First Moments in Uzbekistan
If you've been following this journey, you would know that Uzbekistan is my final country for Faces2Hearts. If I close my eyes, I can picture myself to stepping into the Laos airport - equal parts confused, excited, nervous, and full of joy. Now, as I'm writing, I'm in shock that five months have passed by and I still feel the same emotions.
It's my first time to Central Asia - I've always had a curiosity for this part of the world. For some who have heard of Uzbekistan, perhaps the ancient cities first come to mind - Samarkand, Bukhara, Khiva...
For those who have not heard of Uzbekistan, you might be thinking... "Wait, which "stan" country is that one?!" Uzbekistan was once part of the USSR (Soviet Union) but gained independence in 1991. Since then the country has changed, but perhaps the change is really felt in the most recent years for the locals and tourists alike. I am grateful to experience the wealth of beauty in this country and share my experience with you.
Being here in Uzbekistan feels like a journey on its own, I somehow feel like I am in another world compared to the rest of Asia. Perhaps if you've also been following my stories, you can feel the contrast from South to Central Asia - where once roads were extremely crowded and dense in Dhaka, Bangladesh, I am now finding myself impressed by the spaciousness of the roads here in Tashkent, Uzbekistan.
Dive into my first impressions about the culture, food, and the 'behind-the-scenes' moments in Tashkent as I prepare to travel through the rest of the country.
I was amazed to learn briefly about the history and culture of this country. The majority of the people in the country are ethnic Uzbeks who speak the Uzbek language. Russian is the second most widely spoken language and here in the capital city, Tashkent, I definitely feel the presence of the Russian language much more strongly. Over 80 percent of the population is Sunni Muslims.
I think the immediate two things I felt from the people were: hospitality and curiosity. I learned that guests are treated with utmost respect, sometimes even more than family! It felt that every person I came into contact with wanted to really show the best side of the country by making me feel welcomed (except the immigration officer who didn't quite manage to reciprocate my big smile but still said 'welcome to Uzbekistan').
Secondly, I felt a sense of curiosity lingering in the air from the locals, as much as they wanted to welcome me, they equally wanted to know about me - learning about where I'm from to how have I experienced Uzbekistan. I was stopped by a policeman, and honestly thought I was in some sort of trouble though I didn't do anything that could have warranted anything, he stopped to say hello and ask about me simply because he was curious.
One.... word... FRUIT.
No, wait... two words, BREAD AND FRUIT.
In Uzbekistan, the food is incredibly delicious and hearty. There is a bounty of fresh and natural fruits and vegetables. From strawberries to apples, to basket and baskets of cherries, there is always ripe fruit at the start of a meal. The other favourite food item that is always on the table is bread.
Okay, so I mentioned fruit and bread but now I need to mention the most famous and loved meal of the country: Plov. At it's basic, plov is made with rice and some vegetables with some kind of meat. It is traditionally cooked in layers over a wood fire. Plov seems to be the quintessential symbol of 'home' - where plov can be considered an everyday meal to one found at every wedding and holiday. Plov is also different in each region (I'm told!) so I look forward to discovering different versions of plov. Which plov will win over my stomach?!
Spending nearly three hours at the local market, called Chorsu Market, I was able to get a sense of what kinds of food end up in the homes and bellies of Uzbeks. It was clear that food is a huge priority - people were walking into the market empty-handed and walking out with carts of food.
I am excited to discover the beautiful and diverse nature that makes up the country - from desert to mountains, rivers and lakes, I am certain that there will also be many natural wonders to share about soon.
There is so much I want to write about, but first I need to experience these moments fully, and then I can write about how they have left lasting impressions on me. Stay tuned for more soon!