Back now   6 comments

We have just returned from Tashkent, Uzbekistan. Tashkent is not an everyday destination for the casual traveller or holidaymaker as yet and to be honest there are any number of reasons why that’s the case.

In the main the roads are uncomfortable to drive on around town and become almost non-existent as you drive out of town in any direction. The level of bureaucracy is inordinately high and the number of state employees seems to be vast.

For example at the airport to greet three VIP arrivals (you don’t, if you have any sense, go through the normal immigration because it can take over two hours) there were two police, (actually that’s a surprising small number when one considers that there are more than enough green uniformed police to fill every street corner and that is where you will find most of them).

In addition to the police at the bit of the airport we saw airport, who double as customs officials, there was a chap who ran the immigration desk, in a uniform I didn’t recognise, but although he had a neatly (ever) pressed nylon uniform he lacked the authority to actually stick a visa into our passports even though we had a letter from the state department approving our visa and informing us to collect our visa from… er the guy at the desk in the uniform I didn’t recognise.

And so after you leave the plane at Tashkent airport and shiver your way to the VIP immigration area to avoid the long wait at the normal immigration area and have parted with the princely sum of 100 USD (each) for the pleasure, you are made to wait while they go and wake up the only official who can give you your promised visa. And I mean “wake up” for some reason, maybe a slow night, he had slopped off home and gone to bed!

Upon arrival at the tatty airport you get a clear insight into exactly how Tashkent and indeed Uzbekistan works, or in truth fails to. In fairness if we had been almost anywhere else and not waiting for a visa to be inserted in our passports there wouldn’t have been a problem, or a long wait, we would have just held out a rolled note of Uncles Sam’s, one of which is worth nearly 4000 of the local currency and ‘Bob’ would have been another uncle to mention in this sentence, doors would have opened, red carpets unfurled etc.

Happily we had been here before almost ten years ago to the day we visited Tashkent in the summer, where the temperature easily leaps all barriers, like some demented steeplechaser and clings to the high 40’s C for most of the day, occasionally turning up the heat from there. So we weren’t surprised or disappointed by our greeting, we were expecting confusion, misdirection, sleeping officials and more policemen in silly hats than you can reasonably shake a nightstick at!

So what are the people like. Jolly, poor, and um… jolly poor. Unlike places such as Russia, America and Britain in particular where in Britain’s the richest 1% have accumulated as much wealth as the poorest 55% of the population put together, the wealth of this exSoviet Republic is not concentrated in a mere 1% of the population, it’s concentrated into a group that hardly register as a percentage of the population at all!

Below are a few pictures of daily life and my observations.

Transport, most people drive, or that is what it seems like in Tashkent the capital and unfortunately they appear to have learned how to drive from the worst Italian drivers alive! They constantly sound their horns, are over optimist when making U-Turns across six lane highways or indeed stopping somewhere near a junction (there don’t seem to be white lines to act as guides to the driver).

If you want a new car there are a few exceptions to driving a rebadged Daewoo. I should explain here that the reason all new cars are rebadged Daewoos is simple Daewoo sold the only car factory in Uzbekistan to Chevrolet and now the models made there have changed their badges. However the cars are still the same, underspected rubbish that Daewoo created so successfully.

One notable exception to honking car drivers was the subject of an awful lot of ear aching honking was a guy using a mobile phone on a horse who was bravely crossing several lanes of traffic at something of a gallop, understandably. Sadly the horse was going to quickly for me to get a picture of him.

Something that stand still longer is the bus for the mountains, that is either because it’s being repaired or believe it or not ‘washed!’

I thought my dear readers would like to see the bus, sadly the interior pictures aren’t great quality, for some reason my camera doesn’t like taking pictures of sacking and as the seats were covered in the stuff they looked even odder than they were and that my dear cuddly readers is saying something as they were without the camera’s help no place of a cat with standards to park his posterior on.

Tashkent image2

Strangely for a country where little works as expected and poverty if rife, most people seem to have mobile phones, what is it with people and mobile phones? I just don’t get it and as I am deviating from writing about Uzbekistan I’ll stop there!

