After our epic nineteen hour journey we began our slow arrival in to Tashkent, my final stop in Uzbekistan. As far as train journeys go, it was reasonable – apart from the temperature plummeting at 3am there was no snoring and I managed a few hours sleep.
We pulled in to the modern train terminal around 7.30am and disembarked among a crazed hoard of people all rushing and pushing to the exit. At the exit even more chaotic scenes greeted us with hundreds of taxi drivers jockeying for business. We pushed our way passed to get to our bus, only to discover that frustratingly it was half an hour late.
Todays Tashkent is a capital city of over 3m people, a modern commercial centre that is trying to break free from its Soviet past.
With limited sleep on the train the bad news was that we couldn’t check in to our Soviet era hotel until 2pm – meaning we’d leave our bags in storage and head straight out for breakfast, followed by a city tour.
Despite my chicken and mushroom omelette tasting amazing it didn’t agree with me, and I had to abandon the city tour only fifteen minutes in and rush back to the hotel. After some category 5 bowel movements I headed out to see some of the highlights on my own.
Compared to the spectacular ancient wonders of Samarkand, Bhukara and Khiva, Tashkent has limited appeal – consisting of mainly large government buildings, monuments and the trappings of a capital city. The original Silk Road markets are largely gone – replaced by shopping malls.
Adjacent to our hotel was a giant modern and totally under-used Concert Hall – in an emerging economy it remains baffling the money spent on such edifices when most of the population lives in poverty.
A fifteen minute walk down the central avenue I arrived at the Parliament and Independence Square, another giant government complex with fountains and manicured gardens, with very little activity apart from a handful of tourists and an occasional soldier on guard duty.
After my quick sightseeing I returned to the hotel just in time to checkin and grab a nap before our final dinner together. My roomie David had however misheard the meeting time and had us waking up two hours early, much to my displeasure, although it did give us as chance for a final chat about the the ins and outs of life in Mansfield!
I was going to be the first of the Group to leave, catching my flight to Astana an evening before everyone else. Not wanting to miss out on goodbyes I decided to joined everyone for dinner but not eat, so that I could rush back to the hotel, grab my bag and head to the airport.
It’s always sad saying goodbye to new friends – especially after travelling with some for over three weeks in a region that can be physically and emotionally tiring. I knew I was going to miss my intellectual discussions with Brian and Josephine, beers and banter with Oli and my amazing bond with Chris and Jackie who felt almost like family by the end.