About Uzbekistan

07 February 2018

From the previous parts about the ancient Shakhrisabz and the mountainous Langar, one might have an impression that Kashkadarya is a remote and almost medieval land. In fact, the situation is quite opposite, it is one of the most populous (almost 3 million inhabitants) and rich regions of Uzbekistan, and most of it is a fertile steppe with oil and gas deposits that generate 90% of production in Uzbekistan. The capital of Kashkadarya is Qarshi (pop. 254,000), this is another (like Gulistan, Jizzakh, Navoi, Urgench, Nukus) example of the "non-tourist" Uzbek regional center, but to be fair, one of the most interesting examples.

Samarkand, Shakhrisabz and Qarshi form a triangle, very elongated in kilometers and almost equilateral in farsangs, that measure traveling time instead of distance: if there is a pass from Samarkand to Shakhrisabz, then to Qarshi straight roads lead from both cities. Although Qarshi stands far aside from the standard tourist routes, this certainly does not concern its role in the daily life of Uzbekistan.

If you travel to Qarshi from Shakhrisabz you will come across a strange construction with a blue dome at the entrance to the city, similar to either a hypertrophied traffic police post or an empty bus station, but in wikimapia it is defined as a city chaikhana:

Like Shakhrisabz, Qarshi is a very ancient city, which for more than two thousand years has survived several reincarnations. The history had not preserved the ancient Sogd name of the original city on the way from Bactria to Merv, now the site of ancient settlement of Erkurgan in the immediate vicinity, but to the Greeks it was known as Xenippa - it was the stronghold of Spitamenes uprising against Alexander of Macedon, but was destroyed much later in the 6th century during a campaign of the Turks against Ephthalites, then the masters of Bactria, who came there as "white Huns." But the oasis has not dried up, the trade route has not been cut off, and soon the neighboring, previously secondary Nakhshab has revived under the Arabs who conquered this region in 699 and knew the city as Nasaf – you will come across this word very often in the city, even the local football club is called so. Nasaf was not exactly a city, but rather a polycentric agglomeration with a fortress in Nakhshab and the huge trading villages of Kasbi and Bezd on the Great Silk Road. Somewhere between 1318-25 years Qarshi was added to them: in those days language this word meant "palace", "castle" or "headquarter", which the descendant of Chagatai Khan Kebek established in the oasis and where he was later killed by conspirators. By the beginning of the 19th century the name of Nasaf remained only behind the small region in the valley of Kashkadarya, whilst Qarshi took over the other villages of the oasis and grew into the city No. 2 of the entire Bukhara emirate, in the 1860s it had a population of 25,000, 2-3 times greater than Samarkand. In 1916 Bukhara railway Kagan-Termez passed through Qarshi. The city joined the USSR in 1924 together with the Bukhara People's Soviet republic. The city soon became the centre of Kashkadarya region, which in 1986-89 Kashkadarya was headed by Islam Karimov, the first president of Uzbekistan...

By the standards of Uzbekistan, the city is quite large, but has a very simple layout: there is a long-long Uzbekistan street stretched from the railway station to the north, that has both New Town and the Old Town strung and most of what the tourist and the resident may need within a 1-quarter radius. We’ll take our tour along Uzbekistan street, slightly deviating to the sides, and will go from north to south, towards railway station starting from Kashkadarya - a shallow and turbid river, that used to cross the old Nasaf right through the city walls, and in present day Qarshi bounding the center from the north. At the point where the river meets Uzbekistan Street is the most interesting construction of the city, the Nicholas Bridge:

It has 122 meters in length with 10 arches, 8 meters wide, 5 meters high above the water, and it is known since the 16th century, when Abdullah Khan II developed the state program of infrastructure development throughout the Bukhara Khanate, having built hundreds of bridges, dams and sardobas (water reservoir). But the Khanate steadily declined, most of those buildings by the 19th century came to desolation and worthlessness, and even this unique surviving bridge is called Nikolaevsky not without reason - it was repaired in 1914 by Russian engineers. Pavilions around the edges are in fact replicas: the originals were demolished in 1960, because they somehow prevented the public transport that was passing through the bridge.