There are a lot of houses in Tashkent, much of Tashkent was destroyed in a terrible earthquake in 1966 and afterwards suffered the ravages of Soviet planning and worse their building ‘expertise.’ The original old town or as most westerners would call it the “slum area” is losing a battle to stay alive from a rampant bunch of developers who want to build another, they have just the one, western style shopping centre and multi-storey car park.

I didn’t venture into the old town, it’s true occasionally I am a scaredy-cat, especially when discretion is the better part of valour. But I did look out over the remains of the old town from level three of the multi-storey car park and I have to say it’s not unlike any slum anywhere in the world.

In the main the many houses in Tashkent are not much better than the cardboard and wooden pallet construction of the old town.

Here are a few of the more interesting houses. Note that several houses in this street had to add buttresses to shore up the walls possibly as a result of flooding. Some of the buttresses are just iron bars or worse rotten wooden poles.

Tashkent image3

Other householders have ingenious flood defences and damp control mechanisms such as the one below. Lino being nailed to the outside wall and ground seemed rather novel, if you are wondering if it works and keep the damp out frankly your guess is as good as mine!

Tashkent image5

Shopping in Tashkent is done, in the main, in large covered and shiveringly cold Bazaars where you can buy any number of root vegetables, meat, bread, fruit and spices, some of which look as though they might have been swept up from the Silk Road itself and in the summer some are moving as the insects hatch inside the piles of Cumin or worse dried Sultanas. However it has to be said that the produce, bread, spices and meat are almost all of excellent quality.

Here is the other way of selling your produce, this tightly bundled up lady who it would seem is at this spot in the street every, day seven days a week is selling Coriander and other herbs. The Coriander was great, especially after being washed time and again – well you can see the colour of her hands, not all of that comes from the sun, if you know what I mean!

Tashkent image6

Some things are very cheap, near where this old lady was selling her herbs for next to nothing was a hardware store where you can buy screwdrivers for under a dollar! These screwdrivers are of course made in China and run for ten bucks in the states or a fiver in old blighty (that’s the UK to anyone scratching their head now), the same drastic price difference applies to all sorts of household objects, why I wonder is their such a price difference when the items I spotted are exactly the same as back home just hundreds of times more expensive?

For food shopping there are supermarkets, they open and close on the whim of the government who when they see a successful business usually grab it and run it themselves – into the ground which leaves one relatively major independent supermarket and a lot of large real estate for rent.

One of the oddest things in the supermarket is the electronic money counter that you usually see in movies about bankers and other embezzlers these machines are at every checkout and believe it or not are used to count the money you pay for your shopping.

Famously like Germany before the second world war where shoppers were burning piles of money because that was a more economic way to heat the house than buy coal and if you wanted a loaf of bread to toast on your cash fuelled fire you nipped out with two shopping bags full of the useless stuff and returned with a loaf of bread.

When doing a typical weekly shopping of say $200 you will have to have several bundles of Uzbek currency 800,000 Soms, the average banknote you expect to carry is 5000 and so you’ll need a wad of at least 160 notes, god forbid that you decided to ask for 1000 som notes when you changed your foreign currency.

Buying anything is an unusual experience when you go into a shop and pay 8000 for bar of chocolate, or 390,000 to fill your car up with gas.

Of course as in most countries around the world the Church is doing ok.

Tashkent image7

The Russian Orthodox Church in Tashkent, just down from one of the biggest Bazaars is being completely tarted up and gold leafed where necessary, the light from the golden towers shines elegantly down on the nice old lady who has a regular begging spot just outside the wrought iron gates.

While we were in Uzbekistan it was election time. Uzbekistan claims to be a democracy bless it. Two parties contest the election, the winning party and the ‘other’ party.

Vote for Me or Else 1

Honestly the country is so democratic that the government, on Election Day, let the election result be known before the polls open. A wonderful trick that saves any unpleasantness at polling stations of you happen to put your ‘X’ in the wrong box or do anything silly.

I managed to get a copy of a typical election leaflet from the winning party. And although it makes interesting reading I can’t read Russian so I worked on the visual suggestions provided by the leaflet and the knowledge that if you disagree with the winning party you can be boiled alive, tortured or if you are lucky executed, all of which makes the CIA look like a bunch of fumbling inexperienced pussycats.

The cover (above) is all very tradition for a political leaflet, “vote for me” is probably mentioned several times and quite a bit on the inside. Sadly the inside was all text so I couldn’t make head not tail of it, but the interesting stuff was on the back, or that’s what I think!

