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Uzbekistan by Bob Roberts

In October 2017 I visited Uzbekistan and these images capture what I went see.

When Uzbekistan was part of the former Soviet Union, Her Majesty would have been most displeased if I had visited whilst in her employ. So following the country’s independence, and its position at the crossroads of the ancient Silk Road, an opportunity to visit was too good to be missed. Throw in my retirement and my interest in Islamic Art and Architecture, I just could not resist. I was not to be disappointed.

I shall let my images speak for themselves but I shall mention a couple in particular and something of my photography. I have added some background information about Uzbekistan that may be of interest.

My holiday was for two weeks. I flew from London to Tashkent then onto Ugench in the west. Travelling on by road I visited nearby Khiva and then continued east to visit Bukhara, Samarkand and nearby Shakhrisabz. Back to Samarkand, I then took the ‘Bullet’ train to Tashkent. My journey continued by car over fabulous mountain passes to Fergana in the east. Finally, back over the mountains to Tashkent for a flight home. I spent two nights in each of the main locations.

The photography

I used an Olympus OMD-EM5 MkII micro-four thirds camera with a 17mm prime lens. The restriction of one lens was challenging on occasion but very enjoyable nonetheless. I used a square format in composing the images.

All were shot in RAW and subsequently converted to monochrome in Adobe Lightroom. Black and White is my favoured medium as it allows me to process the images to my own taste. Some may prefer colour and I have added a selection. I should emphasize that the colour images are “as shot” with the minimalist of processing, mainly a touch of clarity and sharpening.

Most images are of mosques or mausoleums, some of which are hundreds of years old; others have been restored following independence. Some show areas of old palaces that have been converted to museums. There are ladies spinning silk in Fergana. Much silk is woven into material for clothing (some dresses and scarves are stunning) and carpets. A lady is showing flat bread at a bakery site on the provincial border between Tashkent and Fergana. The bread is a staple and served at every meal – it is delicious and very moreish! The country produces its own wine and I found that it was the perfect compliment. The patterns on the bread are unique to each baker. There is an image of the statue of Mohammad Al Xorazmiy, known in the west as Al Khwarizmiy. A famous mathematician, he made our school days such joy, giving us Algebra and the Algorithm, a term much used in our computer age.

Uzbekistan - a little background information.

Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, Uzbekistan gained her independence in 1991. Before independence the country was the ‘cotton basket’ of the Soviet Union, the crop grown almost exclusively. A legacy of Soviet rule is the environmental disaster of the Aral Sea. The sea is receding at an alarming rate and rivers running half-dry as a result of diverting the water to grow the cotton. Cotton is still grown on a smaller scale, but post the Soviet era and economic reforms, the country has now diversified to take advantage of its rich mineral and petroleum assets.

As an aside, the country is still proud of its Soviet heritage and the past can still be seen in the surviving architecture and infrastructure. The three storey blocks of flats are ubiquitous. I asked what the reaction was to seeing their original homes and villages destroyed to build them. Initially, there was much resistance, but they were won over with the innovation of having their own kitchen with hot and cold running water and private bathrooms.

Uzbekistan is a land-locked country about twice the area of the UK. It borders five countries, Kazakhstan to the north and west, Turkmenistan to the south, a short southern border with Afghanistan, Tajikistan to east, and a finger of land projecting further east and bordered by Kyrgyzstan. This finger of land includes the Fergana Valley, the most fertile and densely populated area of the country. The areas bordering the Fergana Valley are mountainous. The remaining eighty percent of the country is mostly of a flat sand desert with rolling dunes. There is intense irrigation at the edges of the main rivers and lakes. The Aral Sea is landlocked and shared with Kazakhstan in the northwest.

The main population areas are the towns and cities of the south; the desert regions of the central and northern areas being sparsely populated. The desert climate is of long hot summers and mild winters (although feeling cold after the summer heat). The winter in the east is colder and wetter, especially in the mountain regions where there is snow.

The capital is Tashkent. Other main towns and cities from west to east are: Ugench, Khiva, Bukhara, Samarkand, and Fergana. The official and majority language is Uzbek. There is about fifteen percent who are Russian speaking, with Tajik and others making up another ten percent. Approximately ninety percent of the population is Muslim (Sunni) with Eastern Orthodox much the largest of the minority religions.

The towns and cities are kept scrupulously clean, litter is a rarity. Local government employees maintain the roadways and parks, and shop and stallholders can be seen attending their areas throughout the day from sunrise to dusk.

The roads and infrastructure of the populated areas are of a high standard. Cross-country roads are more challenging. There is an excellent train service, including a high speed ‘Bullet’ train on the 345km route between Samarkand and Tashkent. The capital also has a metro, the first in Central Asia. New train routes have been introduced to China and Kyrgyzstan and others under construction.

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