Day 1 – Tashkent, Khiva
Most flights from the west arrive at Uzbekistan late night or early morning. My Turkish Airlines flight from Los Angeles (LAX) to Tashkent (TAS) via Istanbul (IST), arrived at 1am. Immigration was a breeze and my tour’s driver was waiting for me outside the terminal.
Unlike most capital cities in the world, traffic in Tashkent is light, even during peak hours. This meant that during the night, we were practically only ones on the road and took about 15 minutes to Shodlik Hotel. It was a long flight and I needed to get sleep, plus get the time zone set almost twelve hours ahead. We were asked to be ready at the hotel lobby by 11am to begin the tour, so instead of sleeping in late, I was up by 8am!
After breakfast at the hotel, I walked to the Independence Monument, just two blocks from the hotel. A small façade built with carved columns and decorated ceiling lists all those who died under WWII and Soviet rule, defending the country. Under the monument there is a figure of a woman holding a baby in her arms – a symbol of Mother or Motherland.
[A canal flowing through the Independence Square]
[A small façade built with carved columns and decorated ceiling.]
[Statue of woman holding a baby is a symbol of Motherland.]
[A small façade built with carved columns and decorated ceiling lists names of martyrs.]
Heading back to the hotel, our tour guide was ready to show us around. First impression of this city was great – less traffic, no congestion, clean roads and friendly people.
With not many sights to see in the capital city, we headed off to our first stop – Chorsu Market. A traditional bazaar located in the center of the old town of Tashkent. Under its green-colored domed building and the adjacent areas, all daily necessities are sold. Before we entered this building, we asked our tour guide if we could exchange money and he rushed us to a small shop that sold souvenirs, and money exchange!
Since my whole trip was pre-organized in a tour, I didn’t have to exchange a lot of money, although meals were not a part of the tour (except breakfast). Being determined not to spend a lot on souvenirs and considering food comes cheap here, I wanted to exchange $200. The exchange rate on the streets go at USZ 6,000 to a dollar, this meant I’d be getting UZS 1,200,000! The worst part is that the highest denomination for Uzbek Som is 1,000. So I was handed a bag full of money!
[Lots of Uzbek Som notes!]
Feeling a millionaire, we walked over to the Chorsu market building. The heaps of colored spices, the stacks of grains, entire sheds dedicated to candy, dairy products and bread; interminable rows of freshly slaughtered livestock; and – of course – scores of pomegranates, melons, persimmons, huge mutant tomatoes and whatever fruits are in season can be found here. Souvenir hunters will find kurpacha (colorful sitting mattresses), skull caps, chapan (traditional cloaks) and knives here.
The locals are happy to give you handful of eateries for tasting, and this is by far the best place to have a meal, or perhaps many meals!
[The green dome of Chorsu Bazaar]
[The mosque in front of Chorsu bazaar]
[Inside of Chorsu bazaar]
[Dry fruits at Chorsu Bazaar]
[Pasteries and sweets]
[Local food… Delicious!]
[Cute Uzbek men as souvenirs]
After spending an hour at the bazaar, we stopped by a small shop making fresh bread – tandoori style!
A short drive later, we arrived at this grand, open courtyard of Khazrati Imam Mosque. The whole complex consists of ’Barakhan’ madrassah, ‘Tilla Shaykh’ mosque, ’Muyi Muborak’ madrasa, tomb of Kaffal Shashi, ’Namozgah’ mosque, as well as newly built ’Hazrat Imam’ mosque.
Muyi Muborak madrasa contains the hair of the Holy Prophet Muhammad, and hence the name ‘Muyi Muborak’ – ‘Sacred Hair’. Currently, the madrasa is a library of Muslim Board of Uzbekistan, where the Koran of Khalif Uthman, dated 7th century and rare manuscripts are kept.
Hazrat Imam Mosque – This mosque took four months to be built in 2007 and is a unique symbol of Tashkent architectural style: at the entrance to the mosque there is a terrace with twenty-carved columns of sandalwood. The mosque also has two large blue domes, the interior of which is decorated with gold leaf as in madrassah Tillakari in Samarkand. Window openings of domes are designed so that the sun’s rays continuously penetrate inside the mosque from sunrise to sunset. At the entrance to the mosque there are erected two minarets of 53 meters in height.
Returning back to the Independence Square (Mustakillik maydoni), this time we were on the other side where a huge independence monument stands in place of Lenin’s statue. The new monument is in a form of a globe with Uzbekistan’s borders outlined on it.
The central figure of the square is sixteen marble columns joined by a bridge, supporting the sculptures of storks who symbolize peace and quietness from the earliest times. The alleys with green zones and beautiful fountains from their both sides are stretching from the colonnade to the Independence Monument. The government buildings and administrative institutions are located there and be careful not to take pictures of any government buildings since it’s prohibited.
Our last stop for the day was Tashkent Metro, the first underground transport in Central Asia. Construction began after the 1966 earthquake and the first line of metro opened in 1977 in honor of 60th anniversary of the USSR and connected the most populous district Chilanzar with the center of the city.
We stopped by four stations on the metro.
Each station has its own unique architectural features: marble, granite, glass, smalt, art ceramics, carved alabaster, ganch and other decorations. Lighting is also interesting and amazing: in some stations it creates the atmosphere of holiday ballroom, in others it makes you feel in mysterious catacombs. Each station is the separate place of interest.
Remember that the Tashkent metro is the strategically important object and it is illegal to take pictures and to make video filming inside the subway system. Police presence is everywhere making sure that tourists do not take any pictures resulting in fine, prison and/or deportation.
[Tashkent Metro. Source: Pinterest]
[Tashkent Metro. Source Dolores travel service]
It was 3pm and time to start driving to Tashkent airport, for 6pm flight to Urgench which was booked by our tour operator (as a part of the tour.) Uzbekistan airlines flies daily, non-stop, between Urgench and Tashkent taking an hour and forty minutes.
Urgench is the capital of the Khorazem region and has always been regarded as a missable stopover city; a short distance from Khiva, one of the three great epicenters of the Silk Road (Samarkand and Bukhara among the other two).
After landing at almost 8pm, we drove for 30 minutes south from Urgench and just across the border from Turkmenistan. The first sight of the old town is the incredibly preserved Persian-built fortress walls. Khiva’s name had been synonymous with the caravans of a brutal, systematic slave trade that kept the city profitable during the Silk Road days. The constant threat of marauding raiders of the desert mad this city a destination only for the most determined, ruthless traders. Hundreds of years later, after the rise of fall of many kingdoms, empires, and regimes that remarkably spared this city, it has become the most well-preserved medieval city of the Islamic world.
I checked in to Mirzaboshi Hotel and went for a stroll around the old city, stopping by the Mirzaboshi (same management) restaurant for dinner, before heading back to the hotel and calling it a day!
[Uzbekistan Airlines at Urgench airport]
[Courtyard of Mirzaboshi hotel]
[Khiva streets in evening]
[Khiva streets in evening]
[Khiva streets in evening]
Note: All values in USD, unless otherwise mentioned, are approximate and based on the exchange rate of USD 1 = UZS 6,000 at the time of publishing. Each cost is for one adult.
|Meals at Chorsu Bazaar||$2||Sweets, meat, fruits, etc. – UZS 12,000|
|Dinner||$5||At Mirzaboshi restaurant in Khiva – UZS 30,000|
|Souvenirs||$6.67||Fridge Magnets & decorated plate – UZS 40,000.|
|Water & snacks||$1.67||From local store – UZS 10,000|
|Total Costs||$15.34||Per person|
|Overall Costs||$1,868.94||Per person|