My reading of the images used is that all of the equipment below will be used to either persuade you to vote for the winning party and if you don’t you’ll need the rest to make your life comfortable as possible afterwards.Of course I maybe wrong there!

Vote for Me or else 2

So why go to Uzbekistan? Well the people are charming, the countryside like all countryside outside of heavily polluted cities is amazing, just ten miles away there are mountains with snow and even a ski resort. Unlike Tashkent if you go to Bukhara or Samarkand there are plenty of amazing sights to see, incredible architecture.

Then there is the food, it’s great and maybe I’ll write about Leproshka (Uzbek bread), Samsas (a sort of meat pie) and Shashlik (Lamb Kebabs), Lavash (enormous Tortillas folded into parcels and fried with filling of cabbage, cheese and anything you can imagine).

Mind you I have to say here because i am an honest Cat that I didn’t go there for any of those reasons!

It’s a long way to go and wouldn’t be high on most people’s travel wish list but my goodness is it ‘different.’


About the Author

The Cat Portrait2

The Cat is one of the most successful feline authors in the history of Catkind. His sharp elegant wit has produced the bestselling book ‘Getting Out – Excerpts from a Cat’s Diary’ and of course the much plagiarised gag of the same name which appears on all of the funniest joke sites on the internet.

Copies of the Cat’s masterpiece of feline literature ‘Getting Out – Excerpts from a Cat’s Diary’ and his latest wonderful book ‘The Cat’s Travelogue’ can be purchased at a bookstore near you or from the internet at Amazon.com and here for the Travelogue The Cat’s Travelogue Paperback Edition or at what The Cat calls his www – wickedly wonderful website here www.thecatsdiary.com where you can not only learn more about me the genius Cat but also play my games they are all paw picked by me and have been described as “exactly what free on-line games should be, fun, free and fantastic.”

I would like to tell you all about something new and rather nice that you can get from the Apple iBooks store, no not ‘Getting Out – Excerpts from a Cat’s Diary’ and his latest wonderful book you have been able to get that for ages, no something else rather wonderful. You can get John Woodcock’s brilliantly illustrated book the first in the series called ‘The Trams of Prague’

This heavily illustrated books created especially for iPads, Pods and Phones called Tram No 6 is the Naughtiest of Trams and it looks amazing.

If you would like to get this exceptional book the easy way, just click on this link:
Trams of Prague – Tram No6 is the Naughtiest of Trams


Don’t forget dear cuddly readers one and all that my translator’s heavily illustrated book has just been made available at the iBookstore or iTunes – what was it with Steve Jobs and all of the ‘i’s’?

To get whizzed straight to the store whatever it’s called just click on the picture of the cover of that wonderful book below.

Trams of Prague ePub Cover 2 1 13 225x225 75

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6 responses to “Back now

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  1. Wow, how exciting!! Welcome back and thank you for that great post, it was really interesting. I hope it was a successful trip for you 🙂

    • Why thank you for the lovely comment. It is great to be back, minus a laptop, an iPhone, a hard drive and a camera and a number of other things that got ‘lost.’ The other back up iPhone was nearly ‘lost’ as we were leaving. The policeman working the scanner insisted that it be taken out of a bag someone behind him said that the phone was falling off the scanner, in Russian and a casual panic ensued.

      As the bag was repacked I noticed that the iPhone wasn’t anywhere to be seen, after much denying that the iPhone had ever existed, I offered to go round to the scanner operating policeman’s side of the scanner and ‘find’ it for him, by holding him up by the legs and shaking him.

      To be honest I was a little annoyed at that moment even after forgetting that we had ‘lost’ most of our electronics and a nice bag in the mountains and that was because on the way in you have to declare how much you foreign currency you are taking in and being a typical bureaucratic state you get a special form, they had the special form to you in fact and you wrestle with the tangled English, I picked up a complaint form too, but couldn’t understand the instructions in English on how to return it to them – odd that!

      Anyway I digress, so we filled in the form, well as mentioned in the post we had plenty of time, steam comes out of my ears now thinking about it, and off we went.

