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Tashkent (Toshkent)/Uzbekistan

Introducing Tashkent (Toshkent)

Gritty Tashkent, Central Asia’s hub, is an eccentric kind of place. In one part of the city Russian-speaking cabbies scream down broad Soviet-built avenues. Across town, old men wearing long, open-fronted chapan (quilted coats) cart nuts through a maze of mud-walled houses towards a crackling bazaar. In a third part of town hundreds gather amid steaming cauldrons for their daily repast of plov.

In the middle of it all roosts the president, his puppet Senate nearby in a freshly built hulk of white glory on Mustaqillik maydoni (Independence Sq). This is meant to be the new centre of the formerly centreless capital. The behaviour of the centre, of course, dictates the mood in the outskirts – a mood that actually seems pretty good considering you’re in a supposed police state.

Like most places that travellers use mainly to get somewhere else, Tashkent is no instant charmer. But peel under its skin and suddenly you’re thinking, hey, maybe it’s not all that bad. Many expats truly love living in Tashkent, and many visa-foraging travellers find themselves wishing they could stay a few more days.

And it’s not just Tashkent’s Jekyl-and-Hyde, Muslim-and-Soviet oddness that gets people’s attention. There’s a cosmopolitan populace enjoying real, live culture, a rapidly improving restaurant scene and the best nightlife in the Muslim world east of Beirut (or at least Baku). There’s also plenty of green space, a clutch of interesting museums and, within a 1½-hour drive, great hiking, rafting and skiing in remarkably accessible Ugam-Chatkal National Park.