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Old 23rd April 2020, 11:27 AM   #1
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Default Uzbekistan Airways business class: Silk Road highlights

Background:

How the world has changed so drastically in the last 2 months. We are all now grounded and there is no end in sight yet to lock downs of various degrees. This trip report is my last trip which also partially occurred during the Covid-19 pandemic. On the outbound in late January, everything seemed normal. Yes, we heard of some outbreaks in Wuhan which seemed far far away. On the return a few days later, things have changed slightly. Doctors came onboard, crew in masks etc.

Will this be my last trip of 2020? It could well be.

I am dividing this trip into 4 parts.

Part 1: Delhi-Tashkent on A320 JCL and snippets of Tashkent
Part 2: Round trip to New York on the Dreamliner JCL
Part 3: The highlights of Uzbekistan and high speed rail (Samarkand and Bukhara)
Part 4: Tashkent-Delhi on 767 JCL


This was not my first trip with Uzbekistan Airways. In 2016, I had also flown with them between Delhi and London. That was on the 767 which was fantastic and also on the ageing 757 which was quite terrible.

The trip report of the same can be read here in the link below.

Uzbekistan Airways Business Class to London (modern 767 and vintage 757)

That time it was just a transit and visa was a hassle. Today, since 2018, Uzbekistan has liberalised its visa regime. It’s visa-free for Singaporeans. I have also always been intrigued by the melting pot that is Central Asia. This used to be heart of the world and its heritage shows it. I hope everyone will be inspired to come and appreciate. The people are also very friendly.

Part 1: Delhi-Tashkent and Tashkent City

Flight: Uzbekistan Airways
Number: HY422
Aircraft: A320
Registration: Uk-320XX
Seating: 2F
Load: 50%


The first part of the journey at Delhi airport, during a busy long weekend peak period in late January. It was Republic Day. The airport was quite chaotic. Bumper to bumper traffic was there in the early hours just after sunrise.




Our check-in counter however was pretty much quiet. Most people don’t travel to Uzbekistan for a long weekend.





The process was quite smooth and there were not too many questions asked unlike in my first trip with them 4 years ago. Boarding pass issued with no fuss and we were on our way shortly.

The passport control and security line however were very long with travellers. This was so pre-covid.





Anyway, we soon found ourselves in the ITC lounge, a contract lounge for Uzbekistan Airways, also used by others like Malaysia Airlines.

Breakfast spread was adequeate although I can’t say much for the quality.




The lounge was pretty much empty except for a handful of other travellers. And this bird. How on earth did they get in. There must be a leak somewhere on the roof. Poor Construction quality, which it is for Delhi airport.








I had enough time for a coffee and soon found our way to the gate, why which time boarding had already commenced and we were rushed in.




First look of this beautifully-coloured bird. We were originally booked on the 767 but this Friday flight got substituted with an A320 on a schedule change.





Anyway, coming onboard we were greeted by an OK-looking cabin with black faux leather upholstery arranged on the regular 3 rows of 2-2 each.





As one can see, 2 packets of tissues have been placed on the seats. This was pre-Covid. Good practice for hygiene.




Soon after, water was also served. They did offer a selection of juices too but we were ok for water that time. I thought the coaster is nice.




Legroom is standard for a narrow body business class.


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Old 23rd April 2020, 11:27 AM   #2
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Outside was the bluest sky I ever saw in Delhi even after almost 20 years coming and going. This was unseasonal. and this was also pre-covid. Now during the lockdown, apparently it has been like this.





The inflight magazine is in 3 languages: English, Uzbek, and Russian. Russian is still the lingua franca of the region.




Compared to 2006, they now already have a handful of Dreamliners. There are 2 versions of it. The older style business class all facing right forward and the newest one I think has the angled arrangements and they can pack 4 rows there in the first mini cabin.





Safety video is old-style. Compared to what others are doing now, this is Jurassic era.





There was no inflight amenity on this sector except for a pair of Slippers. Much more modern blue now compared to the ones in 2016.



Comparing the the previous one from 2006





And they also gave a bag for it.




Soon we were airborne and it was truly stunning clarity of the air above Delhi. This is never seen before. Except during lockdown period like now.





