Central Asia Travel Diary

Our task today was a fairly simple one – to drive 300 kilometres from Samarkand to Tashkent, ready to catch a flight the following morning to Tehran.  The drive was completed in just over four hours, leaving at 9 am and arriving at 1:10 pm, with just two brief stops for the driver to smoke a cigarette.

The countryside was unremarkable; it was a flat plain that is traditionally called the Hungry Steppe because of the region's history of widespread famines in past centuries.  Today the area is dominated by small towns and cotton farming.  Our drive followed the main highway except for a small diversion through Guliston to avoid a section of the road that now passes out of Uzbekistan for a while through Kazakhstan.  The road had certainly improved since I last drove on it 15 years ago in a bus from Tashkent to Samarkand, and although far from perfect, it is now much wider and smoother, and in many places, dual carriageway.

Upon returning to Tashkent, we stayed again in the Hotel Rovshan, the same hotel where we had spent our first night in Uzbekistan about three weeks previously.  In fact, we stayed in the same room once again – number 13.

Remembering the great meal we had experienced at the Rovshan last time we had stayed, we returned to the underground restaurant for lunch.  We had a great meal of Uzbek bread with mushroom soup (me) or lentil soup (Andy), followed by a salad and veal with mushroom sauce (both of us), and Coke of course.  It was one of our more expensive meals at 13,900 sum for the two of us, but excellent value nonetheless when translated at $US11.35.

Having finished lunch at about 3 pm, we decided to go for an afternoon walk to see something of Tashkent.  This eventually became a three hour trek to the centre of new Tashkent (i.e. the Soviet city with broad tree-lined avenues, not the old section of the city with narrow winding lanes that we had visited a few weeks earlier).  After finding a postbox and mailing a postcard, we walked north as far as the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, taking in a range of huge fountains, shady parklands and new government buildings.  I remember visiting the same area 15 years ago when it was a fairly sterile, largely paved area with a few non-operational fountains.  The transformation has been very impressive indeed.

We then walked east through parklands to the Hotel Uzbekistan, which was where I had stayed in 1991.  Even this section of the walk was a contrast to 1991; the park was now full of souvenir and art stalls, and walking into the hotel revealed significant renovations carried out since my previous visit.  A short walk brought us to a street café where we each enjoyed a bottled Coke for just 250 sum ($US0.20) each before continuing our walk in a big loop back to the Rovshan.

We finished the day with dessert in the Rovshan's underground restaurant – ice-cream with fruit accompanied by chilled apple juice.  It was a cool, refreshing conclusion to our wonderful time in Uzbekistan.

Sunday 23 July 2006

Samarkand to Tashkent

Path to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, Tashkent
New parklands, Tashkent