Beldersoy Mountain Climb

Oliver resting with Beldersoy Ski Resort Piste in the background

This past Sunday, Owen, Oliver and I went hiking in the Ugam-Chatkal National Park. This was my second visit to the park and we were led by the famous guide Boris. The Chatkal Range, part of the western Tian Shan Mountains, covers “the finger” in far Eastern Uzbekistan. It is only about a 90-minute drive from Tashkent.

We climbed a steep ridge running parallel to the Beldersoy Ski Resort to begin the hike. The ski piste and hotel was below as we scrambled over rocky outcrops. Boris is known for not using trails, instead going for more difficult routes and he didn’t disappoint. We made it to the top (2,000 meters / 6,500 feet) of Beldersoy and had gorgeous views of the Beldersoy River valley and several peaks. After a rest, we walked through the Urttakumbel Pass down to the Marble River. We had lunch along the river and surveyed a 30-meter waterfall in the narrow canyon.

Big Chimgan in the background

Walking back up a side trail we saw hundreds of fossilized cockle shells. It is awesome to think about geological time scales. Those shells were once living mollusks living on the bottom of a sea and today they are found on a mountain in the middle of a double-landlocked desert nation of Uzbekistan. I collected a bunch of nice specimens to display in my office.

Cockle Shell Fossils in the Marble River Canyon

We finished the hike by going over to a “solar glade” an open pasture on the way back to our car. The glade reminded me of a desert Sound of Music mountain meadow. It would also have been a great place for a medieval battle scene. Oliver is reading Game of Thrones and is re-watching some of the later episodes. It would be a perfect spot for filming.

The “solar” glade

Of course the best part of any hike for me is spending time with my family. Being able to talk and explore with my sons gives me so much pleasure. They are two really good guys and we enjoyed each other’s company, despite the early start on a Sunday morning.

The initial ascent from the parking lot

The one aspect of hiking in the park that bothers me is the ubiquitous livestock grazing. We didn’t see any horses, cows, sheep or goats on this walk, but we did see plenty of evidence (feces) of ruminants. I wonder what the mountains would look like without the pressure of grazing? I know people have to make a living, but it makes me want to forgo meat all together when I see the impact of livestock on the environment.

I am looking forward to seeing the mountains change as the seasons change. My two hikes so far were during the driest part of the year.

Marble River Canyon

A Hearty Breakfast

Ready to Eat!

Weddings (nikokh-tui in Uzbek) are extravagant affairs in Uzbekistan, with lavish parties and events for two days. They are so expensive that last year the government urged people to limit their spending on weddings. Weddings begin with a morning breakfast plov (pilaf) hosted by the bride’s father.

My driver Ahat invited me to a friend’s morning plov on Friday. This was my second time attending one of these events. It is such an unusual way to start one’s day and I can’t think of an equivalent in America or Europe. I was grateful for the invitation and the opportunity to experience this classic Uzbek experience. This breakfast is only attended by men and the guest list includes relatives, friends, co-workers, neighbors and in my case, friends of friends. Attendees were on the older side, which makes sense with a 7:00 AM start traditionally after morning prayers.

Guests listen to the imam’s speech amongst flowers, arches and silk, mainstays of Uzbek luxury decorative finishings

Older Uzbek gentlemen often wear the traditional square hat. I noticed three basic types, black with white spiral embroidery, black and blue. They are most often worn on special occasions, but I do see them on a daily basis around the city. I think it is a cool look and Nadia bought the blue style for me at the Chorsu Bazaar yesterday.

Navro’z is one of numerous reception halls in Tashkent

There are many reception halls that cater these events around the city. I estimated about 250 men were in attendance on Friday. Upon arrival, the table is covered with fruits, cucumber/tomatoes, pistachios, the ubiquitous Uzbek bread, sweets, etc. It is easy to get full before the main dish arrives, while drinking tea and snacking. An imam gives a sermon, or speech. Ahat said his 10-minute talk was about marriage. After the speech, relatives of the married couple form lines and pass plates of plov to each of the tables. A dish is shared between two people and spoons are used. Guests passed around the cucumbers and tomatoes to add some healthy veggies to the plov. This plov included horse sausage, which I’ve had a couple of times. It is good, but a bit too salty for my taste. The plov was delicious and Ahat and I finished our plate.

