Uzbekistan’s capital Tashkent has seen many things in its 2,000 years of history: Indian spice merchants, Chinese silk-sellers and the evolution of its famous bazaars. Although much of the city was destroyed in a cataclysmic earthquake in 1966, Tashkent rose from the ashes like a phoenix and went through a range of architectural and cultural transformations during the Soviet period.
The Uzbek capital is a kaleidoscope of mesmerising art, delectable food, sweeping gardens and eye-catching architecture. Even though Tashkent may lack the historic grandeur of Bukhara or Samarkand, it is filled with traditional bazaars, tastefully curated museums, awe-inspiring Soviet architecture, cosmopolitan institutions and local culinary delicacies.
In recent years, the country has relaxed its visa restrictions and thrown open its doors to more mainstream travel, which is why you must consider adding Tashkent to your post-COVID bucket list.
Getting around Tashkent is quite an experience. The ornate Metro system has 29 stations that each have their own eccentric architectural features. Ride the rails and experience flamboyant mosaics, sleek granite, ceramic murals and even a cosmonaut-themed metro stop. The most aesthetic station is Alisher Navoi featuring Islamic architecture rife with arches and domes.
One of the first things you must do is visit the Chorsu Bazaar, a blue dome of tile and concrete. What’s interesting is the Korean section. Make sure you get a tiny packet of kimchi to nibble on as you check out the many glass cases full of interesting artefacts. Uzbekistan has an underrated collection of amazing fabrics and you’ll find those in the costume shop inside.
An old madarasah lies just opposite the Chorsu Bazaar. Its kitschy exterior is the result of a not-totally-historically accurate reconstruction, but it is a real head-turner with its vibrant mosaic on brick and huge carved wooden doors. When the hunger pangs hit, The Central Asian Plov Center which serves thousands of people every day, is the place to be. Outside you can see them at work around the kazans — metal woks, cemented over a brick fireplace, where the plov is cooked.
To get a taste of culture, hit the broad-roofed Amir Timur Museum, decorated with Islamic calligraphy and stained glass. Recently built, the museum features a grand spherical mural in the Ottoman miniature style of Amir Timur. Many of the most famous buildings of modern-day Uzbekistan were due to his lavish patronage. Outside the museum, is a vast park and down to Tashkent's own pedestrian-only Ä°stiklal Avenue. Check out all the local artists' offerings and enjoy light evening snacks and drinks at the cafe.
Set out early in the morning and spice things up with a visit to Tashkent Land and explore the horde of exciting rides offered. The man-cage ski lift offers a mesmerising view of the entire park. The Horror Castle is a two-minute ticky-track through a bunch of dark rooms with animatronic horror dioramas, mostly semi-dead skeletons in various stages of murder. Exploring this theme park will most likely take up most of your day.
If you’re itching to lay your hands on some authentic Uzbek art and handicrafts, head to The Human House, which is much tamer than its name suggests. This upscale shop’s owner, Lola Saifi, sells her own clothing, bags and shoes made in the national style, as well as the works of local designers.
If you aren’t yet thoroughly exhausted by your travels of the day, head to any of Tashkent’s public parks in the evening because that’s when they come alive. The summer brings with it funfair rides, fast food stalls and tables full of sparkling trinkets. Locals gather on humid nights in the park to get caricatures, watch their kids spin around on flashing rides and listen to live music. It’s a fantastic place to people-watch, buy souvenirs and gorge on hotdogs and popcorn.
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