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Published: January 25th 2014
I cycled from the Kazakh border to downtown Tashkent. I had to stop at a few checkpoints and policemen asked to see my passport several times, more out of curiosity than anything else. I ended up sliding a copy of my passport on top of the bag attached to my handlebar so that every time a cop or a guard asked for my ID, I would simply point at the copy. Most of the time they would say “ohhh French?” and they’d let me go… They all looked pretty bored. I must admit I was a bit worried about meeting so many Uzbek policemen. I have read so many articles about corruption in this country, I was becoming paranoid. Especially since, in Tashkent, there are policemen (are they actual policemen or security guards?) at every single intersection, round-about or subway stop.
Maybe it was a good thing that there were so many cops everywhere in Tashkent, because the first thing I did when I entered the city was to exchange money, and 1 dollar = a shit load of Uzbek Som!!! In Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan, I changed money at the bank because the exchange rates were almost the same as
the street price and I felt safer. So I did the same in Tashkent… except that the rate at the bank (the official rate) is much lower than the rate I could have gotten at any bazaar! I ended up changing about 500 dollars (a lot, I know, but I only wanted to do it once for the whole month) and I ended up losing about 100 dollars in the conversion… Stupid! Still I gave five 100-dollar-banknotes to the lady behind the bank counter, and she gave me… 1 million Som!!! I walked out of the bank with an entire plastic bag full of money! I was a millionaire! But my million couldn’t even fit inside any of my bike panniers! Ha!
I am lucky to have friends in Tashkent. In Fuzhou I made friends with a very cool young man from Belgium (Joachim) and it turns out that his dad works in Tashkent. We got in touch and Dominique and his lovely wife, Gulnara (from Kazakhstan) invited me to stay with them. After more than a week on the road, camping in the cold, facing strong chilly wind, eating noodles in my tent almost every night, I
got to Heaven at Dominique’s! Gulnara and Dom are so sweet and they completely spoiled me! Gulnara cooked delicious food at night; Dominique shared his European cheese and “saussisson” with me! Ohhhh! Good life! And they live in an incredible house with high ceiling and very wide rooms and the most comfy bed… I felt like a guest of honor!
Gulnara’s Mom was also there (she lives in Almaty but was visiting her daughter for a few days) and it turns out that she speaks very good French and so it was nice to talk to her and to see how much she appreciates French culture. She also made sure that I didn't go hungry and she fed me non-stop! I told you it was paradise! We sang Joe Dassin’s songs together and she would also recite lyrics and poems in French. It was a lot of fun! Gulnara and Dominique showed me different markets around Tashkent (which reminded me of Kashgar, Xinjiang, in so many ways!) and it was very nice to have guides for a change.
Dominique is a diplomat who has worked pretty much all around the world. His wife juggles between English, French, Russian,
trying to prove something?...
Spanish (and I don’t know how many other languages) with such ease! I felt so lucky to be able to spend time with such well-rounded people.
Nobody (other than Dominique!) rides a bike in Tashkent apparently. The avenues are gigantic. There is barely any traffic but no cyclist is taking advantage of it. I did and it was very pleasant, and easy to get around since most streets end up leading to Amir Timur’s Central Square (Amir Timur being a Turko-Mongol hero who ruled Central Asia in the 15th
century, whose military campaigns caused the death of 17 million people… but he’s also recognized as a patron of wonderful Uzbek architecture).
I spent a day cycling-walking around the Chorsu neighborhood, in what is the last remaining maze of narrow dirt streets, lined with mudbrick houses. Men sat in the sun playing chess or cards. Kids were playing football in front of the mosques. The old neighborhood stood in sharp contrasts with the rest of the modern city and its massive marble Governmental buildings, skyscrapers and other state-of-the-art structures like the incredibly pompous subway for example. I particularly enjoyed the Grand Kulkedash medressa. It was built in the 1990s
but it was the perfect introduction to Uzbek architecture and its blue-tiled domes: beautiful! I can’t wait to get to Samarkand!
I hope you enjoy the pictures of modern Tashkent. After going to Kazakhstan, I published a blog on Almaty, saying that it was most probably the best city of Central Asia… or is it Tashkent?
- big massive modern buildings everywhere
- a lot of parks and beautiful green grass (they must have a lot of water here! ;-)
- colorful markets
- good pastries!
- "cucumber" police everywhere (wearing green uniforms)
- an interesting mix of Muslim and Russian cultures
- very wide avenues + smooth traffic
- good Plov
(rice, vegetables + meat). Uzbek men jokes that the word for "foreplay" is Plov
- Dazzling over-the-top subway stations
- lots of cafes and good restaurants
- mud-walled houses in the old town
- kind people ready to help whenever I asked them for direction
- tasty dry fruit sold everywhere!
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