Sterilised city

Trip Start Apr 25, 2010
Trip End Nov 10, 2010

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Flag of Uzbekistan  ,
Tuesday, October 5, 2010

From a city which seems happy and flourishing (Almaty) to another not so far away which is having the life stifled out of it...

Last week I was able to enjoy perfect sunshine and climb high into Almaty's Alp-like mountains, visit a waterfall, drink from the "spring of eternal youth" and even get taken round an ostrich farm. Another train journey from hell followed - my compartment was occupied by two teenage girls (who were okay), a grandmother and her two grandsons, aged about 4 and 5, who ran around screaming for most of the first day. The boys' parents piled in the next morning as well just to make things even cozier, as we endured the endless trials of the Kazakh-Uzbek border crossing. On the Kazakh side, both girls were "called out" of the compartment because of apparent problems with their documents, while an Uzbek customs officer told me off for making mistakes on my declaration, for which I had to write it all out again.

Just a few minutes later we arrived in Tashkent's brand new station, and this really set the tone of the place. I spent a month here for work 11 years ago and so I knew the city well. But I wasn't expecting to recognise so little of it. There has been so much building going on here, most of it pompous and sterile, and I think the city has suffered as a result. It took me half a day to realise that my hotel was right in the centre of the city I used to know - the central square, dedicated to Tamerlane the Great, used to be covered in trees but is now open and peppered with a few bland shrubs. The main pedestrian area, which leads from it, and used to be full of karaoke bars, kiosks and street performers, is now empty, gutted but for a cluster of portrait painters. Of course there are cafes and shopping malls nearby but they are too clean and characterless. There are also police everywhere, even at every set of steps down into the metro, in rather garish turquoise uniforms, just so that you couldn't mistake them.
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