      On the way out one of the odder customs practices is to declare just how much foreign currency you are taking out which I did, I had $1200 left out of a considerably larger pile at the start. Guess what? Oh you will titter! The took the money!

      Apparently on the way in, you are not supposed to have filled in one form, oh no, you are supposed to fill in, by hand, two forms bearing in mind that photocopiers haven’t been invented in Uzbekistan just yet, their five year plan hasn’t crept round to that one sadly.

      So I was, as you can imagine, in a state of claws out and ready to punch the first cretin who crossed me, and I figured now standing in ‘international’ space, having been pickpocket’ed at the customs post and been through passport control. There was no need to resort to those measures happily because the scanner controlling policeman ‘found’ the iPhone just as I cleared the ‘other’ side of the bed of rollers. Wasn’t he lucky!

      As for the success of the trip, we talked to loads of people covering most of the villages close to the Cat’s range showed them that the Pallas Cat just wants to be left alone and that his skin looks so much better on him. We handed out some imitation fur Davy Crockett hats (my idea) which went down rather well, ridiculous ideas often do!

      It’s unlikely that we will ever know if we made an impact, but if this fine little feline survives we may have helped, we will monitor the people producing the population figures, sadly these surveys are few and far between, and see what happens.

      Unfortunately over and above that we are pretty powerless to change anything, but we can try to change attitudes and dare I say ‘educate’ (I hate say words like that because it makes the speaker sound as though they are superior to the listener and I believe that no one is that clever).

      It is likely that we will go back in five years depending upon the population information and do what we did again, with Davy Crockett hats and other silly ideas that leave an impression upon the people we meet. But before that we need to look at a few other endangered populations and try to plan something for them.

      We also need to recover, it is hard work wading through snow and sleeping roughish and this Cat isn’t getting any younger and that is a terrible shame har ha.

  2. Hi Cat, I wanted to wish you the very merriest of new year to come may it be very enriching to you and yours. I have changed my Twitter account information I will send you a private message to add you in my network if this is fine. Again blessings to your family ❤ Noses and Hugs to the best and brightest Cat I know!

    • Thank you my friend. I hope that you had the best of times over holidays. Keeping in touch is important so do please send the account information so I can follow you, if you haven’t already, as you probably gathered we have been away in the east for a month. Tashkent probably isn’t high on most people’s travel wishlist but as you know I am not most people har ha.

      We got sick on the last days and getting out of the plane and being stopped in a freezing cold gantry by the police while the checked all the passengers passports probably turned a cold into flu. Lena and I can cope with it, but being nine months old and sick is no fun, still happily we are slowly getting better. No frighteningly high temperatures recorded on the little one for a day now thank goodness, at three the other morning we were almost off the the hospital though.

      How are you all. It has been ages since we had a chat, we should do that more often my friend.

      2015 will be an amazing year.

      J

      • I live vicariously through all of your excerpts of the places you travel. I dearly love the tales of areas you have conquered and capture the true behind the scenes look at a place. You are so brilliant that way as always wink, wink.

        Oh deary! I do hope all of you are doing much better now that you’re in the comforts of your home. I pray the little ones gets better, it is horrid for them. 😦
        They can’t really express what is truly hurting or ailing them so just getting the minor cues from what is going on is the doctors best prognosis.

        Me myself I am not sick per say, but I have blown my rotator cuff in my right arm. I am trying to take it easy for the most part, but being a busy person myself it is very hard to sit still. The doctor has drained two vials so far of fluids out of it and replaced it with two wonderfully painful needles he gave me full of cortisone. I am trying to stay clear of this creeping crud everyone seems to have around the area and so far successful.

        I have sent a message via twitter the account name is Mishca, Unfortunately I had to retire my others because of stalker issues.

        I hope this finds you and yours in much better rest and comfort, but til later ❤ Noses and Prawns forever

        XO,
        Tammy

      • My dear friend I had no idea what a ‘rotator cuff’ was until you said you had injured it, ouch! Happily I do know what a right arm is and hope that it and the rest of you get better very soon.

        I will look at Mischa later ;0)

        Evelyn is better today, it is just the two of us coughing and sneezing now and surely that has to go soon? It will won’t it? No don’t panic, just read the first paragraph of your message again and feel the warmth of your words.

        You are so kind and a great friend.

        Purrs,

        The Cat and J

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