The bridge serves also as a dam, and local people wash in the river with the greatest pleasure. You can see Kashkadarya river below the dam in a natural channel. And this shallow river gives the name to the whole region. Water in this part of the world is indeed greatly appreciated. 

A few kilometers from the bridge is Khoja-Ubayd Jaroch mazar (shrine). Portal at the entrance is an obvious modern replica. 

Behind the portal is a sunny garden with conifer trees under the protection of white cloth against the hot Central Asian sun:

They say that Khoja-Ubayd Jaroch was a doctor who cured a Prophet wounded by an arrow and then somehow found himself in Central Asia. 

Above the minaret are the metal figures of the storks, so the Europeans might think that Jaroh is the patron of women in childbirth. In fact, storks used to nest on minarets and towers of Central Asian cities that were often surrounded by mosquito swamps, subsequently drained by the Soviets and as a result storks left the cities. At the entrance to the mosque is a shed, under which everything that was found during the reconstruction was carefully preserved:

To reach the next destination you can either walk around 1,5 km through the mahallas along a straight street, or take a taxi. It should be noted that despite being a big city, locals are not quite used to foreign tourists and can stare at you with surprise in their eyes. With all the revenues from oil and gas production, Qarshi is still typically southern city in poverty and patriarchy.

The square is local Registan, which is not a proper name, but a designation of the main square in medieval Turkestan cities. Qarshi ’s Registan is obviously not on par with the one in Samarkand, but unlike Tashkent or Bukhara, it is preserved at least. Most of the square is a lawn, behind Uzbekistan street is the bazaar, which was an attribute of any Registan before, but along the edges are madrassas (like in Samarkand), which there were at the best time as many as 7 (!). The foundations belong to the Shir-Muhammad madrasah (1865), Khodja-Kurban madrasah and Sharap-Khodja madrasah (early 18th century) demolished under the Soviets:

Four more madrasahs survived. Madrassah Abdulaziz (1909) on the north side of the square, that we reached from Mazar Jaroch:

Klychbai miniature medrese - on the east side:

Nowadays there is a library of the cultural fund "Altyn-Meros":

In the south of the square there is a bigger Bekmir madrassa (1903):

With a tower on the corner:

In some of its cells they sew suzane now, in others repair computers:

But the most interesting Odina-madrassah stands on the corner of Registan, built in the 16th century on the site of the same "Qarshi" of Kebek Khan. But the main thing is that among the hundreds of madrasahs of the Bukhara Emirate, it was the only one for females:

The Bolsheviks did not ruin too much in Uzbekistan - and this is in general true: mosques and mausoleums were destroyed here to much less degree than churches in Russia, and most of them only in Tashkent. Qarshi here, alas, is an exception - not only that 3 madrassas out of 7 were demolished under the Soviets, but Odina- madrassah until recently used to be a prison. Now it undergoes a major restoration:

Behind Odina you can find sardoba, that is an underground reservoir for water, part of the same "state construction program" of Abdullah II:

This construction is quite typical - in general it is quite impressive that in the East of the 16th century they already had a serial construction of technical facilities. But unlike other sardobas (for example, in Malik-Rabat or in Bukhara) full with water, here in Qarshi you can go down under the dome and check absolutely amazing acoustics with thunder of footsteps and rumbling of sighs.

There is also a bathhouse of the 16th century somewhere nearby, but in principle you can see such things in Central Asia more than once: Qarshi is a historical city, but its trouble is that there is nothing unique except for the Nikolayev bridge. The lawn with madrasah occupies the eastern side of Uzbekistan street, and on the opposite side is a huge Old Bazaar, also extremely typical for Uzbekistan:

Near Uzbekistan street there is a small park with an artificial lake and its main schtick - ice-cream café in the old Yak-40 airplane. Around 1 kilometer from here along the parallel street passing behind the bazaar you can reach the huge Friday mosque Kok-Gumbaz (Blue Dome) built in 1590s:

Very little survived since then - standing in the midst of a small park surrounded by long buildings of the local spiritual administration, Kok-Gumbaz looks like an outspoken novelty. The courtyard of the mosque with an old tree. It is believed that it was built on the site of Namazgokh mosque – these types of mosques were usually located outside the city and were intended for the largest services in the open air, but the city grew in size by 16th century and surrounded the mosque.

