A Weekend in the Capital of Uzbekistan, or There’s No Tashkent Tea in Tashkent

The flight from Almaty to Tashkent only takes an hour and a half. This means you can head to this hospitable city at the end of a business week and have an exciting weekend. What can you do in Tashkent? How to fit everything into just one trip? We asked Sobir Pulatov, a professional guide in Uzbekistan, to answer these questions.

Tatyana Fominova

Sobir Pulatov is a professional guide in Uzbekistan (and soon to be guide to the Silk Roads), but he stumbled upon the profession rather unexpectedly. A lover of history since he was a kid, Sobir wanted to open a training center. One day, his aunt, a hotel owner, was left without a guide for her visitors who were already lined up anticipating a city tour, and she asked her nephew to help. Sobir guided that impromptu tour, and everyone turned out happy with the trip. He got paid by his aunt, received tips from the tourists and decided that being a guide was his calling.
Tourist guides are experts in the culture and history of their country who promote intercultural understanding and peace. Sobir Pulatov is taking a practical course led by the World Federation of Tourist Guides Association to train Silk Roads Heritage guides. The training is part of UNESCO’s partnership project with the European Union entitled Silk Roads Heritage Corridors in Afghanistan, Central Asia and Iran: International Dimension of the European Year of Cultural Heritage. Sobir will not only get certified after the course but will also become a professional working along the Silk Roads and playing an important role in conserving the region’s history and rich culture.

Culinary Delights in Tashkent

“Of course, you can travel on your own but in that case you won’t probably get to enjoy everything you could during the trip. A guide can tell not only about attractions but also about the city vibes and where to eat. I know the best places to eat and can tell how to best pair the dishes. Every region in Uzbekistan has its own style of cooking palov. In Tashkent, I would recommend trying palov at two restaurants, both located not far from the city’s television tower, The Plov and the Palov Center. And, of course, palov should be eaten around noon as restaurants and cafes do not serve it in the evening.”

Palov Culture and Tradition
There is a saying in Uzbekistan that guests can only leave their host’s house after palov has been offered. In Uzbek homes, palov is served both as a regular meal and on special occasions. Knowledge and skills associated with this tradition are handed down using a master-apprentice model or by demonstration and participation within families, peer groups, and community-based establishments.

This tradition helps to strengthen social ties and solidarity and is part of the community’s cultural identity. In 2016, palov was inscribed on UNESCO’s Representative List of Intangible Cultural Heritage.

“Everyone has different samsa – we have, for example, Jizzak, or Alat, or tandoor samsa. The Uzbeks also serve beshbarmak, as a result of influence from Kazakh culture. But there’s no “Tashkent tea” in Tashkent and waiters would be surprised if you asked for it. Uzbeks drink green or black tea but don’t grow it themselves and so there are no specific tea traditions in the country.

“And do you know anything about Uzbek beers? We do produce beers and wines. There are a lot of different flavors, and they also differ in alcohol content – how would you know the difference if you saw the label for the first time without a guide?”

Tashkent’s Attractions

“Tashkent is popularly known as the city of bread because it was Tashkent that provided the Soviet military front with food during WWII. Yet, its history is far richer than just bread. Formerly known as Shash, Tashkent, like other cities in Uzbekistan, has old and new neighborhoods. Khast Imam, for example, is a large compound in the old city that includes the Khast Imam Mosque, the 16th century Barak Khan Madrasa, which keeps the world’s oldest Quran that belonged to the Caliph Uthman, and the mausoleum of Khast Imam himself. Not far from it is one of the city’s oldest bazaars, Chorsu (chor meaning four and su standing for bazaar in Persian and Arabic). Persian dominated here, firstly because of the historical influence of the Khanate of Bukhara, and secondly because Tashkent, Bukhara and Samarkand were the cities of the Silk Roads where Persian was the lingua franca. Next to the bazaar is Tashkent’s oldest mahallah (neighborhood) that survived the pre-soviet times. The Khanate of Kokand was only emerging at the time and the Russian Empire was conquering new lands and made Tashkent the administrative center of its Turkestan Governorate.”

Soviet Architecture in Tashkent

“The old neighborhoods were almost the only ones that survived the 1966 earthquake when Tashkent was almost destroyed by a 7.0 to 8.0 magnitude quake. The entire Soviet Union helped to restore the city. The best architects came to Uzbekistan and materials for reconstruction were sent from all over the Soviet Union. This is why one can see many Soviet mosaic murals on buildings and in the subway. I would also recommend visitors to check out the subway – we have beautiful stations, and this was the first subway built in Central Asia.

