Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Uzbekistan's Decorative Architectural Panels #2

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Cotton flower design, Ferghana
In late 2013 I posted an article about the splendid mosaics that decorate apartment blocks and public buildings in Uzbekistan.

Many buildings from the late 1960s, 1970s and 1980s  were richly and elegantly decorated in mosaics depicting Uzbek themes, heroic workers, floral and geometric patterns.

Highly-skilled artists were commissioned to design the panels and the cityscape of Tashkent, in particular, became notable for these marvellous works.

One of my favourite pastimes in an Uzbek city is roaming around the suburbs discovering these decorations. My hope is that an Uzbek photographer will document this social history before it is too late.

Here are some more of my favourite examples.

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Heroic worker mosaic in the Samarkand suburb of Sogdiana
This marvellous heroic worker piece above takes up an entire wall in suburban Samarkand. As well as showing men and women working for the Soviet state, there are domes and Uzbek details included in the piece.

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Immense mosaic in central Tashkent, richly decorated with Uzbek motifs.

This large mosaic above decorates the entire wall in the centre of Tashkent.  It is behind the Tsum department store, on Taras Shevchenko Street, adjacent to a public school.The image celebrates the family, cotton (Uzbekistan's "white gold"), the rivers and the sun.

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Bus stop detail, Shakrisabs region
At left is a detail from a bus stop in the Shakrisiabs region, on the way to Katta Langar. Sadly it is in poor condition, yet still retains a faded loveliness.  Perhaps the countryside was once dotted with such marvellous bus stops?

When you are in Uzbekistan, it is easy to be dazzled by the superb Islamic monuments with their rich, turquoise tile work. But do take time to notice other architecural details that decorate both public buildings and apartment blocks. The craftsmen who created them were indeed masters.

From time to time I will publish more images of Central Asia's architectural decorations.

Related posts:

Uzbekistan's  Decorative Architectural Panels #1
Tashkent's Soviet Buildings
Turkmenistan: Tracking Down Mosaics 
Bishkek's Mosaics: Fragmented Dream Project

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Almaty, Kazakhstan - Riding the New Metro

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Almaty's metro logo
Almaty, the former capital and Kazakhstan's largest city, inaugurated the first line of its metro system in December 2011.  There are seven stations along the 8.5 km line. Tashkent is the only other Central Asian city that boasts a metro.

Construction first began in 1988, however, the collapse of the USSR meant that funding was no longer available for this massive project and it was suspended. In 2003 the Kazakh government announced funding for its continuation. Five more stations are being built on Line 1 and a second line is planned.

It is a pleasure to ride: the stations and carriages are air-conditioned, richly decorated in mosaics and traditional Kazakh designs. The network is spotless and there is no graffiti.

Trains run every 10 - 15 minutes from 6:00 a.m. to midnight. You can purchase 90-day multi-entry smart cards or a single "jeton"(жетон) is 80 tenge, around 50 cents, from the ticket booth (касса). 

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Stained glass feature at Almaly metro station
Services are available for wheel-chair bound passengers and those with special needs. ATM machines that accept foreign credit cards for cash withdrawals, are available at all stations as are machines to top up mobile phone cards. 

Signage and announcements are in Kazakh and Russian only so please ensure you can read your destination in Cyrillic. Photography is permitted.

Taking a lead from the Moscow and Tashkent metros, the Kazkah decorations are splendid. Each station's floors and walls are richly decorated in granite or marble, patterned in traditional  designs. The lighting is lavish. Even the inside doors of the carriages are embossed in Kazakh patterns.

Each station has a theme, which is reflected in its decoration. Almaly (Алмалы) station features a huge and glorious stained glass image of an apple tree. In Soviet times, Almaty was known as Alma Ata, which means "Father of Apples" as the original apple is believed to have originated there. On independence its name was changed formally to the Kazakh version - Almaty.

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Mosaic detail from Auezov Theatre metro
Baikonur (Байконур) station is named after the world's first and largest space launch facility, which is located in the Kazakh steppe.  (Many historic space flights were launched from here, including Yuri Gagarin's  first manned, orbital flight in 1961). Baikonur station is high tech with crisp blue and white panels;  films of rocket launches are screened.

