Friday, 17 September 2010

On the Silk Road: Uzbekistan Day 1 Dubai to Tashkent

The flight from Dubai to Tashkent on Uzbekistan Airways was smooth and uneventful. There's no in-flight entertainment on UA so make sure you take a book. As there was an unexplained delay in leaving Dubai, the plane arrived at Tashkent 45 minutes late. We were bused across the tarmac after waiting as a forgetful and panic stricken bride-to-be retrieved her wedding dress that had been left on the plane. Once inside the terminal we joined the queue at immigration. As I already had my visa to enter Uzbekistan it was just a matter of waiting my turn but unfortunately it wasn't so smooth for our friends from NZ, Cathy and Stan. They'd been unable to get a visa from NZ before leaving the country and because of Eid it was decided not to try to collect it in Dubai. So the travel agent said that they could pick up their visas at Tashkent airport on arrival, the process would take no more than half an hour....but that only works if everything goes to plan. The first delay was when the airport immigration guys realised that as they had no visas in their passport, they had to call the consular guy to come out to physically insert the visas. The visa itself takes up a full page in a passport, and is then validated with a little blue stamp. For some reason, the consular man didn't like the visa he'd put into Stan's passport and tried to remove it after he'd stamped it with the little blue stamp. To solve the problem he then tried to stick the visa back in the passport. He then stamped it on all 4 corners and handed it back to Stan who walked no more than 5 steps to the other side of the aisle and handed his passport to the airport immigration guys. The airport guys immediately refused Stan's visa because the consular guy had put the 4 little blue stamps in the wrong places and they didn't match up. Consular guy had already left the building and had to be contacted on his mobile and asked to come back. Once he returned, he and the immigration guys had a long discussion which ended with backslapping and hand shaking, Stan's visa was ok'd and we were free to time 1.5 hours. We stayed the night at the Markizay Hotel which was a Sheraton before being nationalised. The bed was comfortable, the door locked, wow, everything worked, what more can you ask for? As we were very late, we went across the road to the Dedeman Hotel and had dinner, very expensive but they had a very good live jazz band. I tried Uzbek manti which is a steamed dumpling containing meat and onions, rather like a dim sim. Its quite a surreal experience to be sitting in a bar in far flung Tashkent, watching Ladas hurl themselves through the traffic lights outside while listening to a band playing the jazz standard “Take 5”.

Back at the hotel we changed some money, US$ into Uzbekistan sum. As the exchange rate is 1800 sum=US$1.00 changing $200 into sum equals many thick wads of notes. I understand now why most Uzbek women carry large handbags and the men all seem to carry sports bags - they're not actually bags, they're Uzbek-sized wallets.

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