Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Another 48 Hours in Tashkent

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Scene from a puppet play, Tashkent Puppet Theatre
An earlier post, 48 Hours in Tashkent, based on spending the weekend in this lovely city, has been one of the most popular articles published on this website. Although the allure of the ancient Silk Road cities of Samarkand, Bukhara and Khiva is strong, Tashkent is a most interesting capital to explore.

Here are more suggestions on how to enjoy your time in the city, visiting spots that are not included on an Uzbek Journeys tour.

Tashkent Puppet Theatre 

Tashkent's puppet theatre, built in 1979, is a magical place for children and adults. The entrance foyer is a child-size Oriental city with scenes from fairy tales; there is also a puppet museum in the building. Elements of the theatre were commissioned from the best suppliers in the USSR: the chairs in Hungary, the beautiful doors in Moscow. Instead of a bell to call the audience, mechanical figurines holding Uzbek karnay (traditional, long trumpets) announce performances.

The theatre is located at 1 Kosmonavtov Prospect. The nearest metro stop is Kosmonavtov. (If you catch a taxi, it will not be be able to drop you off outside the theatre. Simply get out where the street is blocked and follow the families on foot, about 6 minutes). Performances, in either Uzbek or Russian, are only on Saturdays and Sundays, usually at 11:00 a.m., 1:00 p.m. and 3:00 p.m. Tickets are around US$5 - attending a performance is the only way to see inside this marvellous space. Call the theatre on 256 73 95 to check performance times.

State Museum of History


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State Museum of History, image courtesy Richard Marshall
This building, formerly known as the Lenin Museum, was opened in 1970 to mark the centenary of Lenin's birth.

It is a sensational example of Soviet cosmic constructivism. Take time to look at the external and internal architectural details.

Today the building is the State Museum of History displaying items from the stone age through modern times. Of particular interest are the pieces collected from the Buddhist sites around Termez. The museum is at 3 Rashidov Avenue in the city centre. It is open daily from 10:00 - 5:00 p.m. and closed Mondays.


Updated 3 May 2016

Zerlump is a small boutique featuring the clothes of Kanishka, a cool Tashkent designer. His t-shirts using Islamic patterns are particularly attractive as are the leather accessories: soft leather bags, passport covers, glasses cases.

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The entrance to Zerlump boutique
The shop is at 39 Shota Rustavelli, in the basement. It follows the tradition of not identifying itself outside. Instead of the name Zerlump, there is a sign "Мы здесь" (We are here).  Zerlump is open Monday - Saturday 10:00 a.m. - 7:00 p.m. and Sundays 11:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m.

Kanishka has another, larger boutique decorated with Uzbek architectural elements at Usmana Nasir 67, opposite Cafe Fregat.  It opens the same hours as Zerlump, except Sundays, however, there is no sign indicating that the house is a boutique. Ring in advance on +998 71 253 1166.

To have a feel for his designs, look at Kanishka's Facebook page.

Holmuradov Designs

While in the mood for shopping, stop by the new boutique of Ulughbek Holmuradov at 59 Babur Street, tel: +998 90 977 8878.  Ulughbek is a contemporary jeweller, furniture designer and interior architect. His pieces are irresistible.

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A ring by Ulughbek Holmuradov
Holmuradov has real design flair. He fuses contemporary and traditional Central Asian style, often with a dash of humour. I have a charming cosmonaut pendant - the fringe is a clever play on the Cyrillic for USSR - CCCP.  And a pair of earrings inspired by a plov spoon.

You can swoon over more of his designs on his website. The boutique is open Monday - Saturday 10:00 a.m. - 6:00 p.m.

Tashkent House of Photography

The Tashkent House of Photography (THP) is in an Islamic-designed building, constructed in 1934 specifically as an exhibition hall. The carved portal doors were produced by Uzbek master craftsmen. Since 2005 it has been a dedicated photography space of the Academy of Arts of Uzbekistan supporting the work of budding and well-known photographers.

There are regular exhibitions held of both Uzbek and foreign photographers works. THP is centrally located near the Uzbekistan Hotel at 4 Istikbol Street and is open Tuesday - Sunday from 10:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m. Alight at metro stop Amir Timur. Call ahead on +99871 233 5168 to check what exhibitions are on.



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Exterior of Bookcafe
Just a few doors down at number 8 Istikbol is Bookcafe. Opening around 9:00 a.m. and closing late, this cool café serves light brunch, lunch and dinner as well as yummy cakes and ice cream. There's free wifi and lots of books, some in English, to browse. Tashkent's Westminster University is at number 12 Istikbol, so Bookcafe is often full of young Uzbeks eager to chat to foreigners. During university vacation, the café may have reduced hours, so call ahead to check: +99871 200 8008.

Abulkasym Madrassah

Built in the mid-19th century, the madrassah, once the stronghold of anti-Tsarist activists, was the scene of the peace treaty signing between Tashkent authorities and Russian General Chernyaev in 1865.  In the Soviet period, the building served as accommodation for families from the Russian province of Samara, who were relocated there after the 1920 famine. After the last family left in 1974, the madrassah housed the Tashkent toy factory and gradually fell into disrepair.