A portion of the plov is saved and sent to the bride and groom’s families. (plastic container on the table)

Almost immediately after the food is eaten, there is a quick prayer and everyone heads out. Eating and running is acceptable here! I skipped lunch on Friday and had an extra cup of coffee to prevent me from going back to sleep on a full stomach. Thanks to Ahat for the invitation and his friend’s family for showing me hospitality and welcoming me, a stranger, to participate in their big day

Cycling in Tashkent

There is a growing cycling community in Uzbekistan as the country is opening up to international influences. Last April the Asian Road Cycling Championships were held here and last March, a cycle marathon to the Kazakhstan border took place.

Velo Market – “the” bicycle repair shop in town

My friend Matthew took us out on a 40 kilometer social loop around the city yesterday morning. We stopped at the bike shop the expats go to for repairs and service. It was funny to see Chinese city bike-share cycles among the selection of bikes for sale. I read where last spring there was an overproduction of bike share programs in Chinese cities. Two of them ended up in Tashkent.

Despite some reckless driving and underdeveloped asphalt road system, the cycling is quite good here. The wide avenues from the Soviet years and vast public spaces make cycling in the city center quite pleasant. There are also many routes outside the city that I am anxious to explore.

Kralovec Family Journal: August 24, 2019

Papa & Ocean

It was our first full week of classes. One of my highlights was the morning cross country running practice with Ocean. She is now a middle schooler, and is out for her first sport, cross country running. The team has practices in the morning before school. She wants to qualify for the CEESA event in Kiev, Ukraine. I hope she continues running!

Farewell Dinner – Afonsa Restaurant – August 23

We said goodbye to my Uncle Jack. He was a godsend for helping us settle into our new home. Our house looks absolutely fabulous thanks to his efforts in organizing the kitchen, hanging paintings, prepping the gardens, etc, etc, etc. It has been so nice to have a father figure in my life again and he has given our family some stability. He really cares about our family and we are so happy to have him in our life. Thank you Uncle Jack, we love you!

I am enjoying working with the principals at the school. Jan and Angelika are so helpful, easy to get along with , work hard and know their educational practices. I think we are making a good team and I look forward to more good times ahead. We attended a US Embassy reception on Wednesday evening.

Amir Temur Station

I finally got to see a couple of the subway stations in the city. The metro was modeled after Moscow’s underground. We only sampled two of the stations, but the marble, lighting and archways were impressive. The system is old, but well kempt.

We set up our basketball hoop in the street in front of our house. It has been very popular with the neighborhood children. Owen and Oliver got into a game of two-on-two last night.

Mirabad Scenes

Finally, I rode my bicycle around the neighborhood this morning. I love the bright sunshine and the Soviet era apartment buildings and narrow streets near our house.

Romanov Palace of Tashkent

Front View of the Romanov Palace

The Russians occupied Tashkent long before the Soviet Union formed. They conquered “Turkestan” in 1865, a time when European nations were forming empires overseas. The take over of Central Asia was Russia’s attempt of matching other colonial powers of the era. Although there are no oceans or mountain ranges between Central Asia and Moscow, it is a long way away from the capital and effectively a colony.

When the Tsar’s armies came to what was then referred to as Turkestan, Tashkent was a minor market city. Samarkand and Bukhara were centers of power and wealth. The Russians set their base in Tashkent and many Russians came to administer the colony or work in the construction projects that were expanding the city.

Back View of the Palace

The Tsarist Russian government created a modern Russian city alongside the existing Asian Tashkent “Old City”. The idea was to model for the native Tashkenters how European order, technology and urban planning could improve their lives. They were creating a modern European city in the Kyzyl Kum (Red Sand) Desert of Uzbekistan.

Nikolai was an avid hunter and place statues of hunting dogs and deer at the entrances of his home.

