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Monthly Archives

May 2011

Tashkent, Uzbekistan

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Taskent 203

We are crossing fingers. The Tajik visa should be obtained at 16H00 and then we would be off by road for about 3 hours to Oybek the little village on the border. We’ll cross on foot to the Tajik side and catch another marshrutka for another 2 hours before reaching Khojand where we intend to sleep.

We are waiting at a Kontinent food court, the same French Continent. Loud music on large tv screens with advertisement in French and French clip music. Wifi is free and loads of youngsters spend time here during the present school holidays. We could be anywhere in the world except for the Cyrillic ads and menu.


Talking about food. It is amazing as populations take on the conquerors cuisine. I would guess that the present Central Asian food came from the Mongols which means that the name varies from place to place but are only different versions (adapted locally) of the same original recipe. Typical examples are Plov, pilov, pilav, pilaf, pilau, pilao, polo, plo. It even came down to Mauritius. It was renamed and spiced up in India who got it from the Moghuls. It is probably not a coincidence that Indian Rajasthan near the Jaisalmer desert sounds similar to the Samarkand Registan (Sandy place in Tajik). One is not to forget that Babur who came to India was one of Tamerlane grandson. Another example is Kebab and shashlik which runs from Xinjiang, China, to India and Turkey. Same for Samsa, Somsa, Samoosa(India), Sambusa (Tajikistan) Sambucek (Lebanon) , the triangular pastry with various fillings, vegetable or meat.

Dumplings originally from China, now: Pilmieni, Pierogi (Russia, Ukraine, Latvia, Estonia), manti (Turkey,Central Asia), wantan/wonton,Jiaozi, Kiao, baozi,(China) Khinkhali (Georgia), Dusbere (Azerbaijan) or even ravioli (Italy) in soup. We are eating them every day in their different versions, here with mutton and beef going to pork in China or Georgia. We prefer not to spend too much time asking of what the filling is made of.  All of this shows a very early form of globalisation long before the Macdo.

Taskent to Khojand, Tajikistan

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Easy road with 3 other Uzbeks in the car laughing out loud all the way to Oybek. They stopped to offer us a bowl of ayran each. Like most Uzbek, they could not understand why I have only one son and child. They were proud to mention that they have 4 or 5 children each. We walked easily through both the passport and customs control on the two Uzbek and Tajik sides. Once on the Tajik side we managed to negotiate the taxi fare in the Uzbek som left. The land looked desolate, abandoned with no one on the road. Good quality roads compared to the rest of Uzbekistan.


Khojand, Tajikistan


No hotel booked, we walked in Hotel Vadath and were proposed a huge suite with 2 bedrooms.


Khojand is a city the size of Port Louis in terms of population, planned soviet style with a large avenue lined with trees leading to the theatre, main city feature. Next to it is the ancient Xth century fortress walls, built by Alexander the Great, sacked by Genghis Khan as usual and rebuilt awkwardly in 1997.Khojand02

We were surprised to receive the late visit of an architect of Buston (village next door) who had already been informed by the President of the Tajikistan Union of Architects that we were in town. He drove 200 km to meet us and we could not refuse to have some chay with him. Unfortunately communication was minimal, language being a major problem.

Khojand – Dushanbe, Tajikistan

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Khojand - Dushanbe 05

The drive was much smoother than expected with the road repaired. Six hours drive except for one hour to cross a pass at 3 300m altitude. Two black spots with the driver surfing on the edge of the unstabilised road with the canyon 500 m below and the other black spot is the 15 minute dark and wet tunnel. We thought it would never end. Down in the canyons laid car skeletons.

We arrived in Dushanbe (which means Monday in Tajik). Quiet city with a lot of the young people deserting the country after the fall of the USSR block. The town seems more orthodox than all the cities we have seen so far. It is true that we are now very near Afghanistan. Tajik people form another ethnic group closer to the Iranians, Afghans and speak different versions of Farsi (Persian language). We have been welcomed personally by Bahrom Yusupov and his son. Heavy programme tomorrow where I will meet the Mayor, the architects of the city and the architecture students after a thorough visit of the city.

Tashkent, Uzbekistan

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Plov is more than just a national dish. It is an institution with National Plov Centres where loads of men and a few women go every day to eat the rice, meat and dried fruit combination with a few chick peas. At the bottom of the large Kazan ( plov casserole in which 2 or 3 men can sit) floats the oil and fat. Thursdays are considered the best day for plov . The bravest men drink this liquid which is supposed to heighten their libido. No wonder more children are conceived on that day.

Registan, Samarkand

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Today our eyes are glued to minarets, domes and all the Registan monuments, the magic of all the bazaar colours even if they are surrounded and dispersed among soviet style buildings and Japanese noisy cars. They all came here. From Alexander to conquer, Genghis Khan to destroy, Timur to build monuments as well as an intellectual centre, Omar Khayyam for knowledge, the Persians and Chinese for commerce, the Russians to rule. It was Central Asia capital, economic and cultural capital. It is unfortunate to see the aggressive renovation of the communist days and the recent urge to “redesign” the city.


But there is some mitigated feelings about the city.  The Old city has disappeared. Large avenues have been cut to create new green parks. The Old city has been walled out by high modern walls to screen off the real life of the people. These modest houses are slowly being renovated by individual efforts each one in his own personal style with new materials in a chaotic way.  It is to be feared that the grandeur of the city’s impressive monuments will not be able to divert our attention from this. The result of the main city monuments renovation leaves an impression of diluteness in a city without soul. Scattered monuments with no relation with their immediate surroundings. Khiva and Bukhara had more coherence.

Tashkent, Uzbekistan

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We have not seen much of Tachkent yet. We hired a travel agent for the Tajikistan. That was cool. Kyrgyzstan visa was tough. We waited 3,5 hours for a 5 minute interview and we need to go back tomorrow for a possible visa on Friday at 16H00.

There is quite a difference between Caucasians and Central Asians, especially the Uzbeks. They have known a golden age under Tamerlane somehow lost under the Russians rule. Strong pressure to wipe out the past, and the older generation is still in-between this communist experience and the establishment of a new national identity. The young are already open to the e-world but foreign contacts remain scarce. We are approached by genuine and sincere young people who only wish to talk and exchange a little. Communication remains difficult, their English very bookish and our Russian and Uzbek almost inexistent. We were very impressed by this 51 year old man with traditional hat speaking about all the French literature classics and not about Zidane , G Flaubert, JP Sartre, M Proust , E Zola , G de Maupassant , etc