|Queenie and our Waitress at Breakfast|
The First Plans
We woke up early on Saturday morning excited by what the day would bring. We dressed and went down for breakfast where we bumped into a couple from a Hong Kong tour group. We asked them about their itinerary for the day and they told us what they would be doing. We decided to follow them to the first place at least. After that we would find our own way. We had some idea that we would go to the history museum, Khast Imam and Chorsu Bazaar, but we didn’t really know how to get anywhere and this would be the challenge.
How Much Money?
Before leaving however we needed to change money and there is nothing like receiving your first sack of local currency for the US$100. The exchange rate was about SOM1,400 per US$1.00. That means we received 140 SOM1,000 notes. It was quite a stack! We tried to change US$200 but the hotel foreign exchange counter did not have enough notes so we had to settle for changing US$100 only.
You want the bus?
After we got the money, we made sure we were packed and then asked the concierge how to go to Khast Imam. He said he would call a taxi but we said no, we want a bus. He looked stunned. I don’t think anyone in the hotel ever went anywhere on the bus. They finally figured out the bus route and wrote down the critical stops for us and showed us which general direction we should head in. And so off we went!
|Cold and Grey Morning|
Outside it was grey, cold and miserable. People were all wrapped up warmly but we were happy to be heading off for our day of adventure. We didn’t have to wait too long for the bus to arrive. As soon as we got on we paid for our tickets and as it turned out, overpaid by SOM200. The conductor was quick to give us change. And this was to be a feature of our journey.
Bargaining prices for taxis and goods in the markets was a necessity, but once a price was agreed, change was always given. If we accidently paid too much (as counting thousands of SOM can result in errors) the change came back immediately. Once the price was agreed, people were honest in seeing the price was kept. This impressed us. In many other developing countries we have visited this would not have been the case. The extra money would have probably been kept. I am not suggesting here that we were never overcharged or never paid the “tourist price,” just that the correct change was always given.
The conductor was also careful to tell us when we should get off the bus but then after that we couldn’t figure out where to catch the next bus, and this was where we started to learn to never trust Uzbeks with directions. We were told two different directions. The short story is we landed up at the wrong bus stop for the second bus to Khast Imam and decided to take a taxi after all, and this was when we learned about taxi drivers in Tashkent.
Adventures on the Sidewalk
Since we were facing the wrong way, the taxi driver thought nothing of just turning the taxi on the sidewalk, driving along the sidewalk to make his turn. In Taipei we get irritated when the motorcycles ride on the sidewalk, but taxis? See the video below!
We finally did get to Khast Imam, which the Lonely Planet says is a must see sight in Tashkent. Khast Imam seemed to be out of the city. There were a series of mosques and the architecture and decorations on the Mosques were different to what we had seen in Turkey. Well in Turkey they have the famous Blue Mosque but here all the Mosques were decorated in blue. Apparently some of these building have been here for a while so they are quite old. Since we were walking and looking without a guide we couldn’t really tell you anything useful.
At the back of the building we bumped into Jack and Emily’s tour group. They were happy to see us and we were happy to see them. We hitched a tour with their group and they took us through the library where the Uthman Koran, the oldest in the world apparently, is stored. The guide told me that the Koran used to be in Iraq but after Timur (Tamerlane) conquered Iraq he took the Koran back to his capital in Samarkand. Then when the Russians took over Central Asia, they took the Koran to Russia for analysis and study. After the fall of communism in the 1990’s and the independence of the republics, the Russians returned the Koran to Uzbekistan where it found its current home in the library in Tashkent.
After walking through the library we parted ways with Jack’s group and ambled through the first of millions of tourist shops we would encounter on the road. It became a truism that many of the old Medressa have been converted into tourist shop complexes. Whenever you go inside you are offered a series of undifferentiated products form a series of undifferentiated stores all claiming handmade wares. Queenie met a nice lady so she decided to buy something from her but we decided it was the first morning and we would hold off the shopping.
|One of the Vendors|
Time for Soccer and Tea
|A Tad Cold|
We continued to walk around the massive courtyard and walked into a soccer game in progress. I think they were students.
We walked around a little more but it was freezing. We decided to be sensible and find a tea shop. We were lucky to see one right across the road from Khast Imam. The restaurant was fairly comfortable. We ordered tea and some kebabs. Ordering required some imagination but eventually we got we wanted and manage to warm up.
So we sat in the tea shop eating kebabs and sipping our tea and pondering what lay ahead. After all , it could only get better!