A few observations about Tashkent from our day wandering the city:
There are a smattering of women dressed in brightly colored hijab, and a few older men wearing traditional caps. I was curious that the huge Jummah mosque was built in 2007-08 – I wonder what the story behind that is. There is a lively tradition of drinking – we went to a beer hall reminiscent of Eastern Europe, and apparently beer mixed with vodka is a popular drink. So the Islam at least of Tashkent seems to be a watered down (or ginned up?) version. Tashkent holds one of the oldest Qur’ans in the world, but alas for no clear reason the library holding it was closed today. I’ll have to satisfy myself with the images online.
The history of the statue in the main square is the history of the area in the 19th and 20th century. The first monument was to the Czarist governor general Von Kauffman. Then after the revolution came an image of a Red Pioneer, to be replaced by a hammer, sickle and cannon. A statue of Stalin rose in the 30s and fell in the 50s, to be replaced by a triptych of Marx, Engels and Lenin. Most recently after the fall of the Soviet Union Timur on his horse took the place of honor. For a dictatorship, there is absolutely no cult of personality – I have seen no picture of the president for life yet (though on our train ride to Bukhara, a poster had some saying attributed to him). Police presence appeared minimal, though once we saw several men in gray camouflage who our guide identified to us as from the ministry of the interior. Oddly, though, our bags were searched when we entered the subway. Apparently this is not always the case, but independence day is coming up…in a month!
The script is slowly changing. When the Russians took over from the Ottomans, they replaced the Arabic script with Cyrillic. Now the Cyrillic is slowly being replaced by the Latin script – we were told that school kids now cannot read the Cyrillic script well. The Uzbek currency is totally unwieldy – their largest bill is 1000 soum, which is worth at the moment about U.S. 25 cents. Thus, to pay for a delicious dinner for four people plus wine, $51, took more than 200 bills. We had stacks of bills in groups of 10 on the table counting out our payment! Several markets were very lively, though alas set in or around socialist 20th century buildings. Most of the areas we visited were fairly empty – probably most people were working, and it is quite warm during the summer.