“The Soviet period is known for very ambitious buildings. The Lenin Museum, for example, is an unusual square building bearing typical signs of the classic Soviet style. And all this has been preserved. Tashkent and Uzbekistan are unique in that a wide variety of architecture has survived here and one can see everything at once – the old medieval cities of the Kokand and Bukhara Khanates, the Russian Empire buildings such as the current Law University that was built as a school during the times of the Turkestan Governorate, the Romanovs’ summer residence, the Soviet architecture, or the structures dating back to the Alan tribes.”

In the center of Tashkent, there is a monument commemorating the tragic events of 1996. It is entitled Courage and takes the form of a broken cube of black granite, with the clock dials stopped at 5:23 – the time the earthquake struck. The split in the cube leads to a pair of sculptures– a woman with a baby in her arms and a man shielding them both. There are also paths that lead from the base to the bas-reliefs telling the story of Tashkent’s restoration by the fraternal Soviet republics.

Environs of Tashkent

“I would recommend planning a weekend visit to include not only Tashkent, but its environs as well. Not far from the city is a yurt camp on Lake Aidarkol where the stars appear so close it seems you can touch them. If you have enough time, travel to Bukhara via Shakhrisyabz by car or express train. I prefer traveling by car as this offers more sightseeing opportunities without the need to stick to train schedules. Bukhara is a unique must-see destination that has preserved the architecture and vibes of an old city. Samarkand, another unique ancient city, is closer to Tashkent and, therefore, attracts more visitors.

What other attractions are there in Uzbekistan aside from Tashkent? You may want to visit the country’s UNESCO World Heritage sites such as:
Samarkand – Crossroad of Cultures
Founded in the 7th century B.C. as ancient Afrasiab, Samarkand had its most significant development in the Timurid period from the 14th to the 15th centuries. The major monuments include the Registan Mosque and madrasas, the Bibi-Khanum Mosque, the Shakhi-Zinda compound, the Gur-Emir ensemble, and the Ulugh Beg Observatory.
Itchan Kala (Inner Fortress), Khiva
The inner town is protected by 10-meter-high brick walls of the old Khiva oasis, forming the last resting place for caravans on their way before crossing the desert to Iran. Although few very old monuments remain, it is a coherent and well-preserved example of Muslim architecture with several outstanding structures such as the Djuma Mosque, mausoleums, madrasas, and the two magnificent palaces built at the beginning of the 19th century by Alla-Kulli-Khan.
Historic Center of Bukhara
Bukhara, situated on the Silk Road, is over 2,000 years old. It is the most complete example of a medieval city in Central Asia, with an urban fabric that has remained largely intact. Monuments of particular interest include the famous tomb of Ismail Samani, a masterpiece of 10th-century Muslim architecture, and many 17th-century madrasas.
Historic Centre of Shakhrisyabz
The historic center of Shakhrisyabz contains a collection of exceptional monuments and ancient neighborhoods which bear witness to the city's secular development, and particularly to the period of its apogee, under the rule of Amir Temur and the Temurids, in the 14th-15th century.

UNESCO's Memory of the World Program was created to preserve documentary heritage and memoirs reflecting the diversity of languages, peoples and cultures around the world and to raise public awareness of their importance.

The Holy al-Mushaf al-Uthmani Quran
is a manuscript kept by the Spiritual Administration of the Muslims of Uzbekistan, the oldest and most complete version of the Quran known as al-Mushaf al-Uthmani. The third Caliph, Uthman, who ordered his own version of the Quran, was murdered while reading this document.

There is a legend around Samarkand which is home to the tomb of Amir Temur. During the Soviet times, Gur-Emir was excavated to make sure that Amir Temur and his relatives were indeed buried there. When the archeologists reached the main tomb, they saw an inscription on it foreboding a disaster if it were to ever be opened. Local elders also warned the researchers about the danger of intruding Amir Temur’s tomb, but the archeologists persisted and opened it on June 20. Two days later, Germany attacked the Soviet Union, and the Second World War began. Stalin then ordered the urgent reburial of Amir Temur’s remains, and the expedition was disbanded.

Illustrated by Roman Zakharov
This material has been prepared as part of Silk Roads Heritage Corridors in Afghanistan, Central Asia and Iran: International Dimension of the European Year of Cultural Heritage, a project implemented by UNESCO with financial support from the European Union.

The contents of this material are the responsibility of the author and do not reflect the views of the European Union.


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