Zhibek Zholy (Жибек Жолы) station, meaning Silk Road, displays gorgeous ceramic works celebrating the famous trade routes. Terminus station Raiymbek batyr (Райымбек батыра) celebrates the 18th century Kazakh warrior.

If you are visiting Almaty, consider spending an hour simply roaming the network enjoying the visual treats. And certainly use it as a means of getting around to points of interest. (The bus and tram networks are also new and efficient in the city).

Almaty is rightly proud of its metro - a magnificent example of how beauty can be incorporated into new, public infrastructure.

Related posts:
Azerbaijan: Baku's Metro
Steppe Magazine - Images of the Tashkent Metro
Travelling by Rail in Uzbekistan
Other posts on Kazakhstan

kazakhstan almaty metro, central asian tours, uzbek art craft tours
Detail from the wall decor at the Silk Road metro station

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Anticafe Opens in Tashkent

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Suzanna Fatyan
Suzanna Fatyan, one of Uzbekistan's finest tour guides, has contributed several pieces on this website about Uzbek cuisine as well as restaurant reviews.

In this article she provides an overview of the changing social habits of Uzbeks and visits the new, cool Anticafe in Tashkent.

Changing social habits

Have you ever listened to leisurely oriental melodies? Do you imagine caravans making their way through the desert? These splendours of ancient, oriental culture reflect the pace and rhythm of life here and may even serve as its symbols.

Much has been written about the mentality of Oriental people and the seeming absence of bustle. For us, material success is not the goal. Life and human relationships are more important.

A large part of our budgets are spent without hesitation on guests and gifts. We Uzbeks almost never stay alone. We are always surrounded with relatives and friends. We constantly communicate with colleagues and neighbours. We visit without calling in advance.

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Entrance,  image courtesy Anticafe Tashkent
We permanently host distant relatives who come for study or work. A person who visits once can become a permanent guest and may bring friends and relatives. This does not bother or upset anyone. Guests are given maximum comfort, respect and care: hosts are genuinely welcoming.

In the past, we had three places for communication – home, chaikhana (tea house) and bazaars. The practice of gathering and celebrating in restaurants is relatively recent.  Inviting people to a restaurant, rather than your home, was once seen as denying them your hospitality.

Today, no offence is taken if you invite people to a restaurant. Uzbek cuisine is diverse and delicious, made of fresh, organic products with a variety of spices. The choice of venues in cities is impressive -  from simple taverns, cool cafés, luxurious restaurants to immense wedding “palaces”. Uzbeks enjoy going out, eating and dancing.


Against this background of gastronomic feasts and gatherings, Anticafe opened in Tashkent in March. The concept originated in Moscow in 2011 and now there are several anticafes in Russia as well as London and Paris.  In Tashkent you find yourself in an atmosphere that in some way stops the bustle and allows you to relax and reflect.

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Players getting into a game, image courtesy Anticafe Tashkent
The main idea of Anticafe is not to serve food but to serve time. You pay for your time and have access to everything you need at the present moment, including solitude if you chose.

On entering Anticafe you are given a small card that registers your arrival time. On leaving, the card is swiped and you pay for the hours/minutes you spent there. The rate is Uzbek soum 200 per minute. For one hour it is 12000 soum (about US$5) with discounts after that. This charge is regardless of how many cups of tea or coffee or how many snacks you have consumed.

Anticafe is something between a living room, coffee house and working space. It has subdued lighting, bookshelves stuffed with books, magazines and games, comfortable tables and sofas and free wifi. Games include chess, Scrabble, Monopoly, Activity and Mafia. There are wooden building games and Xbox. You pour your own coffee (filtered), make your own tea and serve your own snacks.

tashkent cafes, uzbekistan tours, uzbek art craft
Ulughbek Holmuradov's interior design, image courtesy Anticafe Tashkent
Tashkent designer Ulughbek Holmuradov created the internal space with his signature minimalist style that nevertheless produces a cosy atmosphere.

Anticafe is such a different space for Tashkent and from my visits there it appeals to a wide range of the city’s residents: students, writers, actors, gamers and office workers. Young and old. It is a wonderful place to make new friends over a game followed by quiet chats. There is no loud music!

Anticafe is easy to find. It is located in the city center at 2601 Tarasa Shevchenko Street, at the parking area behind Perfectum’s head office. (Perfectum is a mobile phone company and all taxi drivers know this building).

