature like that was in 2002 in Namibia, so my body could not remember well.

A very friendly representantive of Roxana Tour, the agent who invited me to Uzbekistan, waited for me at the airport. His name was Rakhmatjon. He whisked me to my hotel in a new BMW. I quickly realised where my money was going. An official invitation was a requirement to get an Uzbek visa, which obviously cost extra ($50). I used the local agent to make train, plane and hotel reservations for me.

Rakhmatjon was very nice and his English was perfect. He handed me all the tickets and accommodation vouchers they arranged for me and gave me a free map containing all the main attractions in Uzbekistan. I invited him for a drink. He was very helpful in providing information about authentic and local places to eat, drink and go out in the places I was going to see. He later told me that he was the owner of Roxana Tour.

We went out. Rakhmatjon brought a colleague with him, Humayun, whose English was also perfect. It was a great night. We could not stay out too long as it was Sunday and the lads had to work the next day. We had a couple of drinks in The Caravan and the Dudek Restaurant, and ended in the Diplomat Service club. We spoke about girlfriends, traditional and conservative ways of Khiva, Bukhara and Samarkand, and the reasons why people still spoke Russian everywhere. I was particularly difficult with questions about the language. Surely after 70 years of russification to convert back might not be an easy task. Rakhmatjon also said that Russian was fairly essential in the business space. I was still finding it a little weird. Yet, many Russians and citizens of the new states formed after the dissolving of the USSR, still lived in Tashkent, and Russian was a common language.

Favourite spots:
Milliy Bog Park Entrance
Milliy Bog Park Entrance
I really cannot put my finger at what I liked best in Tashkent. I think it could be the park at the Milliy Bog. It was set around a vast pond, where one could hire a boat and read poetry. Alleys shaded by giant trees surrounded the water, except one side, which was opening to a site with flamboyant state buildings. It was clear people had fun there in the park. Kids could jump on inflatable platforms and adults could test their drinking abilities at a few bars, one of which was set on a large wooden boat that resembled a galleon. Wide spaces were covered with thick evergreen lawn. When I arrived in the park at sunset, countless sprinklers looking like small fountains, created a great illusion as the fading sunrays contacted the tiny droplets of water making it glitter a little.

Near the park, by a rapid stream, a large number of jackass daredevils stripped down to their underwear and jumped into the white rapids. The water looked remarkably clean - pale blue, like a glacier lake.

What's really great:
Near Abdul Kasym Madrassah
Near Abdul Kasym Madrassah
The capital seemed very orderly and laid back for the largest city in the Central Asia. There was hardly any traffic in the centre and the wooded pavement left an impression as if one was walking in a park. It was clean, too. Actually, in the centre there were a few small parks planted with massive trees almost entirely blocking the sun. Some parks had fountains. It felt more like a European metropolis, not Central Asian.

First of all, Tashkent was safe. I walked about the city at night and never felt uncomfortable. People usually did not take notice of me or were very friendly. Restaurants, cafes and bars in their multitude were teeming with locals relaxing over meals and drinks, listening to Russian pop music mixed with western golden oldies from the 1980s.

Djami Mosque
Djami Mosque
Tashkent actually was rather weak for historical sights. Apart from three madrassahs (Barak Khan, Kukeldash and Abdul Kasym), two mosques (Namazgokh, Djami) one of which looked modern, and one Kaffal Shash Mausoleum, there was nothing significant. Still, the monuments were located almost in random places, among the high rise apartment blocks. The Islamic schools were in a bad state of disrepair, but money was being spent to renovate them.

For architecture enthusiasts the city was fabulous. Even the gray concrete blocks of flats were unique. The facades with thousands of windows had the window frames shaped in Mughal arches, and parts of the sides of the blocks with no windows, had colourful mosaics painted on them. The state had built spectacular parliamentary and governmental offices. The new parliament building and the City Hall were my favourites. Their vast facades made sure the structures looked respectable but their construction and many columns made them look light as well.

Grand Orzu Hotel - swimming pool by the cafe
Grand Orzu Hotel - swimming pool by the cafe
I stayed at the Grand Orzu Hotel, near the Israeli Embassy. They charged $45 per double, en suite and air-conditioned room. It was clean and safe. It looked a little like small chateau. Their small pool in the courtyard by the restaurant attracted a few guests, who cooled down after the exposure to temperatures of low 40s. Personnel spoke Russian, English and Uzbek and all were professional and polite.