After extensive renovations, the madrassah is now a centre of Uzbek applied arts and master craftsmen occupy the former student cells. In particular, the woodcarvers there are exceptional. It is open daily from 10:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m., however, arriving around 11:30 a.m. should ensure artisans are there.

Abulkasym madrassah is close to Alisher Navoi national park and the parliament building.The nearest metro is Bunyodkur station on the Chilonzor (red) line.

Zenghi-Ata Mausoleum

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Zenghi-Ata complex - garden and minaret
This pretty complex, dating from the 14th century, is about 12 kms from Tashkent and built on the burial place of Sheik Ali Khoja Allas Zenghi-Ata. His wife, Ambar Bibi, is also buried there and many Tashkent women visit her mausoleum on Fridays. The garden is lovely as is the cemetery that surrounds the mausoleum. Take a taxi there and ask the driver to wait.

Kafe - Кафе

This is one of my favourite cafés in Tashkent. Excellent coffee, a variety of cakes and quiches and a cool hangout for Tashkent artists. It is not far from the Fine Arts Museum and near the dance school of Zlotnikov at 23 Shakhrisab St. For directions phone Кафе on +998 94 661 36 37. Usually open from 8:00 a.m. - 10:00 p.m.

Other ideas

On a hot day, take a picnic to the Botanical Gardens. Or you can happily roam around town on foot discovering the fabulous mosaic panels that decorate Tashkent buildings. The Artists Exhibition Hall, decorated in stylised cotton flower motif, may have an interesting exhibition or craft fair. It is located very close to Tsum department store at 40 Rashidov Street and is open daily from 10:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m. except Sundays and Mondays. For train spotters a visit to the Railway Museum is a must and if you are a football fan, then try to catch a match at the splendid new stadium at Bunyodkor.

Enjoy the city, which I regard as my home away from home.

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Artists Exhibition Hall, Tashkent
Related posts:
48 Hours in Tashkent
All posts about Tashkent

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Kyrgyzstan: Hunting with Birds of Prey

Lilya Kas'yanova
Lilya Kas'yanova, one of Kyrgyzstan's finest guides, is passionate about the history, art and craft of her country. A graduate in Linguistics and Intercultural Communications from I. Arabaev Kyrgyz State University, she is also a keen photographer and hiker. Lilya, who regularly leads Uzbek Journeys tours in Kyrgyzstan, will contribute occasional articles about her areas of interest.


The practice of hunting with birds of prey dates back to antiquity.  According to the research of the great Soviet ornithologist G. P. Dement’ev, the first mention of birds of prey in Central Asia was when Urus Inal, the Kyrgyz Khan, presented shumkars (gyrfalcons) to Genghis Khan at the end of the 12th century.

Berkutchi – hunters with golden eagles - have always been highly respected in Kyrgyz society, as they were able to provide enough meat and pelts not only for a family but for a whole village. This type of hunting was an indispensable part of everyday nomadic life. At great occasions it was also an opportunity for hunters to demonstrate their skills to their community or tribe.

The skills of bird taming and training were passed down from one generation to another. This art was mostly the prerogative of wealthy people, as the training and keeping of hunting birds was costly.

Hunters used, and still use, diverse birds of prey. Hawks are adaptable to various hunting conditions and become accustomed to a master quite quickly. Saker falcons are popular, especially for their easy and accommodative disposition.

Tenti Baike with his eagle Bai-Sary, image Lilya Kas'yanova
But in Central Asia, berkut, (golden eagles) are preferable and highly prized. The magnificent mountain localities from the Tien Shan range to the Himalayas provide a home to the berkut, which takes its name from the golden feathers at the back of its head. The berkut generally hunts hares, foxes and lynxes but bigger and well-trained birds can kill a wolf.  

Catching and taming birds

There are two ways of getting berkut for domestication and training:

1.   Birds in the wild are caught by nets. These birds possess a great store of hunting skills transmitted from their parents.

2.   Fledglings are taken from the nest. As a rule, berkuts build their nests on the inaccessible ledges of rocks, so berkutchi (hunters) have to be adroit climbers. This is an extremely hazardous pursuit. (Unlucky berkutchi have been killed by eagles that returned to the nest during the theft!)

Those fledglings taken from the nest become accustomed to people quickly. Usually, a novice berkutchi learns how to work with hobby falcons or sparrow hawks, and only when more experienced, does he train saker falcons and golden eagles.

Firstly, a bird has to be tamed.  At the very beginning, the hunter spends all his time with the eaglet. The bird is placed on a continuously swinging perch and, in order not to fall down, the eaglet has to balance constantly. Concentrating on this activity, the bird gets tired but cannot fall asleep, and thereby becomes accustomed to its master quicker.  The eaglet is fed 4-5 times per day.

Next, the bird is taught to fly down to the hand of the berkutchi. The birds of prey are trained by means of dragging the target, usually a stuffed fox fur fastened to a rope.

Feeding and training

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Golden Queen eagle, image Lilya Kas'yanova
Correct feeding is one of the main conditions for favourable raising and training of hunting birds.