It is open daily from 12 noon – 11:00 p.m. If you get lost, call +998 90 324 59 48 or print the address from the website.  For updates on what’s happening there – e.g. the book club, cupcake days etc visit Anticafe's Facebook page  (In Russian - but run it through Google translate).

Update February 2016: Regrettably Anticafe closed late 2015.

tashkent cafes, uzbekistan tours, uzbek art craft
Let's play! image courtesy Anticafe Tashkent
Related posts:
All Suzanna's restaurant reviews and Uzbek cuisine articles
48 Hours in Tashkent
Another 48 Hours in Tashkent

Contact Suzanna via email:  
susanna202001(at) yahoo (dot) com        


Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Cricket in Afghanistan and Tajikistan

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Women cricketers, Afghanistan. Image: Abigail Hauslohner for Time magazine
Reading about a recent cricket match in Afghanistan between the Afghan national team and the Tajik national team, certainly fell into my *Who knew?* category.

Cricket was first played in Afghanistan in the 19th century during the Anglo-Afghan Wars. British troops reported playing in 1839. However, it would seem no lasting cricket legacy remained.

In the 1990s, cricket became popular among Afghan refugees in Pakistan and the Afghanistan Cricket Federation was formed there in 1995.

Like all sports, cricket was originally banned by the Taliban. However, it was categorised as an exception in 2000 and the Afghanistan Cricket Federation was elected as an affiliate member of the International Cricket Council in 2001. On their return to Afghanistan in late 2001, many cricket-playing refugees brought their bats, balls and wickets back home.

Against the odds,  the Afghan national team have climbed the rankings and, with a decisive win over Kenya, qualified to compete in the 2015 World Cricket Cup to be hosted by Australia and New Zealand. Kabir Khan, the former Pakistan fast bowler, coaches the Afghan national team.

There is also a national women's cricket team of Afghanistan. Like women's cricket worldwide, it does not attract the attention nor sponsorship it deserves. Nevertheless, this does not dampen the young women's motivation and enthusiasm.

central asian sports, cricket tajikistan, cricket afghanistan
Image taken prior to the Afghan-Tajik friendly matches in November 2013
Over in neighbouring Tajikistan they have been inspired by Afghanistan's cricketing success. The Tajikistan Cricket Council was formed in 2011 and joined the Asian Cricket Council in 2012.

There is a lovely story by the head of Tajik cricket, Saraev Abdurasul.  He thanks his shepherd father for his passion for cricket. "My father was a sportsman and in the 1960s he used to play [cricket] on the pastures with other shepherds while he tended rams," says Abdurasul, whose curiosity for the game prompted him to find out its name and that it originated in England.

But cricket was generally suppressed during the Soviet era. "After the October Revolution, when the Bolsheviks came to power, they closed cricket clubs considering it a bourgeois, shameful game for the working classes," says Tajik sports journalist Shuhrat Davlatshoev. "Cricket matches were stopped in the USSR. In Tajikistan at that time, officially, there was not a single cricket team".

Afghanistan has provided technical assistance in the form of training and cricket supplies to Tajikistan. The former Afghanistan opener, Ahmed Shah, worked in Tajikistan for over a year along with other Afghan cricketers.

Late last year, Afghanistan extended technical cooperation by inviting the Tajik men's national team to compete in two one-day matches and one twenty-20 match against the Afghanistan A team.

There are two Tajik women’s teams and Afghanistan’s national side played three matches against them in Dushanbe, the Tajik capital, in 2012.

central asian sports, cricket tajikistan, cricket afghanistan
Sharing the trophy at the Afghan-Tajik match
Both countries have suffered under recent wars. I find it extraordinary that cricket is making headway in this region to build national pride and inspire a young generation of sportspeople.

If cricket is your game, you can learn more at the Tajik cricket Facebook site and the Cricket Afghanistan site.

Materials source: 
Time Magazine - Women's Cricket: Afghanistan's Secretive New Sport

Related posts:  
Skateistan - Empowering Afghan Youth Through Skateboarding 
White Silk Road - Snowboarding Afghanistan
Uzbek Football & Tashkent's New Football Stadium
Uzbekistan Still Mourns a Football Generation Lost to Air Crash - Part #1