Over half of our trip was spent in Uzbekistan. The first order on the agenda, of course, was getting back in. The evening before leaving Tajikistan we had another tutorial on filling out the appropriate customs declarations. Jama gave us additional warnings about how to describe any medications should we be asked about them. Since Tajikistan adjoins Afghanistan and is widely believed to be complicit in illegal drug traffic, the border authorities were likely to be very interested in medications. We were admonished NOT to call them "drugs," but "medicine" or "vitamins." Drug smugglers have been known to "recruit" the elderly by threatening their children or grandchildren, so our grey hairs were no protection. Additionally the border agents were likely to be interested in CDs. Recently, we were told, a traveler from the Fergana valley had entered Uzbekistan with a US passport and was later apprehended distributing CDs containing radical Islamist propaganda. This had made the authorities very interested in CDs, and US passports were no protection from suspicion. (We heard this after many of us had purchased a CD containing traditional music from one of the folkloric shows) Plus we were reminded to be sure we hadn't lost the hotel registration from our previous one-night stay. After hearing all this we were ready to surrender all hope of getting back into Uzbekistan, but the actual crossing was uneventful, other than the time it consumed.

While waiting to be processed through the border we watched a semi going through. There were trained drug-searching dogs giving the trailer a thorough once-over, but we noted that when the dogs attempted to jump into the cab of the truck they were rebuffed. The border guards seemed not to care about this. We decided that were we to smuggle drugs we'd put them in the cab of a semi rather than attempt to co-opt elderly American travellers.

Our first stop (not counting the one overnight between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan) was the capital, Tashkent. Much of the city was destroyed by a massive earthquake in the 1960s, so there weren't a whole lot of ancient structures left. Most of the city had been reconstructed after the earthquake by volunteers from all over the Soviet Union using the notoriously ugly pre-fabricated high-rise concrete apartment blocks. Construction since independence has been, of course, modern.



House construction

Throughout our travels in Uzbekistan we saw new homes under construction alongside the road. Jama said that the government had a program to improve the living conditions for residents and the home construction was part of it.

Many of the new houses were to replace older homes that would be torn down to allow wider streets and highways.

Donkey wagons Another common sight was farm workers using donkeys or horses for transportation or hauling.
Cotton Workers Perhaps the most common sight, however, was workers in the cotton fields. This is a highly fraught subject. Human Rights Watch & the UN have Uzbekistan in the cross-hairs for human rights abuses. High on the list is forced conscription and child labor in the cotton harvest.

Jama stoutly denied the use of child labor and downplayed the "forced" characterization. Yes, it happens that students and others are conscripted to help with the time-critical harvest, but he said exceptions are available and moreover it is a jolly good time of camaraderie. Maybe.

In any event the government prohibits tour buses from stopping to take pictures of the cotton workers. This picture was taken as we whizzed by at high speed.
Courage monument, Tashkent

The first stop on our Tashkent city tour was this monument commemorating the earthquake that leveled Tashkent.

The fractured cube at the front contains the date, 26 April 1966, and time 5:22, of the initial shock. Between the cube and the sculpture of the family the pavement is shown buckled. Fault

There was, of course, a wedding party taking pictures. We saw this at most, if not all, of the monuments we visited.

Tashkent canal

All the cities in Central Asia had grown up around water and Tashkent was no exception. It is located near the Syr Darya river and has many canals running through the city.

This one is in the old part of town, much of which has been reconstructed since the earthquake. Some may be original.

The deep concrete ditch behind our local guide, who is holding an umbrella, was typical of the gutters we found in many of the Central Asian cities. (This drizzle was the only rain of the trip.) We were often warned to watch our step either because of broken pavement or these deep gutters.

Earthquake construction

Most of the older buildings in this earthquake-prone region were built of masonry, which is not considered to be a great building material in seismic areas. Some of the construction details as shown here, however, take into account the potential for earthquakes.

