Uzbek train rides
The Tashkent Metro was opened in 1977 and now has 36 stops and 3 lines. A policeman checks everyone as they go down and searches bags. No photography is allowed. It is modelled on the Moscow underground and each station is themed. The station we enter is Aliksey Navoi, the poet who first wrote down the Uzbek language, and is in the style of an Ottoman sultan’s pavilion with illustrations from his romantic poems on the walls. We ride two stops down the line to Cosmonauts, which is designed to look like the side of a Soyuz rocket and celebrates Soviet cosmonauts. This is travel as a celebration of art and culture. Cheap, too!
Today, we get up early and head for Tashkent’s grand railway station in order to catch the Sharq train to Bukhara. We are travelling first class in a 3-seater compartment. A uniformed guard lifts our bags onto the train. He has his own compartment and toilet at one end of the carriage. The passengers have their facilities at the other end, including a smoking platform between the carriages. There is a samovar of hot water – we are brought glasses of black coffee.
The journey to Bukhara takes seven hours with a stop at Samarkand half way. We share our compartment with a man from Bukhara who speaks a little English. We exchange basic information about our families and spend the rest of the journey in companionable silence. We decline the offer of chicken and rice from the restaurant car, having equipped ourselves with cheese sandwiches and juicy pears from the breakfast buffet at our hotel.
Our driver for tomorrow’s tour meets us and we are driven down wide, empty roads into Bukhara. The focal point of the old town is a square with an ornamental pond called Lyabi Haus. It has a collection of life-size plastic camels, which give it an unfortunate theme-park feel, but once away from it, mosques and medressas predominate. This is a major Silk Road town. We will discover it tomorrow!