Travel News

Tashkent: Central Asian capital now easier to reach from the UK

Simon Calder’s Travel

Uzbekistan is a vast republic in Central Asia, twice the size of the UK. Yet it shares one extraordinary property with tiny Liechtenstein in Central Europe: both are “double landlocked”. The pair are the only countries in the world that are surrounded by nations that have no shoreline with the sea.

Ocean fishing and surfing may not be on the tourism agenda in this large fragment of the former USSR, but Uzbekistan offers plenty more. Seven Unesco World Heritage Sites (two natural and five cultural) are scattered across the country. And the capital, Tashkent, is a mighty metropolis with around three million residents: after Moscow, St Petersburg and Kyiv, it is the fourth-largest former Soviet city.

Unlike the Silk Road cities that are embroidered into the fabric of Uzbekistan, the capital is modern – the sad consequence of a major earthquake in 1966. But it is a fascinating complement to the historic heartlands outside the city.

On the subject of going one step beyond: note that The Independent’s travel correspondent, Simon Calder, rates Uzbekistan – and in particular the cities of Samarkand, Bukhara and Khiva – as the best places he visited in the 2010s. But start in Tashkent.

The Metro

Following the earthquake, the city was rebuilt with a large tree-lined boulevard, numerous parks and, crucially, a Metro system. In accordance with Soviet practice, each station along the Tashkent Metro was designed to a specific theme. Until 2018 it was illegal to photograph the Metro. Thankfully, photos can now be taken so stations such as Kosmonavtlar can be Instagrammed as well as inspected.

The theme of this station is space exploration. It honours Soviet cosmonauts such as Yuri Gagarin and Valentine Tereshkova, respectively the first man and woman in space. Murals run the full length of the platforms, depicting major space-related events and icons, with the ceiling design resembling the Milky Way.

The Metro is easy to navigate with frequent services and low fares (just 1,400 sum or under 10p to travel any distance). You can buy tickets easily at each station. If the Metro is not for you, then the local version of Uber is known as Yandex: cabs are bookable via an app for quick and affordable travel across the city.

Rising star: Valentina Tereshkova, first woman in space, commemorated in Kosmonavtlar Metro station in Tashkent (Sean Moulton