After finishing some meetings in Tashkent today, I headed into the city from the hotel on Amir Temur where I was staying to catch up with two Tashkent-based members of TrekEarth that I had been in contact with by email – Natalya Pak and Jon Steane.
We had arranged to meet up at Broadway (Sayilgoh), which was a bit too far to walk, so I decided to try the Tashkent Metro for the first time. There was a station a short distance down the road from the hotel, and I tried to buy a ticket by pointing to the station on the map closest to Amir Temur maydoni from where I could easily walk to Broadway – but the ticket clerk didn’t seem to understand that I was asking the price of a ticket to that station. Fortunately a young woman who could speak English came to my rescue and explained that it didn’t matter where I wanted to go – all I needed to do was buy a token for 300 sums (about 30 US cents) and I could make one journey to wherever I wanted to go on the Metro. All you had to do was put the token in the turnstile to enter the Metro, and after that you could exit anywhere.
I discovered that she would be traveling to the same station as me (where she would be changing trains but I would be getting off) so she rode with me for the 2-3 stops and then showed me the way to the exit that would take me closest to Broadway. I was most grateful for her help because I would have had difficulty reading the Cyrillic script on the signs, and may otherwise have ended up hopelessly lost underground.
On the way, she also warned me not to point my camera at anything because taking photographs on the Metro in Tashkent is strictly prohibited. So I was grateful for her advice on that too, otherwise I would probably have started taking photographs of the stations and getting my camera confiscated.
It was also very pleasant to come across someone so friendly and helpful because on my last couple of trips to Tashkent I had run across some quite unfriendly characters – and that’s not counting the dour airport immigration and customs officers that make you feel like you want to get straight back on the plane you have just arrived on.
I got to Broadway about half an hour before our planned meeting time, so I passed the time taking photographs of the street artists who congregate around that part of town. There was a big variety of paintings on sale – some good, some not so good - and many of the artists were sketching portraits of tourists.
After Natalya and Jon arrived we found a coffee shop in the basement of a nearby shopping centre for a chat. Natalya seemed somewhat concerned that I had taken my camera on the Metro, so it got me wondering what it was about the Tashkent Metro that the authorities don’t want people to photograph. I don’t recall ever coming across another Metro where photography was prohibited – even in Pyongyang you can take photographs on the Metro (in fact the North Koreans are very proud of their Metro) – so what is it about the Tashkent Metro that they are trying to keep secret?
After coffee we went onto dinner at an Italian restaurant called Caffe Perfetto on Chekov kuchasi, not far from the Grand Mir hotel and the Oybek Metro station.
It served good pizzas, and with a glass of very reasonably priced red wine, we sat outside enjoying the cool evening breeze, whilst Natalya and Jon told me about what it was like to live in Uzbekistan.
After dinner, they arranged for a taxi (actually just a private car off the street, which is what most people use in these Central Asian countries) to take me back to the hotel for 2,000 sums. If I had tried to negotiate the price myself, I am sure it would have cost me at least 5-10,000 sums. I remember arriving late one night at Tashkent airport a few years ago and trying to get a ‘taxi’ to take me to the city. I knew the price should only be about US$2 because that was what I had previously paid to go from the city to the airport on a previous trip, but nobody would take me for anything less than US$20. That was until one guy piped up from the back of the crowd: “I’ll take you for two dollars mister,” he said. Before I could reply, the other drivers turned on him, punched him in the face, and then carted him away. I ended up having to pay $20.