A little bit longer and the Himalayas were seen. I always enjoy travelling across northern India. I feel very attached to these mountains.





And then we left the mountains and over many flood plains of Pakistan. We also flew directly over Amritsar and Lahore but I lost the photos.




Not too long over Aghanistan. Then it became cloudy. Otherwise, i would be transfixed there. It's always an impressive sight from above.





Meal was served above Afghanistan and it was sumptuous. It was not the most modern presentation but the quantity was good. The taste was not bad too. All the courses came together


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Old 23rd April 2020, 11:28 AM   #3
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Then tray was taken away and tea and dry nuts and fruits were served a la central Asian customs. I was then checking out the local music videos loaded into the Ipad – which by the way is the IFE. Every business class passenger is provided with one.





It’s loaded with a lot of Russian movies … not so much English.





So I kept getting entertained by music videos, that sound little bit like Viet pop. And I was fascinated by the range of facial features among the Uzbeks. Some are more oriental, some more Turkic, and everything in between.





And then a visit to the basic toilet which has a fake flower. How old-fashioned.





It was cloudy all the way after the meal and we landed in gloomy weather. From this angle, it feels like we were coming down back to the Soviet Union era in all its drabness (which i find fascinating btw)




Tashkent Airport is a paradise for aviation geeks of the soviet era.



I have been travelling the region and also been to the aviation museum in Ukraine (trip report here). So let me try testing my soviet airliner knowledge. Please correct me if I make a mistake.

This is the Il 76 ! with a belly so low it almost touches the ground.






Then this is Il-114. Up to 2-3 years back, this was still flying ! I missed the chance. My only experience with actually flying on the soviet airliner was an An-24 in Ukraine 2 years ago. I miss that! (trip report here)








And I think this is the Tu-154


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Old 23rd April 2020, 11:29 AM   #4
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On arrival , and this was not the experience in 2016, we were directly escorted using a van to a separate part of the terminal.

They have VIP terminal sort of. And it is very quiet. 2 immigration counters and a single belt.








There is a seating area while we wait for the belt. And coffee and drinks.






Then we exited the single lane customs and we landed up here in the middle of nowhere and I got no clue how to exit. No further signage for the so-called VIPs! We didnít even have local money. Itís like being ejected right into the cityÖ. There is not even a helpdesk.




This is actually adjacent to the departure terminal, which doesnít have any taxis. All taxis are shut out at the parking area. But most importantly where is the money changer!





The arrival terminal is actually a separate building on the other side of the compound. It looks like this.





And inside it has all what first time arrivals need. Money changers, ATMs, infoHelp!

So I changed a hundred dollars and oh wow Ö look at what I received back in return. I need a bag to carry money in Uzbekistan.


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Old 23rd April 2020, 11:29 AM   #5
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From here, we took the airport taxi to our soviet era hotel. The infamous Hotel Uzbekistan – a soviet-era icon.





It's around a large city park where a statue of Timur now stood. it used to be Lenin here, I think.



I am a soviet geek and I purposedly picked this hotel for the nostalgia experience. So i better not complain as I signed up for it myself!





The room is the best part. It is decently renovated while still keeping a touch of nostalgia.

Tashkent is drab. Really drab. Especially in late January weather. In the summer, i heard it is the greenest city in Central Asia, even more so than Almaty which I found to be one of the greenest I know.








The only fantastic thing is probably the metro stations. They are really beautiful, just like in many former soviet union countries.







This turnstile also is similar to the ones in Ukraine. Yes, this used to be in the same country. It is a really big country.





Even the train cars. I have seen the same one in Kyiv, Baku, Tbilisi, Almaty






The other wonderful thing about Tashkent is the food. Uzbek food is flavourful. We went to the local market we had some of the best tender kebabs ever, the most fragrant breads (the smell was everywhere), and also some strange noodle like shaved meat dish on the top left which was absolutely delicious. It was a little bit like Pho. I think it was horse meat. Oops. I just have to try things once at least! Not the first time with horsemeat anyway. I tried it before in Japan and also Kazakhstan. But this was the best tasting one.





By the way, the bottom right is a sausage. I dared not ordered that! but I am sure it's good.

