Uzbekistan off the beaten path: A virtual trip to Kokand
Updated: Nov 15, 2020
All the same clichés have been recycled for decades now when people nation-brand Uzbekistan - 'the pearl/star of the east', 'the centre of the Great Silk Road', 'the cradle of civilisations'. All of these are true, but not exhaustive.
The same places are usually proposed as points of interest - fly into the capital of Tashkent, take a highspeed train to Samarkand, then to Bukhara, and on to Khiva. These cities are 'must visit' for sure, but there is more to see. Today, let's go to Kokand!
I want to take you on the 'off the beaten path' virtual journey to the Ferghana Valley in the eastern part of Uzbekistan. The Valley has, naturally, been around for quite some time and has seen quite a bit...Even Alexander the Great paid his visit. He left only positive reviews on Tripadvisor.
Although the Valley is usually ignored as a destination on the tourists' itineraries who head in the opposite direction and towards the three cities mentioned above, the most adventurous ones do make it out here every now and then. You are one of them today! So, let's go! But first, we need to cross the Kamchik mountain pass.
Growing up in Namangan on the other side of the mountains from Tashkent (we will be travelling near my hometown today), crossing this pass and going to the capital was a rare and outmost exciting event. The trip seemed endless, but the reward of spending a few days in the city, riding a metro and doing other unusual things was a bliss.
The pass was rather dangerous back then, with terrible pathing, narrow roads and risky cliffs. This has improved tremendously thanks to the construction workers like the one featured in the photo. The roads are wider and nicely pathed, while the journey itself (although very beautiful) shorted by an hour due to the construction of the tunnels. These tunnels are considered a 'strategic site' and cannot be photographed or filmed. Keep that in mind when cruising through. There are armed guards on each side. Nothing to worry about in this virtual tour though, so chill.
Once you enter the valley, it is a kind of a blend of city and rural lives. As is seen in the image below, everyone has a transport mode to their liking.
The truly loved transport in Uzbekistan is, in my view sadly, a car. A white one. A locally assembled Chevy. I hope they develop better public transportation soon.
When passing by endless parking lots, I always think of Henry Ford's famous quote paraphrased to 'a car can be any colour as long as that colour is WHITE'.
Chances are you are going to ride in one of these on your way to Kokand. Let's continue!
Now, we have made it all this way, and we do deserve a reward, don't we? Lo and behold, here is an eye-pleasing view of the Palace of Khudayar Khan. A magical fairy tale. 1001 nights, the 'pearl of the East', isn't it? He-he.
Completed in 1871, the palace withstood power-struggles, regime changes, empires that came and went, but not without losses. What we get to see today is a fraction of what the complex once made up, but even these 'crumbs' are magnificent.
Be sure to have lots of gigs on your phone, as Insta-suitable subject matter is plentiful.
Before we move further, here is the man himself. Some of the palace sections have been renovated, you can see this by the brick colour and quality. Both greatly inferior to the original work.
Inside the palace, there remains a nice collection of art. Some of the artefacts require urgent restoration and better conditions for preservation. One of my favourite pieces in this lovely couple carved out of marble by an unknown artist.
While you are staring at the walls, don't forget to look up at the ceiling.
Pay attention to the doors. Each one of them has a beautiful carving.
Look at and through the windows.
And here is the throne room.
No passing beyond the red tape.
Perhaps, our journey was more important than any specific destination, to use another cliché. Next time we will explore more of the Ferghana Valley. For now, I hope you enjoyed this virtual tour. Thanks for joining me and try to go visit in person!