Train from Alma-Ata
to Shymkent
TASHKENT, Uzbekistan
September 13, 2007

I have just spent two days in Tashkent. So far I have seen absolutely nothing.

I usually delve right in when I arrive in a place I have never visited: exploring the city, visiting sites, orienting myself. I have long anticipated this visit to Uzbekistan, excited to "some day" see the country. Over the past several years I've often told people that Uzbekistan is my "number-two", the country I most want to visit in the world, second only to Iran. However, rather than see the sights, I've holed up in my hotel for the past couple days.

Why haven't I jumped right in, experiencing a country I have long wanted to visit? Several factors combine to make me sluggish: Tashkent is hot, I believe yesterday's temperature was the highest I've experienced this entire summer. Additionally, Rian and I embarked on a long, overnight train journey this past Monday--from Alma-Ata to Shymkent, the last stop before leaving Kazakhstan. Finally, my visa allows an entire month in Uzbekistan--I plan to stay here for the full thirty days. Urgency has disappeared. There is no need to race around sight-seeing upon arrival.

History of this area, both past and present, is hard to top. I suppose it is untrue that I say I have yet seen nothing: just crossing town I have personally found that Tashkent has one of the world's loveliest metro systems. The design of each station feels somehow more ornate than the last. I believe the only subway system on par--which I myself have seen--must be that in Moscow. Another personal discovery: I am well understood--Uzbek and Uighur must be the same language, no more different from each other than the English spoken on either side of the Atlantic.

At the end of 1991, after the Soviet Union fragmented, the new state of Uzbekistan inherited some of the world's finest Islamic architecture: minarets wrapped in calligraphy, white-upon-turquoise; beautiful mosques; shrines; tombs--all of these are found scattered throughout the country. At the risk of sounding overly romantic, the combination of the Silk Road nexus this area once was, followed by subjugation as another outpost of the Mongol empire, later stamped with the imprint of recent Russian imperialism, finally independence--it's impossible to not be taken by the history of Uzbekistan.

All other circumstances aside, I believe the single-greatest factor keeping me from going about exploring town is actually that I've splurged on a hotel just above my means. At the intersection of Kounaev and Nukus I've checked into Hotel Koreana, a spotless 7th storey guesthouse with satellite television and air-conditioning. I spent my last two nights at the Koreana--justifying the expense by telling myself that time spent indoors is time spent recuperating from road-weariness. I know that I really ought to find somewhere cheaper should I choose stay on tonight in Tashkent. That assumes I don't leave this very afternoon, making a beeline to Samarkand, Bukhara, Khiva, or Kokand--heading off to some part of the country I have so long wanted to explore.