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Old 23rd April 2020, 12:33 PM   #6
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Part 2: Round trip Dreamliner to New York

Flight: Uzbekistan Airways
Number: HY101
Aircraft: 787-800
Registration: UK-78701
Seating: 4C
Load: 50%


We spent 2 days in Tashkent, and then we were off to New York. Tashkent - New York flight departs at 640am in the morning. So we had to wake up at 3am and caught a taxi to the airport in the dark and in the snow.




In Tashkent, cars can’t come directly to the terminal whether it is drop off or pick up. So we were dropped outside the compound with our bags. And in the Snow!

And we had to get checked first in this guardhouse building.





Before we were let in further closer to the departure terminal which was majestic in this dark and in this snow.





The small terminal was crowded and chaotic and I was drenched. No business class counters anywhere.




Because there is a special separate section for business class.





Separate check-in,




separate immigration, separate security,





and then a separate duty-free shop!





There is a lounge on the 2nd storey which was just stirring into action that morning




No buffet but there is free flow of snacks and drinks to take from (but alcohol is payable).




And here we were with piles of samsas (cousin of curry puff, samosas)





Traditional sweets to end with coffee.



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Old 23rd April 2020, 12:33 PM   #7
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Downstairs is another separate waiting area.




It also has free unhealthy drinks but no snacks.






In summary, there is complete segregation for business class passengers.

When it was ready to board, we went through this discreet door.





We were escorted a long way to the jetbridge.





Sorry for the blur, but New York flights also have its own gate.





And yes, there are only two weekly flights. This is one of the thinnest route I have ever been on, certainly at this 10,000 km hop from Central Asia to north America. At one point, the 767s made the journey via Riga and they departed a little earlier and therefore it would have been a red eye flight. Their JFK slots are the same timing so now that the journey is shortened, the flight departs around sunrise.


First look of the ever beautiful and elegant Dreamliner that would bring us across the top of the world.





There is the main business class cabin with 3 rows of 2-2-2 seats like on Air India’s. and then there is a mini cabin with a single row of seats (First Class like).








So we sat here at the back. But not too long after that we realise this was a big mistake. Instead of feeling First Class pax like, we felt like we were in crew rest! Pilots soon took 2 seats and slept on my left. And 2 stewardesses took 2 seats and rested on the right. They were nice people and were not too fussy also. When we found one of our seats were broken, they offered us to swap so we could have the flat bed. In the end, one of them slept sitting up. So anyway, it was gone my First Class experience. So, in future, everyone, please avoid this zone as they are using this area for crew rest.

Service started with non alcoholic drink.





While the plane had to go for de-icing for 45 minutes plus.





Slippers were also distributed. They are of different colour here compared to what we had on the Delhi flight.





And then amenity kits were given out and they came in this beautiful Bottega Veneta look.



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Old 23rd April 2020, 12:34 PM   #8
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Nice.




And here are the contents.





By the time we were ready to take off, it was daybreak. And we took off above the snow-dusted capital and in poor condition.





This was a long day flight of more than 12 hours.

Not too long after the first meal service was served. It was breakfast.

First service started with some cured fish. I think the portion was a little small but anyway, I am not a fan of cured fish.





And then followed by the main course which was Russian pancakes stuffed with cheese (blinis). No other option available. Also by the way, there was no menu. I found the portion too light as well.





By this time we were above the tumultuous weather, heading far to the northwest.





6 hours went past. I just spent my time reading my book although iPads and IFE screen were there as well.





When we were approaching the arctic region, we were served our lunch.This journey was a little surreal. We took off just about sunrise, and the sun receded at the back of the plane and in what seems like a reverse sunrise, it went dark again. Then the sunrise of the same day repeated again when we were approaching North America.

By this time, I was starving, the pancakes were too light and they didnít last me 6 hours. Local time above Norway was just about 10am and it was pitch dark because this was winter period.

Lunch started with a m ore sumptuous spread of cold cut. I like this stype better than fishy types. I finished this till the last bit.





And then the main course arrived Ö which was not elegant but it was moist and delicious. Breaded chicken breast on fried rice.




The other option was this beef steak which although it looks dry, it actually was quite tender. And flavourful (well-seasoned).