The authenticity of the Blue Dome is better visible from inside:

The next destination would be in the New City, two kilometers from the mosque along the same streets parallel to Uzbekistan avenue. The official name is "war memorial" or  "Mound of Glory", but locals know it just as the Monument.

This is without doubt, Central Asia's most epic World War II Memorial. Perhaps, this is the most interesting construction of Qarshi after the Nicholas Bridge, leaving far behind all the madrassas and mosques. In general, I do not recall anything like this in the genre of Soviet military memorials, and it is doubly so strange to see it in Uzbekistan where Soviet monuments are routinely demolished and replaced with a typical Grieving Mother monument. There is one Grieving Mother in Qarshi as well, but The Monument has not been touched, perhaps thanks to the fact that this could be a legacy of first president Karimov who was in charge of the Kashkadarya region at the times of Monument’s construction.

At sunset, the rotunda with stained-glass windows looks amazing, and you have a feeling of being either in the temple or in the theater of light and shadows, where the imagination itself finish drawing the story unfolding around.

One of the largest such monuments in central Asia, it’s an eclectic mix of plaques, walkways, an eternal flame and a red star-topped tower with a series of stained-glass windows. A series of plaques remember the major Soviet casualties of the war (Leningrad, Volgograd, Sevastopol etc.) and lead up via a 100-metre walkway to an eternal flame, above which stands a 30-metre tower, until recently topped with a huge red star. On the inside of the tower a series of stained glass windows depict Soviet soldiers leaving their mothers and wives as old Uzbek men and young children harvest wheat and cotton to support the front line. 

The pipes over the eternal fire are quite interesting – it would not be surprising that they sounded from the rising currents of the hot air, creating sound accompaniment. But this can’t be checked now as the fire has not burned for a long time

The monument is also an observation platform, and it is said that once the young couples constantly ran to it and their immoral behavior abused the sacred place (and whatever the authorities are doing, the memory of the war for the elderly Uzbeks is sacred to this day). As a result, now the old watchman is on duty here, who takes a small payment for the passage to the top - the young people no longer have a good time, but it’s worth to pay a nominal fee to go to the upper levels of the tower and see the stained-glass scenes, contrasting images of children harvesting wheat and soldiers departing for the battlefield.

But the panorama from the top is not very impressing: Qarshi is not Khiva, besides the monument is quite far from the center. At the foot of the monument is the cemetery with typical for Kashkadarya small kurgans:

A little further is lonely huge mound. There a number of sites of ancient settlements here, and even within the city borders this mound is the largest, but by no means the only one:

Basically, the Uzbek cities are even more plain than the Kazakh ones – the latter have at least high-rise buildings often come across, whilst the Uzbeks prefer to live in one-story mahallas: 

Center of Qarshi, on the left is The Blue Dome (that is, the Kok-Gumbaz mosque), and the flat roofs and domes in the foreground belong to Yangi-Bazar (The New Market):

On the right Odina is seen and a white building in Registan. Somewhere in the steppe over there are both Erkurgan and Nakhshab sleep, remembering Alexander the Great ...

Eski-Bazar and Yangi-Bazar designate the Old and New cities, and in my opinion the Nicholas Bridge and The Monument are quite worthy of each other. The new city grew during the Soviet erabetween the old center and the station. In the neighborhood with the Mound of Glory is a huge and shady park, with the back side quite neglected. Pavilions with broken windows and sculpture with a bowl of plenty 

However, as we approached the other side, the park became more and more crowded and tidier. In general, the Uzbek parks in the evenings are particularly pleasing to the eye - they are cozy, friendly and absolutely safe.

The huge gates of the park that have now become secondary, and the Qarshi Musical and Drama Theater named after Musa Tashmukhamedov (also Oybek), founded in 1932 from amateur groups from all over Kashkadarya.

