26 & 27 October 2013
The only blot on this trip is a stomach ache towards the last 2 days in Khiva. Left Khiva for Urgench airport, a small airport with large empty spaces. I like domestic flights in most countries: fuss free, fewer people. A headache was seeping in and I knocked it back with some panadols and a nap on the short flight over vast dry lands.
Landed in Tashkent. It was raining. The nap did make me feel better, and while waiting for my bag on the carousel, I stepped outside for a breath of fresh air in the cold rainy evening. No taxis in sight, so I asked a lady standing next to me where is the taxi. She said something and gestured something that at that time seemed like “let’s share a taxi together” which I didn’t mind. Little did I realised I had misunderstood what she meant. I gestured to the carousel, meaning I was going to collect my bag. She too, and came plodding along with a very heavy bag (which I knew because I helped her carry one end of it). Later on I found out it was a bag full of non bread (the Khiva and Urgench variants).
Out in the dark and in the rain, two youthful figures came running to greet her. It turns out her children were here to pick her up from the airport and she was going to give me a lift to my hotel! Her children, both in their mid twenties, could speak a little English and we started chatting in the car. Turns out that the lady was born in Urgench and moved to Tashkent in the 80s. She had just returned from her sister’s daughter’s wedding in Urgench (weddings are big affairs in Uzbekistan, kind of like us Chinese here). Then the lady invited me to their home for dinner! Her son tells me there is a younger sister who is cooking mushrooms at home right then. Since my headache and stomach ache had eased up, I broke out a resounding “OK!”.
Earlier on, I had wondered what I was going to do that evening in Tashkent, and then this serendipitous encounter! As I later told the children after dinner, I was very lucky to have met their mother at the airport.
What a great night. After dinner, I was packed off with two non breads to bring home. “For your mother,” she said.
The next morning, the rain continued incessantly. My stomach ache was back again (nothing to do with my warm hosts from the night before, but a problem I had since Khiva). Took a very slow walk to look for the metro.
In the end, I gave up walking in the rain (later I realised I could have just hitchhiked), Decided to take a bus instead. It helped that the place I was going to is a very well-known one: Chorsu Bazaar. I had heard from my hosts the night before that this is one of the first national bazaars in the nation.
If I stayed in Tashkent, I suspect I will be coming to Chorsu Bazaar every weekend. Every single fresh produce in season imaginable is here in this one place. Alas, my stomach ache was not letting up. I could only salivate at the fruits and stocked up on some pears.
Later in the afternoon, the skies cleared up. Took the underground to the centre of Tashkent, and emerged above to this geometrical galore that is the facade of Hotel Uzbekistan.
In the city centre of Tashkent are huge boulevards. So different from other parts of Uzbekistan I had been to.
Took some metro rides. Some how Tashkent’s metro reminds me a bit of Pyongyang’s metro. No murals of dear leaders as such. Rather what they have in common is a sense of cold war grandeur. I read some where that the metro in Tashkent was built as a nuclear shelter. In one station, there is an interesting facade of the first cosmonauts.
Soon thereafter, it was time for me to go back to the hotel to collect my bag and head for the airport. The Tashkent airport departure hall is even messier than its arrival hall: people in all forms of queue to check in, a clutter of languages engulfed me as I was mistaken for the Uzbek Korean diaspora, clearing customs (yup, you have to clear customs even when you exit the country, declaring the money that you have left on you), a large entourage of 120 people from an Indian pharmaceutical company touring Uzbekistan for a grand total of 4 days (I asked one member, are there no female staff in your company?), watching a lot of guys being asked to go into a side room for a search (I am glad I am not the ‘searchable’ gender), travellers carrying melons (those delicious beings!). Later I found out that the melons are gifts for their Korean investment partners who love Uzbek melons (so do I!).
On the plane, my seat mate lined his palms with the finger tips touching and said a silent prayer as the plane took off.
I sat back and thought of what an enjoyable holiday this has been.