The corrugated metal roofs, which we saw everywhere, are light weight unlike tile roofs. They are also less likely to rain down debris in a quake.

The wooden cross-bracing is likewise engineered to provide stability.

Old town street

The streets in this old town section look pretty grim, but Jama said that this was intentional. This was true everywhere we went in Uzbekistan. During Soviet times it wasn't wise to have a dwelling that looked very opulent. The exteriors of the houses, therefore, lacked windows and nice entryways. All of the comfort and luxury would be inside out of sight.

We saw similar construction in the Morocco medinas.

Throughout our travels it was difficult to know what was original and what was reconstructed or restored. It is safe to assume that very little is original. Exceptions will be noted where they exist.


Some buildings, however, had lovely details, such as this elaborate soffit and downspout.


Another stop on our walking tour of old Tashkent was the Mausoleum of Yunus Khan. This picture shows the dome.

Mausoleum of Yunus Khan, Tashkent Mausoleum of Yunus Khan

The entrance to the mausoleum. The high portal hides the dome behind it.

I don't recall if the cenotaphs leading into the mausoleum also commemorated members of this distinguished family.

Another view:

Shrine and Mosque

Our next stop was the nearby Hast Imam complex. The library, in the foreground here, houses the oldest known Quran, known as the Othman Quran. It was believed to have been written in the 7th century, although this isn't without controversy. No pictures were allowed inside, of course, but an image at the link will show a sample of the script. There are many other old and unusual books housed in the library.

The ancient book is huge. We were told the pages were made from the skin of gazelles. Later in Samarkand we saw a large stone structure that was said to be the "book rest" where it was displayed in ancient times.


This is the structure opposite the library above.

The "crowds" were pretty typical of many of the places we visited. These folks were all in our group.


Roses were everywhere we went throughout Central Asia. I am limiting myself to this one picture. A feature of most of the roses that we saw was their scent. I've gotten used to roses being virtually scentless here in the US, but almost all the Central Asian roses were lovely in looks and also perfumed.


This canal in the downtown section of Tashkent is rather more scenic than the one pictured above.

We stayed at a very nice hotel downtown. The (many) hotels where we stayed were comfortable albeit sometimes a bit eccentric. We don't mind climbing stairs, but some folks did and not every hotel had an elevator. The one here in Tashkent was the closest approach to a modern European or US business hotel.

Personally I don't mind eccentric.


The war memorial has an eternal flame to commemorate the more than 400K Uzbek soldiers killed in WWII. The sculpture represents a grieving mother. To put this loss into context, is it almost as many deaths as experienced by the US in WWII out of a far larger population. Jama said that the reason we saw so many wedding pictures at war memorials is that almost every Uzbek family had been touched by this war.

On the sides of this park were pavilions with large "books" comprising large bronze "pages" containing the names of the individual soldiers who had died in the war. Although WWII didn't actually reach this area, Uzbekistan contributed many soldiers to the Soviet armies.

In fact many industries and people were evacuated from the European Soviet Republics to Central Asia away from the war zone.


The next day we were back on the road to Samarkand.

It would have been nice if we could have used the train for some of our journeys, but Jama pointed out a few limitations: for example, no one can carry luggage onto the train. Oops! Also the schedules weren't often compatible with our needs.

Nevertheless the trains are very popular with the local people.

Fish Market

One of the stops on our way was at this roadside market. There were many different items on offer and also a large tea room. This vendor was selling dried fish. Brackish lakes in the area support a small fishery.

The "baby buggy" cart was a kind we often saw at the markets. Lightweight, collapsible, functional.


We passed a number of stork nests along the road, but this was the only one that was inhabited. Birds were beginning to migrate back now that the scorching summer was over.

Elsewhere Jama pointed out crow nests. Clans of crows build multiple nests in groves of trees. They looked like high-rise crow condos! Unfortunately I couldn't get any decent pictures as we whizzed by in our bus.