We arrive exhausted in Tashkent after a night flight. The streets are wide and empty and there is plenty of space between the buildings. The city is ancient but has been almost completely rebuilt after a catastrophic earthquake in 1966. The Soviet era is not looked back on with any fondness and the city’s iconic statue is now of Tamburlaine – or Amir Timur, as he is known – rather than of Lenin. The name ‘Tamburlaine’ is regarded as disrespectful because it means Timur the Lame, referring to a battle injury he sustained.
Tashkent boasts the oldest Koran in the world, the 7th century Uthman Quran, written in Kufic script on deerskin pages. A massive tome brought to Samarkand by Timur, then taken to St. Petersburg by the Russians in the 19th century and returned by Lenin in 1924.
Another Tashkent claim to fame is for the invention of a prototype television in 1928 by Boris Grabovsky. Unfortunately, his experimental equipment shattered en route to Moscow before it could be publicly demonstrated.
Our afternoon tour is fascinating but we are ready to drop by the end of it. The Lotte City Hotel’s much vaunted roof-top restaurant is closed for renovation and the Lonely Planet top recommendation is also closed, so we opt for the pizza restaurant down the road – and very good it is!