UZBEKISTAN will always have a special place in my heart. I have traveled to 11 countries till now but the warmth and the love that I received in Uzbekistan is unparalleled. I have so much to share and I really don’t know where to begin. Hmmm So, let’s begin from the beginning.
My flight landed in Tashkent and people clapped as an acknowledgement to safe landing. As per my experiences, Immigration Officers are those people who themselves don’t remember when they last smiled. Smiling is the last thing that I would expect from an immigration officer. So, when I was received with *Namaste and Smile* by a Uzbek Immigration Officer, I couldn’t find words to reply. While keeping his smile intact, he went on to say “Welcome To Uzbekistan.”
I reached my Hostel and the guy at the reception desk asked for my passport and addressed me with my surname followed by Sa’ab (Hindi word for “Sir”). I smiled and before I could asked for the reason behind this, He explained that in numerous Bollywood films he saw, the characters with my surname are always referred to as “Sa’ab.” This was the first time I heard about Bollywood films from a Uzbek before it becomes a norm.
RAJ KAPOOR AND JIMMY JIMMY
Almost every time I catch a taxi in Uzbekistan, the first words I hear from a taxi driver were either Jimmy Jimmy(Famous Hindi song from 80s) Or Raj Kapoor(Legendary Indian Actor/Filmmaker) after I told them I’m from India. It was an instant ice-breaker. Even though they don’t understand English, we communicate through actions, signs and Google translate which made me realise one don’t need common language to communicate but a connection. After few rides, I downloaded famous Raj Kapoor songs and the Jimmy Jimmy song on YouTube to entertain them. I met this huge Raj Kapoor fan. I played several Raj Kapoor songs for him during the ride. He was enjoying every bit of it. He asked me to translate the famous “Mera Joota Hai Japani” song and I did. Luckily, he understand little English. The expression on his face was priceless after learning the meaning of the song he used to listen as a kid. After reaching the destination he hugged me and bid me goodbye. Raj Kapoor and Jimmy Jimmy song is hugely popular in the region since Soviet Union Days.
|Registan In Samarkand|
I met a taxi driver in Samarkand who is from Tajikistan. He smiled after seeing me and agreed upon whatever amount I suggested and let me in. Before I say something, he deduced “Hindiston?” (Another name for India). I replied “Yes.” He played a song and signalled me to listen to it. I was amazed to listen the song even though I couldn’t understand the language but still able to somehow understand the essence of the song thanks to few Hindi words I can make out. I find out it is a Tajik song. Tajik is a part of Indo-European language family. There are similar words in Hindi and Tajik. Then, I played Jimmy Jimmy song for him and upon seeing the video he exclaimed “Mithun!”(Famous Indian Actor in the song). He was singing the lyrics even before the video. We sang together till we arrive the destination. He took the money and give me half the money back but I refused to take it and leave it on the seat and bid him goodbye. After the encounter, I’m intruiged to visit Tajikistan.
One day, I was wandering around when a policeman called me to sit with him. In my mind I was thinking, “Did I do something wrong?” but it turned out this guy is obsessed with Bollywood. He was sad due to the sudden demise of popular Bollywood actress “Sridevi.” When I asked him did he ever visited India. He said no and now he see no point of visiting since Sridevi is no more. Then, he opened his Bollywood videos collection. No, it was not a songs collection but a collection full of Bollywood gossips. He was adamant that Mithun married Sridevi in secret while showing me one of the YouTube videos. When I told him this is just a gossip not the truth, he refused to believe. He even thought of a plot behind Sridevi’s death which had all the makings of a bollywood script. I bid him adieu and wish him Good luck in solving the mystery!
|Babur’s Statue In Andijan
Many locals I met were eager to convey the fact that babur came from Uzbekistan even though they don’t speak English. When I met a young guy, we conversed at a length about babur. He wanted to visit Taj Mahal one day and feel proud about it. He also enquired about the historical sites from Mughal era in India. Babur’s great-great-great-grandfather was Amir Timur. Amir Timur is a national hero in Uzbekistan. You will find many places and monuments named after him or associated with him.
|Ark Of Bukhara|
While wandering in Bukhara, I met another young guy who enquired about the current state of Taj Mahal. He don’t seem happy as he thinks government of India is not taking good care of Taj Mahal because it was built by Uzbeks. I assured him it is within government of India’s interest to well maintain Taj Mahal since it is one of the wonders of the world and the major tourist attraction. In my mind I was thinking “Most Indians don’t even know that Babur was born in present day Uzbekistan.”