Lunch ended with dessert. Friendly crew insisted on me taking both options!





Post lunch, I prepped my seat into bed.


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Old 23rd April 2020, 12:35 PM   #9
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I tried to catch a little nap until the second sunrise started on the left side of the plane. And it was a very slow one.





Approaching North America, somewhere I have not visited for 7 years.




Landing time in New York was 10am. We were half an hour delayed than ETA. It was a good sunny day in New York, and an unseasonably warm one in double digits.

This time the shades were all lightened and it was full day time in the cabin.





Economy cabin was pretty full.





We flew over New Jersey with Newark airport down there.





And then we crossed to the other side of Manhattan to land at JFK airport from the sea side.





And finally we landed. To be frank, this journey was longer and more boring than I thought. It felt quite long from Central Asia across half of Asia and then the Arctic then down here.





The good thing was it was off peak period at T4. Or at least we were the first flight to land. So immigration was completely empty. Only awhile later, other flights arrived including SQ26 from Singapore via Frankfurt. They departed earlier, probably came close to Central Asia too and they were ahead and we caught up because we took a much more northerly route.

I spent the next 4 days in New York. No trip report as I think there is a lot of information one can find on the internet and in this trip report, i would like to focus more on Uzbekistan.

It has been more than 8 years since I was there last so we were repeating the same favourites to do when in town.

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Old 23rd April 2020, 12:35 PM   #10
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Flight: Uzbekistan Airways
Number: HY102
Aircraft: 787-800
Registration: UK-78701
Seating: 1J
Load: 8%


The return flight to Tashkent was also a daytime flight.

HY uses Terminal 4 at JFK just like many other international airlines and was plying the route twice a week non stop. Judging from the crowds, the route is performing very well – mostly O&D. They were supposed to increase this frequency to 3-4x starting from the summer but this might be put off considering the current pandemic situation.

5-6 counters were opened to check-in passengers.




As usual, security line was long and stressful and we didn’t have much time in the lounge which was a contract lounge called Wingtips. It was crowded
and also quite hot. So we went off to the gate early. Airport is just quite ok. It’s better outside the lounge than inside.





Here’s pic of the plane that would be flying us back to Asia. And it was the same one that brought us there a few days before. Of course it didn’t stay there. It went back to Tashkent and then flew back. The crew was the same set though. Twice weekly flights and the crew set stays 3-4 days each rotation.




Just before we reached the gate, we suddenly found ourselves in the midst of Uzbeks walking the opposite direction. Apparently there was a gate change. But the plane was already on the gate.





Anyway, so we were directed to another gate on the other wing of the terminal where passengers started queuing up. But we stayed on our seats knowing that it would be awhile before boarding could commence. Perhaps the other gate had an aerobridge problem.




Long wait and when finally passengers were cleared, there was still another long wait of almost an hour at the bus gate below.




After more than an hour late, we finally boarded by stairs. Plane had been moved here from the earlier gate.





This time we didn’t want to be in the crew rest zone so we sat ourselves on Row 1.

It was an empty cabin. Just two of us. Just like in First Class.





This time, the crew recognised us and they were all extra friendly, especially the lead. She did look like the typical Russian grandma and she took care of us really well throughout the flight, with a lot of smile.

Prepacked wet towels given. Very hygienic. Now we have a lot of these at home because we never got to finish them from these flights and we flew so many sectors.





By this time, coronavirus news was there, it had reached the USA also but in single digit number. The WHO had yet to announce the emergency, let alone the declaration of pandemic later on. The WHO announcement of emergency would be during our flight and it affected our arrival experience. More to that later.

Looking out of the window, I could see SQ!




Welcome drink was juice. They were not liberal in offering alcohol. Uzbekistan and many other Central Asian states are Muslim so alcohol is not that common even when we dine out. But if one asks, it’s there.





It was then a really long take-off sequence with many planes ahead in the queue. I think it took almost an hour taxying.

Before we finally took off in good weather and cruised steadily. First we passed by Boston and onwards in the northwesternly direction towards Europe. Going eastbound, the route was more southernly to follow the Jetstream.



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Old 23rd April 2020, 12:36 PM   #11
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The first meal was lunch and as expected it started with a spread of cured fish, grilled vegetables and various nuts. Hidden in the dark was my glass of Uzbek wine. Yes, they produce wine too.





