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Discovery Uzbekistan Travel Guide #14/2010

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Tashkent: a city to discover

To many travellers to Uzbekistan Tashkent is simply a necessary stopover en route to the dream destinations Samarkand, Bukhara, and Khiva. However this historical 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 turned inwards on their shady courtyards, winding streets, and ancient mosques and medresses.
A good place to start 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 all 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 bustling colourful lively places where anything that can be bought or sold is being bought and sold. 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 here over the centuries and for the passing visitor a bazaar gives 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 souvenirs. Karaoke stalls do good business and portraitists, trinket and 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 complete with painted ceilings and ancient manuscripts on display. Another highlight is the huge Osman Koran thought to be the world's oldest Koran and said to have been stained with the blood of Osman himself in 655.
For culture take your pick from the eleven theatres in Tashkent. The Navoi 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. For Uzbek arts and crafts such as ceramics, tiles, wood carving, embroidery and metalware, visit the State Fine Arts Museum. The cumbersomely named Museum of the History of the Peoples of Uzbekistan, once dedicated solely to the life of Lenin, now houses archaeological treasures including a II 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 #5


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