An Uzbek Mother-In-Law: After negotiating with the taxi driver for 2 good minutes, I boarded the shared taxi. I sat alongside two Uzbek women on the backseat. They were related as Daughter-In-law and Mother-In-law. Daughter-In-law knows little English while Mother-In-law don’t know a word of English but curious to know all about me. So, the curious one asked all the questions and the Daughter-In-law translated them to me and back to her mother-in-law. Upon knowing that I’m from India, she greeted me with “Namaste.” She was really happy with the fact that I’m solo traveling in her country. We talked about Uzbek and Indian Culture. Upon knowing that I’m single. She asked jokingly “Did I liked any Uzbek girl here?” and they both tried to convince me to marry a Uzbek girl. We had a good laugh together. When my stop arrived, the old woman affectionately stroke back of my head with her hand like a mother giving blessings to his son and bid me goodbye. I was so touched by her gesture.
A Train Ticket Checker: I boarded an overnight train to Tashkent. A ticket checker came to check my ticket and asked for my passport. “India” he exclaimed! He said something in Uzbek and keep repeating it which I was unable to understand. My co-passenger intervened and translated “He is asking for my partner’s ticket and passport” I responded with “I’m traveling solo.” After knowing that I’m traveling alone, he got curious and start asking me about my travels. Thanks to my co-passenger who patiently translated all the information back and forth. He was impressed with the fact that I know all about Babur and his connection with Uzbekistan. We bid each other goodnight and in the morning we had a chai together. Finally, My destination arrived. When I was leaving the train, I met him at the exit door of my coach. He helped me with the luggage and patted me on the back. It was so gentle like a father lovingly trying to motivate his son. I felt so blessed. We bid each other goodbye. I kept thinking how small acts of kindness and warmth left huge impressions on a person. It costs nothing to be nice to each other. It surely taught me a good lesson.
A Pakistani : It was my second night in Uzbekistan. I was standing on the roadside, waiting for a taxi. When a white car (which certainly don’t look like a taxi) stopped and a man lower down his window and asked “Kahaan se ho aap?” (Where are you from?) and I replied “India”. His smiled widened. He came out of his car and warmly shakes my hand. He said “Mujhe laga hi tha apna banda hai. Achcha lagta hai apne logon se milna.”(I knew it, you are from my region. Feels good to meet our people) He is living in Uzbekistan but originally from Karachi. He was in a hurry but still made a point to meet me. We graciously bid each other goodbye. Such a short encounter left a huge impression on me. My wish to visit Pakistan were more strengthened.
In terms of food, Shashlik is pretty similiar to Seekh kabaab. Chai (without milk) is hugely popular in the region. Plov is somewhat similar to Indian pulao minus the meat.
The places I visited in Uzbekistan: Tashkent, Chimgan, Charvak Lake, Samarkand, Bukhara, Kokand, Margilan, Andijan. I missed out on visiting Khiva, Nukus, Termez, Aral Sea. Do check them out.
Head here for complete Travel Guide to Central Asia.
Well, People are indeed friendly and welcoming in Uzbekistan. Not many Indian tourists visit the region. So, I felt the special warmth and the curiosity among locals for Indians. I still missed out on so many things like the concerned stranger who gave me his mobile number in case I need any help, curious kids took selfie with me and addressed me as Mr. India (Popular Bollywood movie), When I was invited by a stranger to his home and I happily agreed even though I knew he’s going to sell me something later, Free entry for Indians to the historical site in Bukhara, When every person in a marshrutka were simultaneously trying to answer my question, met a Uzbek girl trained in Kathak. There may not be many fancy places or things to do in Uzbekistan as compared to USA & Europe but I felt a special connection in Uzbekistan. I would rather visit a place with big heart than big buildings. For the first time ever, I’m missing some foreign land.