Paka Shymkent, Salaam Tashkent

I have made the sensible decision to reduce my stay In Turkestan to only night, but visa considerations mean I now have to be in Shymkent (of which Lonely Planet opines ‘there is little here to interest the tourist’ – an almost criminal exaggeration) for three. The customary amble on day one is pleasant enough –  I stumble on the Museum of Soviet Repression which explains handily why Soviet history is so hard to find and why when I cheerily ask the waitress whether our GT conversation will be ‘Russkiy o Kazakh’ she puts her head down to hiss ‘Russkiy’ in my ear, but by 6pm and despite the balmy weather I have exhausted all options and retreat to my Airbnb to binge watch McMafia.

We get the message at the Museum of Soviet Repression

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_4663

A monument to the 145,000 Southern Kakahs who died in the Second World War. Not mentioned: a significant number of others defected to the Germans.

jtufUnPDQx+oPfiTPUItKQ_thumb_466e

Spring is trying hard to arrive in Shymkent

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_466b

Sheer desperation on day 2 forces me into a tortuous 2 hour bus ride to Sayram in an effort to locate the area’s only Silk Road ruin that survived the Soviets, presumably because they too walked right past it. Still Shymkent serves its purpose,  I finish McMafia and am raring to get on the road again.

The 30 foot Silk Road minaret that the Soviets missed. According to LP one can ‘climb to the top to get a view of the mountains’. Omitted: on your hands and knees.

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_4679

Downtown action in Sayram, ignored by the Soviets for all the right reasons.

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_4675

The transition from Shymkent to Tashkent involves an international border awash in internet hysteria – the Kazakhs will scrutinize my passport for the correct number of stamps (I’m one short thanks to my lackadaisical military friend on the train from Russia) and documentation of registration (don’t have it, aim to play the dementia card) while the Uzbeks will comb my luggage for anything they deem offensive (they are apparently easily offended). Visions of internment in no-man’s land disturb my sleep, however the day starts off well: The NYP (nice young people) who have rented me the apartment convey me to the gladiator circus where the 2 hour shared taxi rides to the border are transacted and negotiate me a coveted front seat for the local price ($3). The road to the border is a swish 6 lane highway. We arrive tout de suite.

A straight shot to the border

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_467b

Uzbekistan is a resolutely credit card and ATM free zone, and its currency (som) is closed so I will need to carry my whole 3 week Uzbeki budget as well as a buffer for entering Kyrgistan in the boondocks, in cash. I can’t top up dollars in Shymkent but the NYP reveal an ‘unofficial’ option for changing Kazakh Tenge to som at the border. I land up on the highway median where Macbeth’s witches with gold teeth huddle into the wind. Calculators are whipped out. Cash is stuffed into grocery bags (my hastily acquired Tenge will transform into about 1,800,000, the largest note is 10,000). Simultaneously, duplicate forms are being filled out in Russian declaring all cash, assets and strangely, medication (antibiotic, antidiarrheal and ibuprofen). Huddled into the wind myself, It is all very disorienting and ripe for a scam. Later, when I realize I am $20 short I console myself with the thought that they could have given me plain paper and in the moment I wouldn’t have noticed.

As calculated, in light of the massive bundles of who-knows-what being energetically ‘imported’ in both directions, the border officials have bigger fish to fry than me. They are in no mood to engage in GT conversations to confirm I am demented, and my reading material, luggage and medications are of no interest. Sadly, once safely in Uzbekistan I must tackle the gladiators on my own. My taxi driver is so irate I am only willing to pay 1½ times the going rate ($3) for the hour ride to Tashkent he refuses to take me further than the Metro station and I am reduced to collaring a random pedestrian to phone my B & B for directions. They send their 12 year old son who manfully shoulders my roly bag. All in all a very successful day.

Salaam Tashkent

 Jahongir B & B is in the old town, an area so residential that the predominant nocturnal noise is the sheep the neighbors evidently keep in their courtyard.

lw2ySYKwSBmS8MHkbZfAUA_thumb_4682

Jahongir B & B. There are definitely sheep behind one of those walls.

FGt8+myYQj2n4tFQGPy2bw_thumb_4685

Another $25 bargain, especially now I’ve wheedled an extra pillow.

Mine hosts are an extremely traditional Uzbek family – all females headscarved even indoors (daughters up to their elbows in laundry or scrubbing the stairs) and no evidence of dad except for his singlets drying on the washing line. But mom is speaks fluent English and is eager to explain the new president’s goals to open Uzbekistan to the world (visa reform! ATMs! Credit cards! Faster internet! Massive ugly building projects!) while simultaneously trying to justify why her daughters will be just as well off getting married as going to university. Beneath the polished sweetness a spine of steel.

zYDVPhUcR8mI1OdRf6vi4w_thumb_46d5

Muhammed and his sister Alazira. He wants to play for Real Madrid, and practices daily in the lane. She wants to be a doctor and only ever leaves the compound to go to school.

But LP is so wrong about Tashkent, its civic architecture is astounding! I emerge from the Metro to a city center in which glorious pre-Revolutionary and Soviet buildings have been deployed in extensive parkland packed to the gills with flowering trees.

The previous president’s vanity project with my photo-taking friends. Old folks don’t do selfies.

Cs0A1o%ATE6BP1+zn4k1rA_thumb_46c2

Pre-revolutionary home of one of the Romanovs.

JKyiARg+StCVFdnZDaLOpw_thumb_46b9

Another glorious opera theatre

MSDZjWf7Q4KAMhsBS10bVg_thumb_46af

The story behind the negotiations behind this plaque would be worth hearing.

2nKO+VVOQG+OPKigjh00ng_thumb_46a1

A Soviet favorite

z2QiDKmmTleVdG9g6g1gag_thumb_46ab

Don’t expect a warm welcome at the Uzbekistan Hotel.

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_46c6

There has to be a Lada

tYor91GYSKawDTk4za5fhg_thumb_46ad

The Russian second hand book market. Samizdat is out. Test prep and text books are in. Russian schools are still the pathway to higher education. Striver Uzbeks grit their teeth and suck it up.

eAtubhFPSI6RiNQxt7FmRQ_thumb_46d2

No takers for the Soviet memorabilia still for sale.

NuoqUUtmQgmZ6YsO9cF2uQ_thumb_46ca

On the run-up to Nowruz there is little traffic only decorous families wallowing in the opportunity to be out eating ice-cream in their winter clothes (it is 70° today, it will be 115°C in the summer).

Bad art for (almost) everyone.

rQCNTKx5QeqhRtGm8bjbFA_thumb_46ce

Not overwhelmed with customers today

7xmjf3g1QuywGcne8LHG6g_thumb_46bd

If only the megalomaniac previous president hadn’t cut down all the plane trees in Republic Square we could have checked out the chess players too. In the absence of shade they have taken themselves elsewhere.

tAJHAZcOT6aUlI1Vcbg8WQ_thumb_46d4

Republic Square. At a time when it wasn’t cool a (luckily anonymous) dissident castrated the horse to protest cutting down the trees.

h4zCAkqRQN2bJnn1v%BHRg_thumb_46bf

He cut them down so we could all see his building behind.

The chess players have moved elsewhere.

GLnEx9jJTK+n9IKTzMocCg_thumb_469e

A 5-hour stroll takes it all in and then another execrable dinner of fatty shashlik and an inadvertent mayonnaise salad in the restaurant across the road. Uzbeki cuisine begins to take its toll. Off to Khiva on the night train tomorrow.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s