Uzbekistan doesn’t exactly sound like the first place someone would choose to travel to. I would not have either, if my father didn’t work there, but after a 10 day vacation it almost seems silly that the tourist crowd isn’t larger out there.
The city of Tashkent is bright and welcoming, albeit drenched in the influence of its Soviet Union past. The people are enthusiastic and communicative, eager to share their love for Raj Kapoor and Mithun “Jimmy Jimmy” Chakraborty.
Upon my father’s insistence, my first Uzbeki experience was lunch at a small joint, which served the country’s most popular food — plov. Assuming from the name, I came to the conclusion that it would be some form of the pulao.
When it arrived it looked similar enough to justify my thoughts. It is a mixture of golden and orange rice and is accompanied by an array of vegetables, quail eggs and quail meat, horse meat sausage or beef according to one’s preference.
It tastes nothing like pulao though and is a melting pot of unusual and yet enticing flavours once you take a bite. I completely agree with their collective obsession for this dish!
It was easy to forget that most of the country is covered in desert sands because every place I travelled to, and the journey to those places, presented lush greens and fields of flowers.
On the road trip to Andijan city of the Fergana valley, I came across some of the most sumptuous strawberries I’ve tasted. Such fruit stalls could be spotted multiple times over the course of the journey along with bottles of a delicious, refreshing homemade drink called aairan for all those who are weary from their drives.
One of the most picturesque places I visited was Lake Charvak, a reservoir on the outskirts of Tashkent. Uzbekistan is a doubly landlocked country, and I was told that for this reason the locals fondly call the lake, “sea”.
It was so odd to think that there were all of these people who had never been to the beach or stood by the ocean and looked at waves. What made the reservoir so beautiful were the snow-capped mountains that surrounded it, known as Chimgan. There is a ski resort and people often go for the experiences of hiking or snowboarding during the winter months.
We were on a motor boat ride across the lake, the hot summer sun shining down on us, but when we looked around we could see these mountains topped with white snow. It was fascinating.
After a long walk back to the car, we drove to a restaurant in the area. It is undoubtedly the most aesthetically pleasing place I have ever been to, and I had a hard time concentrating on the equally attractive food as I tried to take in just how pretty the arrangement was.
There was a common sitting area out front, but we were seated in one of the several private “counters”, draped with curtains so that we could still enjoy the view but not take the heat. We ordered chicken and lamb shashliks, and it came with the most diverse range of bread I’ve seen.
Since it is their staple, I could take that it is easy to get bored of simple loaves of bread, but apparently each region of the country has their signature style and specialty. It is customary to tear up the bread in pieces into the basket for everyone to share.
I witnessed some pure architectural genius in the old city of Termez Ota. The emperor Kanishka of the Kushan dynasty is said to have extended his empire all the way up to this place.
The significant Islamic architectural mark — the dome — was evident in all the buildings I visited, and even though some of these looked brand new, they have seen several thousand years pass them by.
Namangan was also very pleasant with its greenery, streams and hanging bridges. I was extremely impressed to see the medical facilities in the villages, and realised how well they have built their country to achieve such goals despite being a third world country.
Uzbekistan had been a closed country for a long time, and has recently opened up to the rest of the world. While some places have specific landmarks to look out for and spots to visit, the entire experience is worth it. It may become more noticeable in future but I am lucky to have already been able to mark this off my travel bucket list.