And then we had the main course. I picked the grilled beef which was not too elegantly presented but it was good, moist and tender enough and the sauce was flavouful.





The other option was the chicken.





It was a slow-paced lunch and when we were done, our friendly granmotherly crew, with so much love, came with the biggest grin I had seen in a very long time and she said “ you must have ALL of these”. And voila, I was shocked. Cheese platter. Fruit platter. A second fruit platter. Dessert. And nuts and fruits. And she gave each of us the same. I told her we could share and the crew could have the rest, to which she politely declined and encouraged us to finish them all. With a big grin.





After this meal, I was really stuffed, and I was relaxed from the wine, and I didn’t remember anything until more than 8 hours later when we were just around Moscow. 2.5 hours prior to landing in Tashkent





When the crew noticed that we were awake they geared up into service, more wet towels actually, and more water.

I thought this meal would be better suited as a breakfast as it was around 8am where we were and the sun was up. But it was not breakfast.

It started with cold meat and cheese. And a side salad. Overdose of cold cuts now.




And then the mains verbally offered were chicken or beef. And we said we would each take the chicken. Beef felt too heavy for a morning. Only then we were offered the fish. Why didn’t they tell us that there were 3 choices. Anyway…


Chicken was with cheese.




And this was the fish with fried rice. I preferred this.




The end of the meal had no sumptuous spread of dessert.

Just coffee.


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Old 23rd April 2020, 12:37 PM   #12
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Looking out the windows, I saw endless icy steppes.





It was beautiful geography. Flat is stunning too when it is so empty.




A remote village somewhere over Kazakhstan.






And then we landed in Tashkent in quite a beautiful weather. Again it was unseasonably warm in double digit temperatures in January.

Same soviet-era plane spotting. But in better weather this time.





And also this time, we saw some unusual airline. Somon Air of Tajikistan. This would be next in my list-to-do. They also fly to Delhi once a week. So far I had flown Uzbekistan Airways, Air Astana, and Turkmenistan Airlines. Somon Air can be next. I will complete the collection.





And then our plane was pulled to a remote gate, the crew by this time all turned up in masks. The WHO had declared the coronavirus as emergency and they had spring into action in this country. No passengers were to disembark. Then a few medical personnel came onboard and took everybody’s temperature. Only after that, we were released. The age of Covid 19 has started from this day onwards.






Upon disembarkation, we repeated the same sequence again through the VIP terminal, the open courtyard, but we are now Uzbekistan experts, we knew where to go and we had our data card, and we booked an app taxi! Next stop is the domestic terminal, unfortunately connection is inconvenient, no inter terminal bus, no airside transfer.

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Old 23rd April 2020, 02:00 PM   #13
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Part 3: Samarkand, Bukhara, and High Speed Rail


Flight: Uzbekistan Airways
Number: HY43
Aircraft: A320
Registration: UK-320XX
Seating: 7A
Load: 70%



The domestic airport of Tashkent is a white elephant. It is 1.5 km away from the international terminal, poorly connected to it or to the city.




Just like the international terminal, one gets dropped off outside, and here it is even more surreal in that the gates appear closed and locked like this were an abandoned building. Uzbekistan Airways only has a handful of domestic flights. May be 5 or 6 in a day and not many are to destinations like Samarkand and Bukhara where there is an efficient high speed rail system.

Inside it is very spacious and was very empty. The Samarkand flight was the only single flight that depart in the next few hours. Most of its passengers were connecting from New York.





Post security, another cavernous space to wait.





And then we boarded the regular A320. Unfortunately there are no more Il-114s flying.





I like the livery and colour scheme of Uzbekistan Airways. It’s just so bright and distinctive.





Inside it is the regular 3-3 layout and it is very modern.





There is No IFE, just small monitors for showing safety video.





Service on this flight is just a cup of water. Yes, just that. No coffee. No tea.





The flight overflew very scenic landscapes in the short 40 minutes we were on the air. These mountains were the end of the great Steppe that stretches from Germany almost with no interruption. Beyond this convolution of geopgraphy, after many kilometres, it’s India. Indian Mughal rulers came from the valleys on this side. It is close.









