Tashkent: Notes For Bike Tourists

A pretty mausoleum as we leave TashkentIt’s easy to have a ho-hum first impression of Uzbekistan’s capital city but take the time to explore behind the broad boulevards and you’ll soon be relaxing in bustling cafes and enjoying the street life.

Drinking beer on the outdoor patios is a tempting diversion from the raft of visas you’ll likely be queuing up for.

Keep your passport and registration documents or copies on you in Tashkent. The police in their green uniforms are quite literally on every street corner. “We put them there instead of trees,” one local told us. It’s quite likely you’ll be stopped at least once, especially if you’re using the metro system.

Sleeping: The two most popular choices for budget travellers are Alitour B&B and Gulnara Guesthouse. Normally we would veer towards a budget option but in Tashkent we preferred to shell out a bit more for the comfort and quiet atmosphere at the Orzu.

Alitour B&B (26/2 Vakiodov) is well known for its vodka-loving owner. True to his reputation, when we arrived well before noon he was already partway through a bottle of spirits and the beer glasses were full too. Free drinks are always on offer. This isn’t the place to go if you’re seeking tranquility but if you’re in the mood for a party it’s your spot. Single women may not feel comfortable here. The going rate for a comfortable double room with satellite television and a fridge is around $30 U.S. dollars but you should be able to bargain this down a bit.

Our dinner tableGulnara Guesthouse (Usman Hajaev lane, north of Chorsu Bazaar) gets good reviews for the friendly family atmosphere and hearty breakfasts. It’s not as central as some other choices, although it is close to Chorsu Bazaar, handy for do-it-yourself chefs.

Orzu Hotel (Ivleva Street, just off Shota Rustaveli Street, about two blocks from Oibek Metro) is a good value mid-range option, conveniently located for the Kazakh, Tajik and Russian embassies. Double ensuite rooms with comfortable beds and air conditioning have a rack rate of $55 U.S. but we were offered one at $37 U.S. when we walked in off the street. The breakfast buffet is good with a selection of boiled eggs, cheese, meats, pancakes, cereal and juice. The one disappointment for us was the ‘satellite TV’ – this turned out to mean only BBC World in English.

Self-catering: Small shops selling the essentials for self-catering are everywhere but true food lovers will want to head to one of the many markets in Tashkent where you can stock up on mountains of spices, rice and pasta in bulk, prepared salads, nuts by the kilogram and as much fruit and vegetables as you can fit in your panniers.

Tashkent bazaarChorsu Bazaar is perhaps the best known market, a little north-west of the centre and convenient if you’re staying at Gulnara Guesthouse. There’s another big market at the bottom of Mirobod Street. To visit a shopping area that few, if any, tourists go to (no Uzbek skullcaps for sale here), then take the metro to Chilonzor station and walk down Farkhod Street past two markets and a range of shops. By bicycle it’s 8-10km from Tashkent centre to Farkhod market, on the corner with Lutfy Street. There are also cheap internet cafes (400 Som an hour) in this area with excellent connections.

Eating out: We enjoyed the cafes along Mirobod Street, just south of the Uzbekistan Airways booking office, for lunchtime plov, laghman, samsas and draft beer. There are several similar setups around Bobur Park.

Along Chehov Street, between Mirobod and Oibek Streets, is the Italian bakery Il Perfetto, serving excellent homemade ice cream, a range of specialist breads and filter coffee.

Staying connected:Internet cafes are everywhere in Tashkent and in our experience most had very good connections. Prices in the city centre are, unsurprisingly, double what they are in the suburbs. If you’re planning to use a lot of time, it’s worth cycling out to a neighbourhood like Chilonzor where you can get good internet access for only 400 Som an hour.

If you’re staying in the centre, we recommend a cafe just a moment’s walk from the Uzbekistan Airways booking office on Lokhuti Street. Stay on the same side as the airline office and walk towards Bobur Park. Look for the big Microsoft Explorer symbol and steps leading down to the cafe. Cost is 700 Som an hour. You can make phone calls here too for 200 Som for each three minute block.

The internet cafe across from the Kazakh embassy is conveniently located if you’re killing time until you pick up your visa but the connection speed isn’t great. Cost is 800 Som an hour. They also do photocopies.

Embassies Here are details of embassies we collected while doing our rounds. For all of them, you need to specify the date you will enter the country.

Kazakhstan – Bring a copy of your passport and of your Uzbek visa along with one passport photo. Cost is $25 U.S. for same-day processing of a 30-day tourist visa. Open Monday to Friday from 9:00-12 noon for applications and from 17:00-18:00 for pick-up. The embassy is located at 23 Chekhova Street, off Oibek Street.

Kyrgyzstan – Bring a copy of your passport and of your Uzbek visa along with one passport photo for a 30-day tourist visa. Cost is $55 U.S. for regular 4-day processing or double for a rush visa. Open for applications on Monday 10:00-11:30 and 14:30-16:00, Tuesday 14:30-16:00, Wednesday 10:00-11:30 and 14:30-16:00, Friday 10:00-11:30 and 14:30-16:00. The embassy is located at 30 Samatova Street, off Malyasov Street. The easiest way to find it on bicycle is to cycle to the plush Dedeman Silk Road hotel and turn right up Amir Temur Street. Your first right after you cross a bridge is Malyasov Street.

Tajikistan – Tashkent is not the best place to get your Tajik visa. You’ll need an LOI from their agent at a cost of $35 and then you have to pay the relevant visa fees and wait two weeks for processing. Bishkek is a much easier option but if you must, the embassy is at 61 Abdullah Kahar Six Torque, near Nukus and Bobur Streets.