THE UZBEK CAPITAL isn’t a bad place at all. Pleasant parks, Russian palaces and theatres, colourful, bustling bazaars.
The Soviets bequathed their usual elegant and efficient subway system, and some outstanding Islamic history is here, too. Unfortunately for Tashkent, it will never out do Samarkand, Khiva or Bukhara, perhaps the three greatest silk road era cities. Where could? (I’ve tacked on a few pics from opposite ends of the country as well.)
The Uzbek capital of Tashkent is having some growing pains. There are lovely parks, bustling bazaars, grand theatres, museums and mosques. Fortunately, the Soviet built metro bypasses most traffic jams.
Hast-Imam Square is the Islamic heart of Tashkent, a metro ride and a walk away from the middle of town.
The relatively under-developed area conatins many twisting back streets of humble homes, but the spacious and peaceful square contains one of Uzbekistan's and Islam's greatest treasures.
The oldest copy of the Koran sits inside this otherwise unremarkable building. Written just 19 years after the Prophet's death by the third Caliph, Othman, the bulky deerskin holy text spent 700 years in Iraq, was taken by Timur to Samarkand, then by Lenin to Moscow, and finally here since 1924.
One of the pleasant surprises in Uzbekistan as well as Kazakhstan is Korean food. Kimchi by the bucket in the bazaar.
Uyghur food also makes a very good change from grilled lamb and shorpa.
Like death and taxes, there is always plov, although personally, I'm not sure which is worse.
Smoke fills the air, as hungry shoppers fill up on grilled lamb.
The traditional blue dome of Islam clashes with the harsh, grey lines of Soviet design.
The "Friendship of People's Palace" is a testament to the brutality of Soviet brutalist architecture.
"Kurt" is another curio of the steppe nomads. Balls of dried cheese or curd, which keep forever have been packed in saddle bags for centuries, and get the thumbs up from me.
The Chorsu Bazaar features black market money changers, acres of fresh fruit & veg, meat, dairy, spices, a retro-chic domed roof and a wave ceiling.
Counting out a pile of near worthless Uzbek Som. The black market rate was double, making for some great bargains.
Uzbek food isn't red hot like Indian or Uyghur, but you'd rarely call it bland.
While sticky-beakng around the bazaar, keep your ears keen for impatient porters. They are working, so get out of their way.
The range, quality and quantity of honey in the bazaar is striking. Buy a jar or a whole tub.
Nukus is a harsh 16+hour train ride from Tashkent, a dump of a town in an inhospitable part of the Uzbek desert. You don't come here for the samosa.
Located next to a fortress outside Nukus, the Mizdakhan necropolis dates back 2,500 years, and has some remarkable tombs and masoleums. But that's not why.
Photography is not allowed at Nukus' huge draw, the remarkable gallery which houses the Savitsky Collection, curated, collected and hidden away from Soviet authorities. Absolutely worth spending 14 hours on a train through the desert for.
While it is possible that he has run out of petrol, I prefer to assume his Lada has broken down.
At the opposite end of the country, Termez was so named by the Greeks from the word "Thermos", for bloody hot. There is a friendly market, lively cafes and a museum which was closed.
In times long gone, traders and warriors passed through Termez, with Afghanistan just across the Amu Darya, Tajikistan to the east.
Outside Termes, Fayaz Tepa Buddhist monastry was founded in the 1st century. The site is open, but staff will ensure you don't wander off into Afghanistan, or take photos of military structures on the border.
This was the scene at the station, people jostling and shoving their way in to the station for tickets. Staff blocking the doors took pity on us foreigners, but had no such mercy for locals.
This is what much of the country looks like. Dry, flat, hot, brown. The food and facilities in these establishments is, umm, rudimentary.