If Tashkent domestic airport is a big white elephant, Samarkand’s is a small elephant. It doesn’t have many flights in a day but it does have some international flights too direct to Istanbul, Moscow, and St Petersburg.





From this vantage point, nothing is special. However, everything about Samarkand subsequently blew our mind away. It is easily one of the most gorgeous city I have ever been. And I could relate it so easily because so many Indian Mughal monuments are a further evolution from Samarkand's. It started here, and India refined it, made it even greater.


There are no major chain hotels in Uzbekistan and even in Tashkent, there was only Hyatt Regency, Hilton, and Best Western (3 nos). In Samarkand and others, none. But this is perhaps a good thing.

We stayed in a simple courtyard guesthouse under the watchful eye of a majestically beautiful dome of the Bibi Khanum Mosque.



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Old 23rd April 2020, 02:01 PM   #14
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Every morning, I woke up and looked up at this majestic monument. My heart melted at the beauty of the place, and the effort and dedication of the craftsmen.





This is not even the most impressive of Samarkand’s sights. Not many even heard of this mosque but it's really majestic. Look at the scale.




The jewel of Samarkand is the Registan, a public square, bounded on 3 sides by medressas. These were built at different times over many years. The ensemble is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and it well deserves its status.

I was in complete awe looking at all the majesty and the exquisite tilework everywhere.








The most refined building was this shrine and no words can describe the finery that has been executed with so much precision.





This was one of my favourite spot – I think one can understand the scale here.





The buildings are really huge. Humans are dwarfed.





Not far from the Registan is the Mausoleum of Timur, the conqueror and empire builder. This is the prototype design for subsequent Indian mausoleums including the Taj Mahal. Timur’s is much smaller but the proportion, and the beauty of it is still a sight to behold.





Look at the entrance portal itself. How exquisite.




Mausoleums were quite a preoccupation of Samarkand in the past. And they have an absolutely gorgeous district filled with just these, the Shah-i-Zinda just on the perimeter of the old city.






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Old 23rd April 2020, 02:01 PM   #15
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This area is also a captivating people-watching area. Locals still come here as some of these belong to saints and other learned men. There are very few other tourists.








Inside one of the structures





These doorways are truly exquisite. Incredible.





We spent 2 nights in Samarkand and then we headed off to Bukhara by high Speed train. Yes, surprising to many people, Uzbekistan has a small high peed railway system connecting Tashkent , Samarkand, and Bukhara. Samarkand is just 90 minutes away and Bukhara a further 2 hours 20 minutes. The whole journey is just under 4 hours. Airplanes are no longer relevant.

The train station is a socialist monstrosity (but I do like brutalist aesthetics) . Same like the airports, no direct drop-off. One gets dropped off at the gate and walks in.






The interior is also an interesting socialist modernism style. Every passenger must have a ticket to enter. Actually I find that Uzbekistan has a thorough system of security checks everywhere, may be because they are very cautious for radical elements and also there is a direct shared border with Afghanistan.







The bullet train arrived right on time, but not Japanese on time. It was some 2 minutes late but I would still consider it on time. Apparently this is Spanish design and they help the country built this. It is not the fastest. On our journeys, top speed was about 250 km/h and between Samarkand and Bukhara where there are more bends, they more frequently ran at 160-180 km/h.






They have really cool train attendants and yes, travelling in the age of Covid pandemic, they were masked.





The interior is clean and functional. This is business class for about 40% more cost than economy class but prices are cheap. This is still less than USD50. There is also First Class but we didn’t try that because it was costing another 40% more and it doesn’t seem worth it from the pictures. Both business class and first class are 2-1 configuration and First Class has leather seats and perhaps better food.









Whoosh we sped to Bukhara arriving there about 2 hour plus later.

Like Samarkand, Bukhara was also a prosperous centre for trade, education, and pilgrimage. Unlike Samarkand, however, Bukhara is not restored to its former glory as much and you can feel the deep slow aging process. It has a different charm.

The old city is peppered by stunning and crumbling monuments such as this medressa just off the main bazaar.



Last edited by SQueeze; 24th April 2020 at 06:24 AM..
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