This side of the park is “the center of the center” of Qarshi - the site of Independence Street (Mustakillik) near its junction with Uzbekistan avenue. On the edge of the park is the khokimiyat (executive authority) of the Kashkadarya region with a very nice and obviously new monument, apparently personifying the generations of the Uzbek people:

We are at the corner of Mustakillik (on the right in the distance is khokimiyat seen) and Uzbekistan streets, and will go along the latter one straight to the railway station:

We reached the railway station within half an hour. The station is typical for Uzbekistan, the same facades are at the stations in Tashkent and Urgench, and probably will be in other cities as well:


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Did you know?

Uzbekistan is one of only two countries in the world to be ‘double landlocked’ (landlocked and totally surrounded by other landlocked countries). Liechtenstein is double landlocked by 2 countries whilst Uzbekistan is surrounded by 5!

Did you know that Uzbekistan lies in the very heart of Eurasia, the coordinates for Uzbekistan are 41.0000° N, 69.0000°

Uzbekistan is home to the Muruntan gold mine, one of the largest open pit gold mines in the world! The country has 4th largest reserves of gold in the world after South Africa, USA and Russia

Uzbekistan is the world capital of melons. They have in excess of 150 different varieties, which form a staple part of the local diet, served fresh in the summer and eaten dried through the winter.

It is Uzbek tradition that the most respected guest be seated farthest from the house’s entrance.

Tashkent’s metro features chandeliers, marble pillars and ceilings, granite, and engraved metal. It has been called one of the most beautiful train stations in the world.

The Uzbek master chef is able to cook in just one caldron enough plov to serve a thousand men.

When you are a host to someone, it is your duty to fill their cups with for the whole time they are with you.  What you must not do, however, is to fill their cup more than half-full.  If you do that as a mistake, say it is a mistake immediately.  Doing it means you want them to leave.  Wow!  Amazing, right?

To Uzbeks, respect means a whole lot.  For this reason they love it if, even as foreigners, you endeavour to add the respectful suffix opa after a woman's name; and aka after a man's.  Example: Linda-opa and David-aka.  You could also use hon and jon respectively.

Having been an historic crossroads for centuries as part of various ancient empires, Uzbekistan’s food is very eclectic. It has its roots in Iranian, Arab, Indian, Russian and Chinese cuisine.

Though identified with the Persia, the Zoroastrism probably originated in Bactria or Sogdiana. Many distinguished scholars share an opinion that Zoroastrianism had originated in the ancient Khorezm. Indeed, today in the world there were found 63 Zoroastrian monuments, including those in Iran, India, Afghanistan and Pakistan. Thirty-eight of them are in Uzbekistan, whereas 17 of these monuments are located in Khorezm.

One of Islam's most sacred relics - the world's oldest Koran that was compiled in Medina by Othman, the third caliph or Muslim leader, is kept in Tashkent. It was completed in the year 651, only 19 years after Muhammad's death. 

Tashkent is the only megapolis in the world where public transport is totally comprised of Mercedes buses. And due to low urban air polution it is one of the few cities where one can still see the stars in the sky.

You would be surprised to know that modern TV was born in Tashkent. No joke! The picture of moving objects was transmitted by radio first time in the world in Tashkent on 26 of July 1928 by inventors B.P. Grabovsky and I.F. Belansky.

Uzbekistan is the only country in the world all of whose neighbours have their names ending in STAN. This is also the only country in Central Asia that borders all of the countries of this region

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Uzbekistan was once a rum producig country. There is still a real arboretum in Denau (city near Termez on the border with Afghanistan), grown from a selection station that studied the prospects of plant growing in the unusual for the Soviet Union subtropical climate of Surkhandarya region: only here in the whole of the USSR sugar cane was grown and even rum was produced!

Uzbekistan has been ranked one of the safest countries in the world, according to a new global poll. The annual Gallup Global Law and Order asked if people felt safe walking at night and whether they had been victims of crime. The survey placed Uzbekistan 5th out of 135 countries, while the UK was 21st and the US 35th. Top five safest countries:

  • Singapore
  • Norway
  • Iceland
  • Finland
  • Uzbekistan
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