There’s more to Tashkent than meets the eye, I am sure, but there were only two things on our list during our short stop in the capital: Tashkent Metro and the Museum of Applied Arts.
First was the cheapest private tour we ever undertook. We bought a ticket for like 15 cents and just rode the metro, stepping out at different beautifully decorated stations.
Someone had done the work for us and posted an extensive blog about all the most interesting stations including a handy map. Thank you, Google and Cynthia!
A nice passanger seeing us study the map told us that the metro had been extended and suggested we ride all the way to the end. So we did.
We like to ride public transportation on our travels (well, one of us really does…)
That one of us takes special joy and pride in figuring out how to buy a ticket and read the map. The other one likes to observe the people and make up stories about who they are and where they are going.
The majority of people were dressed in Western styles, certainly all men. Women showed more diversity, but we saw no covered faces.
Or just looking for lunch options?
We definitely couldn’t miss the Kosmonavtlar metro station built in 1984 in honor of the cosmonauts of the Soviet Union. Luckily one can now take photographs of the station which was prohibited until recently as the station was designated as a nuclear bomb shelter.
The blue ceramic medallions on the walls feature some of the historical figures of space dreams and legends and greatest pioneers of the Soviet space program, such as Yuri Gagarin and Valentina Tereshkova, the first man and woman in space.
Some stations were very contemporary.
And some really harkened back to the communist era with their red stars decor.
We preferred the more folksy decorations with colorful ceramic panels of country life.
One could spend the whole day riding the metro, but we did want to make it to the State Museum of Applied Arts before closing time. The building itself is interesting as it was originally a palace of a rich late 19th century Russian diplomat Polovstev, adorned in colorful oriental decorative style by his male Russian-Uzbek lover. Ah, if those walls could talk!
Unfortunately, for once no one could be found to talk and guide us through the museum. For a while, we pretended we were part of a British tour bus group, but then decided we will strike it out on our own.
I have already waxed poetically about spectacular suzani embroideries, so let me just mention a few of the other 4000 exhibits on hand.
There are exquisite lacquer boxes
Intricate wood carvings
What is fantastic looking at these masterpieces is knowing there are people here and now that still have skills and know how to do this with their own two hands and simple tools.
A good place to find them is Fergana Valley and that is where we headed next. We jumped into the train and immediately made new friends. A lovely group of ladies traveling for days to get to a wedding in Kyrgyzstan.
When we told them we will cross over the border too, they immediately invited us to the festivities. Alas, we were not going to get there on time as we were planning to make a few stops on the way.
We jumped out in Kokand. It is a tiny place and certainly not able to compete with the Big 3 on the Silk Road, but we had it all to ourselves, not counting the guest soccer/football team that stayed in our small hotel, preparing for the weekend tournament.
Kokand was situated on major ancient crossroads of two trade routes and at the end of the 19th century Khudayar Khan built a huge royal residence with 113 rooms set around seven courtyards. The ruler wanted his mother to live in one of the palace’s grand buildings, but she refused and set up her yurt in a courtyard.
These days only a few rooms remain and only one is in perfect condition.
The Kokand Friday mosque is luckily very nicely restored and inviting with a large green courtyard that has a 300ft (100m) long iwan supported on 98 gorgeous slender columns.
Some of the original carved redwood columns, brought from India are still there.
We knew Fergana valley was famous for silk weaving but we were not prepared for what we found in one of the small one-man workshops in the mosque.
It took our breath away. Nothing ever anywhere after or before has been so close to perfection. As the proud weaver turned the coat it caught the light and the surface undulated into different patterns. Mesmerizing… Like swimming underwater in a tropical sea. Wow, just wow!
The chain-smoking wood carver on the other hand couldn’t be bothered to even look up from his work.
There was a small museum, too, with two other visitors, students from a local University that delighted in being able to practice their English and of course take a picture.
They gladly explained the strange wooden implements found exhibited.
Weeell, they are part of this ensemble.
It is a cradle-potty chair combo for little babies.
No need for changing diapers in the middle of the night. Scroll back and try to guess which is for boys and which for girls! The thing is, while this is an interesting ethnographic exhibit, many mothers, including our female guides are still using it nightly. (now that is also why I prefer female guides).
We were doing these stops on the alternative, longer way from Kokand to Margillan with the craziest, fastest, and friendliest taxi driver. We called him Oscar(chik) and he called Mirek (E)mirek. He had nowhere else to be, so he was happy to stop on our way and a few hours drive turned into a whole day of fun and exploration. With a break for lunch at the best shashlik place (our treat of course).
He spoke great Russian and about 10 words of English, despite his sister being an English teacher. But he was sharp as a tack and kept doubling his vocabulary every 20 minutes while laughing and gunning his car down country roads. “Oscarchik smart,” he would say tapping his finger on his forehead. “How do you say…”
We had a communication snafu as I kept insisting that he has to take us to Rishtan’s famous ceramic workshop of Master Rustam Usmanov while he kept advocating for a ceramic workshop of a different guy. Turns out he was talking about Usmanov’s son.
Both were most welcoming and took time to show us the whole process. I was a bit apprehensive before coming as I was worried about it being too touristy. We were the only people there and every piece they had in their huge production was a masterpiece. When we bemoaned the fact that we traveled with a small carry-on only and couldn’t buy a whole set of dishes they GIFTED us a little pomegranate vase.
It is Margillan that is the center of silk weaving. We asked our Oscarchik to first take us to the local market but only a few stalls with silk could be found.
Most of the market was cheap Chinese mass-produced clothes.
The visit to the Yodgorlik Silk factory was a disappointment. It is supposed to produce enormous amounts of hand woven silk but most of the looms were abandoned. As elsewhere we found girls jumping to do work only when a tourist poked their head in.
Still, we soon had fun taking portraits of the girls.
We finally said goodbye to Oscarchik in front of Margillan’s Ikat House Guesthouse.
It was a carpet-studded homey place and immediately we felt like in the good old days of young travel with interesting travelers from all parts of the world hanging out and sharing experiences and tips. Especially cherished was the discussion with a group of young Russian motorcyclists. They left Russia for a long trip anxiously awaiting Putin’s May Victory speech afraid he might conscript young men. Tentatively at first and then more freely, they expressed their opposition to Putin and the war in Ukraine.
Our last stop in Fergana Valley and Uzbekistan was in the city of Andijan.
The city has a famous historical figure to be proud of as it is the birthplace of Babur (=Tiger in Persian). He was the great-great grandson of Timur and ascended to a much diminished throne of Fergana at the age of twelve. Following a series of setbacks, he finally succeeded in laying the basis for the Mughal dynasty and became the first Mughal emperor.
We had another important reason to visit Andijan. Through the power of the internet and Instagram, I got connected to Gulkhumor, the owner of Inter progress School, teaching children foreign languages.
Of course, I promised we will visit them. I thought we would pop in and say hello to the students.
Who was I kidding! We were treated as VIP dignitaries, starting with a big bouquet of fresh flowers.
Speeches were delivered and the children in their Sunday best prepared songs, dance, and recitations in English.
Parents were invited to this event of the year.
Countless selfies were taken
And invitations for tea, dinner and overnight stays extended. Alas, we were bound for Kyrgyzstan border the next day. But what a farewell to incredible Uzbeki people!
Saying a final goodbye to Uzbekistan with this fun oldie, but goldie couple. Is it time to change our name to CrazyGrandparentsTravel? Nope, but it is time to cross the border to Kyrgyzstan! See you on the other side.