With the arrival of my college friend Remi this morning, our group was finally complete and we were ready to begin our first official day in the capital of Uzbekistan, Tashkent.
A few of us started off by learning about the black market exchange with the Uzbek currency vs. the official rate. You can either go to a bank/ATM to get the posted rate of 2,500 Uzbek soms to the US Dollar, or go on the street to exchange the black market rate at 5,000 Uzbek soms to the US Dollar.
For example, exchanging $20 USD at any ATM or bank will give you the official exchange rate of 50,000 soms, whereas for the same amount on the street with a black market handler you can get up to 100,000 soms. Every tourist does the black market exchange so don’t be shy and start bargaining!
Like in Myanmar, make sure you bring crisp money to exchange as tattered, ripped bills are worth much less than their printed value.
Our first stop was our guides’ Eilidh and Ben’s personal favorite Central Asian museum, Uzbekistan’s Railroad Museum.
It’s an open-air collection of old Soviet locomotives and train cars from the heyday of the Cold War, which you are free to explore and climb all over. Think of it as an adult jungle gym.
Afterwards we bus’ed it over to the Soviet behemoth and cousin to Shanghai’s Pearl TV Tower, the Tashkent TV Tower and the tallest structure in Central Asia.
No photographs are allowed past the entrance, so we had to settle for a beer at the revolving restaurant at the top.
Afterwards we walked 5 minutes over to the Central Asian Plov Center, Uzbekistan’s best place to try their national dish, plov, and to see the rice pilaf cooked in large cauldrons outside to whet your appetite.
A delightful mix of rice, vegetables, and meat bits cooked in lamb fat and oil, plov is served everywhere in Central Asia. However, it’s like a national religion in Uzbekistan where locals eat it voraciously, some approaching it as an aphrodisiac (the informal word for ‘foreplay’ in Uzbek is ‘plov’).
One look at the cauldrons and you can see why it’s worth worshipping over.
The best time to eat plov here are Thursdays as that’s when the best cuts of meat are picked out to be cooked into the plov (and not coincidentially, Thursday is when the most Uzbek babies are conceived!).
Just before food coma was about to set in, the group headed out for a ride on Uzbek’s metro. Also acting as military installations, the metro involves heavy security where guards search your bags carefully before you enter any station. Taking photos is also a big no-no.
Unlike other Soviet-style metro stations such as the ones in Kiev and Pyonyang, the metro stations in Tashkent don’t double as nuclear fallout shelters and have been dug quite shallow underground; you don’t have to descend 100m for over 10 minutes on endless escalators to get to the trains. A flight of stairs and you’re there.
We rode the metro a few stations until we got to the highlight of Tashkent, the Chorsu Bazaar.
A farmer’s market topped by a giant green dome, Chorsu Bazaar moves with the pulse of the capital city. Anything edible that can come from the earth and anyone who can cook are both found here.
Head up to the second floor for not only the delectable dried fruits and nuts, but also a better view of the mass of humanity below:
After spending an hour here, our group headed past the adjoining markets for a few black market money-exchange and garment window shopping before peeking at a nearby 250-year-old madrassa.
Afterwards we headed back to the hotel for an early dinner and bedtime; tomorrow morning we all have to get up at 5am for a flight departing at 7am for Khiva.
- At time of posting in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, it was 7 °C - Humidity: 70% | Wind Speed: 8km/hr | Cloud Cover: clear