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Discovery Uzbekistan Travel Guide #14/2010

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Tashkent: a city to discover

Multi-ethnic, multifaceted, over 2000 years old yet modern, often underestimated yet charming, Tashkent has a lot to offer.

To many travellers to Uzbekistan, Tashkent is simply a necessary stopover en route to Samarkand, Bukhara and Khiva. However, this historic city holds many treasures and rewards deeper exploration with some unexpected surprises.

First impressions are of a Soviet style city (it was rebuilt by the Soviets after the devastating earthquake of 1966). Wide avenues and tree-lined streets, imposing buildings and large squares dominate the 'new' town while the old town retains its higgledy-piggledy charm. Low adobe houses turn inwards on to their shady courtyards, winding streets, and ancient mosques and medressas.

A good place to begin any tour is the imposing statue of Amir Timur in the centre of town (built on the spot where previously statues of Kaufman, Lenin, Stalin, and Marx have stood). Uzbekistan's Russian past lingers on in many different ways but the city's oriental roots can never be in any doubt.

Visit any bazaar - we recommend Chorsu - and you will find the hustle and bustle of Central Asian life. Local dress and the Uzbek language prevail and trade is brisk in these colourful, lively places where anything that can be bought or sold is being traded. From spring to autumn the heaps of fruits and vegetables have to be seen to be believed and the taste is enough to convert anyone to organic food. There is a sense that not much has changed in these places over the years and for the passing visitor they give the most vivid snapshot of Uzbek life.

The street known as Broadway leads off from Amir Timur's statue and is a fun place especially at weekends to wander and drink in the atmosphere, and to browse among the antiques and souvenir stalls. Karaoke stands do good business and portrait artists, trinket sellers, antique sellers and cafes all ply their trade.

One thing not to miss is the Tellya Sheikh Mosque in the old city which houses a beautiful Islamic library with painted ceilings and ancient manuscripts on display. The main attraction is the huge Osman Koran thought to be the world's oldest Koran and said to be stained with the blood of Osman himself in 655.

For culture take your pick from the eleven theatres in Tashkent. The handsome Navoi (built by Japanese prisoners of war) is the largest and puts on a rotating programme of Russian ballet and opera and Uzbek folk productions. For modern punchy drama try the Ilkhom theatre off Navoi Street.

Museums are also plentiful. The Museum of Contemporary Art features the country's cultural highlights in its special exhibitions. The Museum of the History of the Peoples of Uzbekistan, once dedicated solely to the life of Lenin, now houses archaeological treasures including a 2nd century complete Buddha figure. The Applied Arts Museum is popular not only for its beautiful exhibits but also for its setting. Built by a Russian diplomat who developed a love for Uzbek architecture and design, its painted ceilings, verandas, cool stone courtyard and woodcarving create a peaceful haven in the middle of the city and the antique shops on the museum's premises offer excellent shopping.

Discovery Uzbekistan #2

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