Thursday, 24 November 2011

Tashkent; capital of Uzbekistan

The police immediately clocked a flicker of hesitation as we tried to make our first trip on the Tashkent underground. We were pulled over, our passports checked and bag searched. Despite the complete absence of any of the registration slips that you are bizarrely required to present for every single night of your stay in Uzbekistan we were allowed to continue our journey with a stern warning - we had 24hrs to get some. We didn't have the documents because we were staying with friends and after a couple of days of investigations we discovered that our visa didn't allow this and there was nothing the authorities could, or would, do about it. James had worked with Alison, who with her husband Phil, had recently moved to Tashkent for work. We had invited ourselves round and they had very kindly offered to put us up. Phil happened to be the Deputy US Ambassador for Uzbekistan and, needless to say, they had a pretty nice pad. It was the most luxurious accommodation we had had on our trip, so there was absolutely no way we were going to give up it up for a pesky bit of paperwork. In the end we had to resort to paying for a hotel room to get our registration slips; returning the key after a couple of days.

If it hadn't been for Phil and Alison's generosity Tashkent would not have scored highly as a destination on our trip so far. It felt as if the soul of the city had been removed by the town planners. Huge buildings and boulevards seemed deserted and lacked any sort of character. We eventually found some sort of life at the Chorsu market, where we went to change dollars on the black market. In Uzbekistan there is a vast difference between the official rate and the black market rate for currency. There are 2500 Uzbek Som to a single US dollar on the black market rate whilst only 1750 at the official rate. In addition to this inconvenience the largest note is 1000 Uzbek som. People have to carry about wads of cash, most men carry manbags for this purpose and money countering machines are extremely useful.

Although the police continued to be annoying, we soon worked out a few strategies to minimise this. Firstly, I would always carry the bag and money - they rarely searched women and secondly, we tried to look like we knew where we were going. Of course, as soon as we got the registration slips we were never asked to show them again but we probably looked less guilty. And in all fairness to the police they never asked us for a bribe.

Our days in Tashkent were filled with administrative tasks. After sorting out the registration issue we managed to post over 23 Kilos of mountaineering kit back to the UK and had a full day at the Turkmen embassy picking up our Turkmen visas. All of this was made much more difficult by the Uzbeks lack of understanding of the concept of queueing. In one queue James pointed out to a young woman that there was a queue and she rudely replied, 'what queue?' and continued to push in front of us. Luckily there were two of us so I went for the left arm block whilst James got to the front of the queue from the right. However, we did also meet some lovely Uzbeks during the many hours of queueing that week getting invitations to lunch and were often pointed in the right direction when we were lost.

Our final success of the week was obtaining our Turkmen visas. After an anxious day we got the elusive visa. This was the last visa we required to get us back overland to the UK and deserved a celebration. We eventually found a cafe with some outdoor seating and celebrated with Clement and Emilie, two French overland cyclists, with a couple of beers.

Loads of money - I'm rich beyond my wildest Uzbek dreams!!

1 comment:

  1. I have got a simple question for you. Do you happened to know what is the maximum amount you are allowed to bring with you when traveling to Uzbekistan? When you were visiting Uzbekistan how much cash did you have? I wonder if I bring for example USD 10 000$, will I be in trouble?