Trip Start Apr 29, 2012
48Trip End Aug 27, 2012
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Well I am in Tashkent now! I left Tehran at 5 am from the god-forsaken Imam Khomeini Airport, 50 km outside of Tehran city centre for some strange reason, and surviving on some dried dates because I had just about finished my last few Rials. I arrived at the Tashkent airport and I was hoping to do two things: changing money at the black market rate and getting a ride to my hotel cheaply. I was real tired so I wasn't in the mood of taking a bus, so what I thought of doing was exchanging money with a cabbie and getting a discount on a ride while doing so. I saw two old guys who rushed up to me, I ended up going with one of them. The other seemed a little angry that he lost some business and the two old men started fighting with each other physically, it was so hilarious it woke me straight up!
The old guy ended up driving me to the hotel at a fairly good price (~$3) and giving me a decent rate (2700 som to $1 for $10). He first tried giving me som at the official rate, 1500 som to a dollar, which I didn't fall for thanks to my Iran experience.
A real strange thing about the currency here is that the largest note is a 1000 Uzbek Som, which is about ($0.35). When I got dropped off at the hotel, I immediately went to the main market to change money and I changed $200 for 550,000 som and I literally got stacks, on stacks, on stacks! I took me a good 5 minutes to count all the money, in broad day light, in front of all the money changers and many passer byes, it was a little unnerving. Good thing I was wearing my utility vest which made my stacks not so obvious, by hiding it in a few secret pockets. As I walked to my hotel, I saw many people carrying cash in plastic bags going to the supermarket doing daily errands, and coming back with fairly empty plastic bags. In Uzbekistan, you shouldn't worry about carrying lots of cash as chances are so is everyone else!
I took the Tashkent metro to go to the railway office to buy my ticket to Samarkand, and the Tashkent metro is one large, Soviet style, depressing work of engineering. It works very well, don't get me wrong, but the amount of steel, concrete, and sheer blandness everywhere is just so... you know.... Soviet/miserable.
Moving around Tashkent for a while, I kept asking myself, "So this is the capital?! Where the hell is everybody?" It was so empty I had seats to myself on the subway, unlike Tehran where even moving an inch or two while standing was a challenge. I asked one Tajik guy in Farsi why this place was so empty and he said everyone is working in Russia! I knew Russia had a lot of central Asian immigrants, but I didn't know it would be this many!
Despite it being the first day of Ramadan, the city did not seem at all "festive". People were eating everywhere, the streets were quiet, there weren't any "Ramadan Kareem" signs or decorations like most Muslim countries I have been to. I have heard from many that Islam in Uzbekistan is severely neutered almost to the point of being a cultural hangover for most Uzbeks due to years of Soviet rule. Many Uzbeks identify to be Muslim but the vast majority are non-practicing. A bit of a paradox, as Samarkand and Bukhara have been some of the major capitals of Islamic learning in the past. I wonder if they will be any different, I shall see....
Off to Samarkand!
Till Next Time,