Different sorts of meat can be used for feeding, such as beef, fox and mutton; pigeon meat is considered a delicacy. But there is an indispensable condition: the meat must always be fresh as it prevents the eagle from getting sick.

Overfeeding has a negative effect not only on the hunting - fat birds become lazy and lose their will to hunt - but it can be also kill the bird. To keep the bird fit, a golden eagle is given about 800 grams of meat per day. During the season the bird is fed after the hunting activity. The life expectancy of a golden eagle is 40 years. Berkutchi prefer female birds as they are bigger and therefore more suitable for hunting wolves.

The average weight of a golden eagle is 5-6 kilograms.  With such a weight it can be difficult for berkutchi to walk and carry the bird for hours, especially in the mountains: berkutchi prefer riding during hunting sorties.

Special equipment

There is a special implement to carry the eagle, called “baldak”. This is a sort of Y-shaped rest, the foot of which is fixed on the saddle and the upper Y-shaped part supports the arm of the hunter while holding the eagle. Berkutchi wear a sophisticated glove that is made from pieces of rawhide leather with felt lining. This glove protects the hunter’s arm from the sharp talons of his pet.

One more item of the hunter’s equipment is the tomogo. Tomogo is a leather hood that is put on bird’s head. It covers its eyes and is used to calm the eagle. With this hood, the bird looks impressive and menacing.

Out of the hunting season, a berkutchi has to spend at least 2-3 hours with his pet (maintaining and enriching the bird’s aptitudes); otherwise the bird becomes quickly estranged. Intensive training takes place just before the season in September and the beginning of October. The hunting season starts in late October, and lasts for about 4 months. Expert berkutchi and eagle, it is claimed, are able to get 25 foxes, 3-4 lynxes and a few wolves.

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Sary-Eji wearing her tomogo, her hood, image Lilya Kas'yanova
This exceptional national skill, one of the most remarkable traditions of Kyrgyz nomadic culture, is gradually dying out. In the Issyk-Kul region there are still a few masters who do their utmost to pass these valuable eagle-hunting skills to disciples.

To renew interest in traditional nomadic practices the annual Salburun festival was started in 1997. (Salburun in Kyrgyz means “hunter’s zest”). The festival is a series of competitions and activities celebrating the nomadic way of life. Events such as ulak tartysh (buzkashi), dog racing, and archery are held. Of course the highlight of the festival is eagle hunting.

Passengers on an Uzbek Journeys tour to Kyrgyzstan certainly have the opportunity to view an eagle hunt if they wish.

The video clip below [6 mins] provides an introduction to Kyrgyzstan's Golden Eagle Hunters. (If you cannot view this on your device go directly to this link:


The work Hunting with Birds of Prey by G. P. Dement’ev contributed to the writing 
of the article. 

Contact Lilya on: lolya.87(at) mail (dot) ru
Read all Lilya's articles.  

Related posts:
5 Reasons to Visit Kyrgyzstan 
Manaschi - Bards of Kyrgyzstan 
Elechek - Kyrgyz Traditional Headdress Part #1
The Kyrgyz Flag - Homage to Nomadic Traditions 
Kyrgyz-style Polo: Ulak Tartysh or Buzkashi

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Kazakhstan's Beatlemania

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The Beatles monument, Almaty
It seems that despite the USSR's disapproval of The Beatles, Soviet fans were as dedicated and passionate as their western counterparts. Their records, when smuggled in, were sold for small fortunes and it is said that The Beatles inspired a generation of schoolchildren to study English so that they could understand the lyrics.

In Kazakhstan today Beatlemania is thriving. A bronze Beatle's monument on Almaty's hilltop park Kok Tobe was installed in 2007 and the path running along side it is named Beatles Avenue. There is a John Lennon alley in the capital, Astana, renamed to commemorate the 70th anniversary of his birth.

According to Tengri News, in 2012 the Kazakhstan Bank RBK purchased a rare photograph of The Beatles for 16 thousand pounds. "The photograph is one of only six shots made in August 1969 by Ian Macmillan for a cover of their 12th album of The Beatles called Abbey Road.

RBK's prized purchase, image Bloomsbury auctions
Although another shot was used for the album cover, the photograph purchased by RBK has significant historical value. Three main differences of the photo from the cover are that the singers are crossing the road in the other direction, Paul McCartney has no cigarette in his hand and he wears sandals".  The photograph is on display at RBK's Almaty office at 13 Republic Square.

Kazakh cities hold regular Beatles festivals and the band the Kazakhstan Beatles had a huge following until their recent breakup. They harmonise pretty well and you can listen to this interesting clip below [3 mins] of Nowhere Man followed by a brief interview with the musicians. (If you cannot view this on your device go directly to this link:

The Kazakhstan Beatles fulfilled their dream and took part in the International Beatles Festival at the legendary Cavern Club, Liverpool, in 2009. Watch this 1-minute clip of the gig.

And just for nostalgia, here is a link to the Fab Four singing Back in the USSR.

Related posts:
Duke Ellington's Kabul Gig 1963
Uzbek Divas: Capturing the Poetic Traditions of Central Asia
Samarkand's Musical Traditions