These are just my impressions, but there are some things that I really like about Uzbekistan. The people that I have met have been friendly, generous, honest and gracious. The streets are clean, and the infrastructure works well. The cars stop at crosswalks and people smile. The storekeepers want to sell things, and they bargain, but it is nothing like the pushy attitude of India or West African nations that I am more used to. Most of the historical sites have been meticulously renovated and the locals are eager to meet tourists and express their pride in the country. Three boys wanted to take a photo with me today, and I wish I could see how they end up twenty years from now.
This is the first time that I have visited a former Soviet state besides the Baltic States. Lithuania could have ended up like Denmark or Finland now had it not been occupied. Uzbekistan may have ended up like Afghanistan or Pakistan, Syria or Iran. Big difference, and it probably affects the social consciousness of the respective countries. The occupation perhaps led to a more secular society here, and there seems to be very little of Muslim fundamentalism. I am not at all a historian or social scientist, but in my mind, things worked out pretty well for this country in the end. There is a long way to go, in terms of environmental protection and human rights, but they are on the right path.
Samarkand is quite extraordinary. The Registan ensemble is vast and beautiful and can easily rank with some of the major tourist destinations such as the Eiffel Tower, Taj Mahal, Coliseum or Tiananmen Square. But I am trying to not only do tourist things. I went to a hamam, the baths. But since I don’t speak a word of Tajik, Uzbek or Russian, there was no possibility of communication. The women were giggling when I entered, and I got a massage from one strong local woman for $5. I ended up in the shower and bathtub section instead of the steam room section, which was fine, but not exactly what I wanted. In any case, it was certainly an authentic experience, and it is clear that Uzbek women like tall dark foreign men.
We experienced a scorching hot day in the desert followed by a dust storm in the ancient city of Shahrizabz that coated my clothes and hair in fine sand, followed by sudden cold and damp. Amir Temur was born here. He is the national hero of Uzbekistan, and he conquered vast territories from Iran to India in the 14th century. People here don’t talk about how he was a vicious ruler that ransacked cities across Middle Asia, but instead build statues in his honor.
How is it possible that there is a fast train in Uzbekistan that travels up to 220 km/hr, but no such train in the USA? We traveled with the Afrosiyob train from Samarkand to Tashkent, 300 km, in 2 hours. It was impressively spacious, and modern.
Before flying back to Europe, I note that it is refreshing to be in a place where people are still relatively unaffected by Western culture. There seems to be some sincerity and perhaps naïveté. Uzbeks don’t have much opportunity to travel, and relatively few tourists come here. It is a nice time to visit this part of the world.