You know I concentrate the bulk of my city rumbles on well-known places, but I thought it was time to write a bit more about Central Asia so I hit upon the plan to pit the capital of Kyrgyzstan against the capital of its neighbour, Uzbekistan.
Bishkek is the pleasant, leafy capital of Kyrgyzstan, a country that when you type quickly it’s really valuable to have a spellcheck operating. Kyrgyzstan is a mountainous country, one of the smallest countries of Central Asia that boasts a huge inland lake and stunning scenery and hiking. Tashkent is the Uzbek capital, a country that sees Asia meet the Middle East, with deserts and sand aplenty.
So how are they similar and how are they different? Well, despite being capitals in the same region, they actually come across as quite different. Whereas Bishkek has quite the sense of history and a strong tie to its Soviet roots, Tashkent is very much a modern city. The boulevards are wide and there seems to be a lot of city planning that has gone into this large city.
As for populations, Tashkent has more than twice as many people as Bishkek coming in at around 2.3 million compared to Bishkek which has just under 1 million. Bishkek still seems to value ties to Russia as well, with statues of Lenin still to be found around the city. For proof of this the State History Museum has been jokingly talked about as not being aware that the Soviet Union has split up.
In contrast one of the more interesting and impressive museums in Tashkent is the Amir Timur Museum, devoted to the memory of Uzbekistan’s answer to Genghis Khan. Amir Timur was a fearless leader in the 14th century from Uzbekistan. Islam Karimov was the previous President of Uzbekistan, a position he held from independence in 1991 until he passed away last year. He saw Uzbekistan through a period of strong growth thanks to a resources boom. He used the image and idea of Timur to forge a strong national identity. And so there are statues of Timur to be found many places in Tashkent and his own museum which really is a museum about the Uzbek people.
And thus Tashkent has been the recipient of much money in the last two and a half decades. And it’s impressive. The parks in Tashkent are magnificent. Actually, Bishkek has nice parks too, but like everything in Tashkent, the Uzbek parks are grander. Bigger. More elaborate. And there are many fountains.
Bishkek’s parks are cosier. Prettier. More relaxing. Bishkek seems like an artist’s city as well. There’s a lot of culture in Bishkek. I went to a concert there at the State Opera and Ballet centre. A very cheap night out at a few bucks. I saw a children’s play as well. There’s a thriving arts scene which I think again harks back to Russian influence.
Uzbekistan is forging an identity as an Islamic country which would have been unthinkable under Soviet/communist control. Outside Tashkent cities like Samarkand and Bukhara boast incredible Islamic architecture and grandeur. In Tashkent there are many buildings and mosques (some quite new) that reflect Islamic design.
Transport-wise you’re limited in Bishkek with trolley buses or sort of mini-buses (matrushkas) and of course taxis. Tashkent is similar, but with a subway line which proved very handy. However, for places off the line, taxis are going to be your best bet. Not too expensive though. But with Tashkent’s size you can’t help but use taxis. Bishkek I didn’t take any inner-city transport because everything was reachable on foot. Connections though – Tashkent has more flight and road connections by a fair way compared to Bishkek.
So. Who wins? Well, I like Bishkek better. It’s as simple as that. Tashkent is more impressive, grander, but there was something about Bishkek that made it feel… homlier? It was great to be able to walk places and the parks work well in the city in that you can walk through them to different parts of town. And there were table tennis tables and wedding photographs going on. Yeah, it has a little something special.
So. What do you think? I’m not sure how many readers will have been to either city. Perhaps the photos will help you decide? May the Journey Never End!