TRAVEL & EXPERIENCE

Underground Palace in Uzbekistan
The decades-old ban on photographing the Tashkent Metro, the first-ever subway system in Central Asia, has recently been lifted. The revealed interior of the metro is like a giant artwork thanks to the ornate architectural features using colorful tiles, lightings, and decorative elements.
Uzbekistan, Mysterious Land Under Veil
The Central Asian countries sharing the suffix “stan(land)” such as Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Turkmenistan, have long remained hidden treasures to the outsiders. Uzbekistan was once a kingdom that drove out the descendants of Genghis Khan from Central Asia and conquered the region during the medieval Silk Road era. It was temporarily absorbed into the Soviet Union in recent history. After declaring independence in 1991, the country has been getting ready for a new leap forward. There are an estimated 130 ethnic groups residing in Uzbekistan, and about 1-2 percent of the population are the descendants of Koryo-saram, a group of Koreans who migrated in the 19th century. This is why Uzbekistan is oddly familiar to Koreans. Travel magazine "Lonely Planet" has recently designated countries along the Silk Road, including Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan, as their "Best in Travel 2020." It is about time that Uzbekistan, which had been shrouded in mystery for a long time, unveiled its true value to globetrotters.
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Last Remnants of Soviet Era
Back in the days when Uzbekistan belonged to the Soviet Union, its capital Tashkent was one of the four major cities in the union, along with Moscow, Saint Petersburg, and Kiev. The Soviets wanted to make Tashkent its foothold and spearhead in Central Asia, instead of Samarkand, a former Uzbek capital. The communist party built the largest statue of Lenin in the union in Tashkent and made large-scale investments. A great number of buildings and commercial facilities were established. After the declaration of independence on August 31, 1991, things changed. The statues of Lenin and Marx in central squares in downtown Tashkent were replaced by Uzbek hero Amir Timur who ruled over the Asian continent in the 14th century. Timur seems to represent the will of Uzbeks to overcome the Cold War and recapture the past glory. 
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That said, Tashkent still has many remnants of the 70-80 years spent under Soviet control. The most symbolic one is surprisingly the subway in Tashkent called “metropoliteni.” Well-known as the first metro in Central Asia launched in 1977, the metropoliteni has three lines of Chilanzar, Uzbekistan, and Yunusobod. It is easy to use since each line has an average 10 stations and a relatively small coverage area. Most subway systems built by the Soviet, including the ones in Moscow and Saint Petersburg, are located deep underground to serve as a shelter from a nuclear attack. So it is noticeable that the Tashkent metro was built relatively closer to the ground level.
The metro in Moscow was praised for its architectural aesthetics when Mayakovskaya Station won the grand prix at the 1939 World’s Fair in New York, in spite of Russia’s communist movement. Using the art deco style, the Moscow metro features sophisticated lightings, geometric sculptures, and flashy chandeliers in the “underground palace” left by the Soviet Union. Culturally influenced by Russia, the Tashkent metro is also magnificent, boasting colorful wall decorations, traditional patterns, and unique sculptures. Then, why did the communist party make the subway so ostentatious? It’s because they thought the subway was the most effective tool to spread the superiority of their regime to the public in the Cold War era.  Notwithstanding the political motivation, the outcome was beautiful.
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Still Fined for Photographing?
Uzbekistan has maintained a closed policy for a long time, even after independence from the Soviet Union. The Tashkent police put a ban on tourists’ photographing the cityscape. There were frequent cases of tourists paying fine to the police after getting caught for taking photos of the important locations in the city. That’s the reason the beautiful city could have remained in secrecy until recently. With the inauguration of the government led by President Shavkat Mirziyoyev in 2017, a new open policy was put in place, signaling a big change to come.
Particularly, the metro had been considered a military installation until recently, which meant no photographs, but the ban was lifted in 2018, allowing tourists to use cameras freely in subway stations. Some policemen would even suggest photo spots to tourists, which was unimaginable a few years ago in Tashkent. These cultural changes are not unrelated to the popularity of the metro in the capital. An increasing number of travelers are visiting Uzbekistan, still harboring the charm of an ancient foothold of Central Asia. in the metro transit space, however, there are still routine bag checks by the authorities.
Prices in Uzbekistan are highly affordable. According to U.S. consulting firm Mercer, Uzbekistan is one of the least expensive countries to live in the world. About 4,000-5,000 Korean won will be enough for a meal at a decent restaurant. A subway ride costs 1,400 sum, about 180 won, in Tashkent. A blue token called “zhyton” will get you anywhere along the line, and transferring is free as well.
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Tashkent Metro Full of Artistic Inspirations
The underground of Tashkent has a mysterious entrance. After a flight of stairs covered with marble, a modern, yet antique interior of the art deco style spreads in front of your eyes. On the wall, traditional and geometric patterns are displayed using the Uzbek flag colors of blue, green, and white. Each station has its own character using different pattern shapes and lightings.
One of the most unique designs can be found at Mustakillik Maydon Station. Its name means “independence square” when translated, and the location is in front of the eponymous square. Inside the station is covered with high-end marble from the western region of the country, while geometrically-carved pillars and the white ceiling where fancy chandeliers are installed draw attention. The star patterns found on the floor were made by the Soviet Union wishing for a safe space travel of its astronauts.
There are noteworthy stations built after Uzbekistan’s independence. Alisher Navoi Station, completed in 1997, has a high dome-style interior with tall pillars and flower carvings to impress its passengers. Alisher Navoi was a national poet of Uzbekistan, whose literary museum can be found in front of the station.
Opened in 2001, Bodomzor Station is a bit more on the modern side. The white wall houses blue geometric patterns on a minimalistic scale. Cutting-edge, mesmeric lightings were installed to accentuate the sophisticated vibe of the interior. Near the station is the Tashkent TV Tower, one of the tallest buildings in Central Asia. Every Tashkent Metro station is filled with unique and colorful sculptures and decorations, creating an artistic, vibrant atmosphere and appealing to tourists.
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Having been the hub of the Silk Road, Uzbekistan is transforming itself into a major tourist destination for globetrotters. Older buildings and facilities in the urban areas are being modernized, and starting 2017, Koreans are allowed in the country visa-free. Tashkent offers mixed cultures of Islam, Central Asia, and Eastern Europe due to its location and political history, resulting in unique experiences that can be found only in Uzbekistan. At the center of it is the Tashkent Metro. The spirit of the empire once connecting the East and the West is waking up from its long slumber.
Where to Stay in Tashkent: LOTTE City Hotel Tashkent Palace
Opened in October 2013 and awaiting its seventh anniversary, LOTTE City Hotel Tashkent Palace is the only LOTTE HOTEL in Central Asia. It is located in the heart of Tashkent near the Trading Center, Alisher Navoi Opera and Ballet Theatre, and Mustakillik Square. The hotel building, established in 1958 and designated as a cultural heritage of Uzbekistan, has a classical appearance with ornate details unique to the country. Offering a total of 232 guest rooms, the hotel also has a rooftop bar where you can enjoy traditional Uzbek cuisines as well as a beautiful nightscape of Tashkent. The outdoor pool in the courtyard will present a special experience of relaxation in a palatial setting. 
Address 56, Buyuk Turon Street, Tashkent, 100029, Uzbekistan
Phone +998-71-120-58-00
Homepage www.lottehotel.com/tashkentpalace-city
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December 2019 Editor:Ha Jaekyung
Writer:Lee Siwoo

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  • December 2019
  • Editor: Ha Jaekyung
    Writer: Lee Siwoo
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