Tashkent is city that Bengalis hold close to their hearts, thanks to Bhupen Hazarika's song about the nomad who listened to Mirza Galib's prose from a minaret in Tashkent.
When I went to Uzbekistan, I visited all three of its most famous cities – Bukhara, Samarkand and Tashkent.
When we landed in Tashkent, it was a late evening in September. The airport system was very friendly. The tourist police helped us to reserve a hotel nearby and even called a taxi for us. That night we stayed at Topchan hostel, a renowned and clean hostel not far from the airport.
We were elated when we found that one Bangladeshi taka is equivalent of 100 Uzbek sums! By exchanging few dollars, we had a large amount of money.
We went out for dining, and it was the beginning of a very healthy and close relationship with Uzbek cuisine. The restaurant we went to, the owner's name was Hasan. With his broken English and my broken Russian, we got along pretty well. One thing I could not figure out was why, like many other Uzbeks, he had gold teeth. Perhaps it is a display of wealth, or is just fashionable, who knows!
Next morning, we went to Chorsu Bazaar, a traditional market in Tashkent. A festive, colourful place, the market has fresh produce such as pomegranates, melons, persimmons, tomatoes, capsicums and countless spices neatly displayed like a rainbow. I was interested in visiting the meat market, just to see how horsemeat, which is a common cuisine all over central Asia, is sold.
When I asked him about how horsemeat tastes, the witty butcher shouted at me, "Good horsemeat! Good horsemeat! One must eat it to absorb its power!" Beef, mutton and chicken were also sold in the market and everything was very cheap. For 100 Bangladeshi taka, you can buy a big-sized chicken and some smoked fish.
We met some Bangladeshi tourists outside the bazaar, who had flown from Mumbai via cheaper flights, and they too admitted that Uzbekistan had met more than their expectations.
From the bazaar, we went to see the iconic Amir Temur statue. The statue is placed in the middle of a square and it had become quite the attraction in 2010 when the late President of Uzbekistan Islam Karimov began to beautify the city. It is a ritual for travelers in Tashkent to take photos with this sculpture.
Tashkent has several museums, parks and theaters. However, I found the Russian Orthodox Church quite interesting with all of its gleaming golden domes.
One afternoon we went to Khast Imam, the official religious center of Uzbekistan. At the center of the square is the Muyi Mubarak Library, which holds the oldest Quran in the world. The Quran is stained with the blood of the third Caliph of Islam who was murdered while reading it in 655.
It is written on deerskin, and the volume is enormous. It was brought to Samarkand by Amir Temur, and was later taken to Moscow by Russians in 1868. Lenin returned it to Tashkent in 1924.
Just in front of the library museum, there is the beautiful Barak Khan Medressa with a giant gate. I met two young university students there, Olmas Bek and Islam Bek.
They had been learning English for the last few months, and they tried to talk to any friendly tourists to practice their English. I always look forward to meeting new people in new countries so it was a good experience for me.
Then we visited the nearby Hazrati Imam Mosque, which has two 54-metres high breathtakingly beautiful minarets.
By this time, the new Uzbek friends had revealed that their home is in Fergana district. When I was young, I had heard about Fergana from my mother because Emperor Babur was from this district. He had grown up there and his father was the governor of Fergana.
I told one of the students that it had been my lifelong dream to visit Fergana, and that I wanted to visit it. Since they were natives, maybe they could help us stay for a couple of days.
They were surprised to hear my request because apparently Fergana is a bit back dated place and not very comfortable for tourists. We assured him that everything was going to be fine, and that we would be more than happy to visit Babur's birthplace.
The next day we started for Fergana, in search of the Mughal ruins. That is another story to be told for another day, but Tashkent's beauty will always linger on my mind.