Tashkent had a good number of hotels to suit most budgets, but not the lowest ones. If there were hostels around, they were hidden well as they did not come up on my search. Yet a few small hotels provided rooms for less than $25.

Milliy Bog Pond with the Ship Cafe
Milliy Bog Pond with the Ship Cafe
Katakombo, a small cozy and glamour place with attractive girls wanting to be seen among good company, was delightful open-air place wonderfully located by a gentle waterfall. Tables were positioned on a few plaftorms all facing the water and the bar. Music was fine and played loud enough for a club yet at levels allowing for conversation without shouting.

Diplomat Service, near Dedeman Silk Road Hotel, was just a big night club. I came when the club celebrated it's third anniversary. It had two dancing floors, both equipped for pole dancing, and a hall with three pool tables. There was no pole dancing that night and the venue looked respectable. That night a tremendous fruit platter was compulsory (there was no cover charge), and the table service was professional.

Club 25, near Grand Mir Hotel (formerly Russia Hotel), big but glamour place to boogie and watch people, attracted younger clientelle.

The Caravan Group (see below) also ran a few very good but pricey nightlife venues.

Chorsu Bazaar's Dome
Chorsu Bazaar's Dome
La Riva cafe close to Salvadore Dali restaurant offered German recipe beer brewed locally and had free wi-fi, which for iPhone users like me was a bliss. Tashkent was full of small and simple cafes, many of which served unsophisticated meals, mainly from grill, and many had free wi-fi, which worked perfectly and was so unexpected! Along Rustaveli avenue along the stretch of a mile, there were at least ten of them. And that's only one of the sides!

The number of cafes and parks everywhere meant that both the locals and visitors were simply spoiled for choice. One of other interesting places to kill time and hide from the world was the Chorsu Bazaar in the north-western corner of the centre. It was packed with people trading absolutely everything, but everywhere you looked it was like the green globes of the watermelon dominated the assortment. Every shopper had one in their hand! But watermelons are perfect in hot weather...

Meal at Midami Japanese-Korean restaurant
Meal at Midami Japanese-Korean restaurant
The Caravan (the group incl. Ye Olde Chelsea Arms, Izumi, Park, Pirosmani, Odesskiye Istorii, Organic Food) was a restaurant with tasteful d├ęcor resembling eastern ancient stop point for travellers on the Silk Road. Tables were decorated with thick-woven cloth on which deep dark red, brown, yellow and green colours dominated. A band played live music. Menu included both traditional Uzbek and European dishes. They made superb iced tea complete with fruit on the bottom of the tall glass. Long toothpick was served to pick them up. I loved the blackberries. Mains cost $3-$15, while the European dishes were most expensive. Prices were quoted in USD, but the bill was in sum, fixed with the rate of 1,350 sums to $1.

I had to try the impossible Japanese-Korean restaurant, called Midami. The Japanese cuisine was represented mainly by sushi and udons. The Korean options included mainly noodle soups and various stir-fried dishes. The food was authentic and, for a luck of a better word, perfect.

Other recommendations:
Abdul Kasym Madrassah and the Parliament Building
Abdul Kasym Madrassah and the Parliament Building
Dudek Restaurant served Czech beer brewed on the premises, and classic beer-snacks such as sausages, croquettes, cheese sticks, bread rolls. It was popular and it had free wi-fi! A band equipped with guitars, saxophone, drums, etc played exceptionally well and excellent mix of tunes.

Every single car in the capital seemed to be a taxi. It was enough to stick one hand out and within seconds someone stopped to take you anywhere you wanted. Within the centre it cost from 2,000 to 3,000 sums ($1.5 - $2.2). If you speak Russian or act confident that you always use this service, there is no need to agree on the price. You just hand the driver money as you leave at the destination.

The border crossing between Tashkent and Shymkent (Kazakhstan) was closed in 2008 for rebuilding. Other border posts around Tashkent did not allow non-Uzbeks and non-Kazakhs to cross. There was also no though road transport between the two countries.

Published on Saturday September 20th, 2008

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Mon, Sep 22 2008 - 11:09 AM rating by wojtekd

Great report. Do you have any bad experience with the corrupted police? (I have very bad experience - tha backpackers are their targets)

Sun, Sep 21 2008 - 07:14 AM rating by marianne

Interesting, entertaining, well written, as ever

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