The large Cathedral of the Transfiguration with its Bell Tower and Konstantinov Square with the statue of first Governor-General Von Kaufman built at that time were demolished by the Soviets in 1932. However, there is one prominent building left from that time period, the Palace & Outhouse (not the outdoor bathroom type) of Duke Romanov built in 1889 still exists.

Grand Duke Nicholas Konstantinovich

The palace was built for Grand Duke Nicholas Konstantinovich who has an interesting back story. He was the grandson of Nicholas I and born into wealth in 1850 in St. Petersburg. He was a military officer and playboy and must have been the one of the most eligible bachelors in the city. His bon vivant lifestyle led him to a scandalous affair with Fanny Lear and a theft of three diamonds from an icon owned by his mother. Nicholas K. was caught, declared insane and banished to Tashkent.

The Ankhor Canal is a pleasant area for exercise.

With lots of time and wealth, he did a lot of works in Tashkent, directing the work of the first canals that brought much needed water to the city. The Romanov Family ruled Russia for over 300 years, from the time of Ivan the Terrible to the Bolshevik Revolution. Their legacy can still be found in Tashkent today.

Excavation work between the “Outhouse” and the palace

The Romanov Palace is not open to the public. It was used by the Soviets as youth center and museum. I read where it was used as a reception hall for events hosted by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The palace must have been luxurious in its heyday, but probably most of the art and original rooms have been cleared through the decades. The grounds are being maintained and there seems to be security around the building most of the time. I would love to get inside and see it!

Finding Tennis Courts in Tashkent

Owen and Oliver at the Eco Park Tennis Courts

This weekend we started looking for a tennis center for our family. We are avid tennis players. On Saturday we found two hardcourts at Eco Park. The city government built an “ecological” sports complex and park in 2017 on the grounds of the former Tashkent Zoo. It is really nice with a 1.4 meter running/cycling paved loop, badminton, table tennis, beach volleyball, exercise/yoga areas and best of all, two hardcourt tennis courts. There are also kiosk and cafes/restaurants in the complex. It is across the highway from the Sacred Heart Catholic Church.

The courts are beautiful! It was a bit tricky to play however, as we had to call from the kassa (main office) to a manager? named Marina. The courts cost 50,000 soum or around $6 to use. It was 96 degrees so no one else was using the courts. It felt great to get back on the courts after a few weeks here!

We came back the next day and Marina said we couldn’t play because the courts were “being cleaned”. We did not see anyone there. Entering “tennis courts” in Google Maps, we found a sports complex called Burevestnik, so we thought we would give it a try. We could see several clay courts upon arrival in a nice sports complex, but were denied entry by a man dressed in pixellated-camoflauge gear. One of the tennis pros or player from the club came out and explained that the complex was owned by the National Security Service, the FBI of Uzbekistan and not open to foreigners. Oddly, the Burevestnik is the name of a Russian nuclear cruise missile. The gentleman kindly suggested we go to NBU Stadium, also known as the Yoshlik Sports Complex.

Walking To the Indoor Courts at Yoshlik
Running Track and Soccer Stadium at Yoshlik

These courts were a bit more expensive, 60,000 soum ($7). Once again, we called an English-speaking manager who was very friendly and offered equipment and a coach. We asked for the indoor courts. I was expecting a hot bubble, but instead we came to a glorious indoor tennis stadium. A bit dated, but so nice on another scorching summer day. The club had 5-6 clay courts, one named the Raphael Nadal Court and several hard courts as well. We played a mini-tournament and ended the session with an epic doubles match. The club seemed promising and we’ll follow up with phone calls this week to inquire about memberships.

Hotel Uzbekistan At Night

The Hotel Uzbekistan at night did not disappoint. The entire front facade was lit up with neon lights of the Uzbekistan flag. I wonder if guests see the colors outside of their rooms? We also walked into the lobby and it felt a bit old, classic Soviet socialist style, despite the renovation 15 years ago. As with the Hotel Yugoslavia in Belgrade, I always felt that some owner should really play up the Socialist kitsch with the decor and theme of the hotel. Morning calisthenics, posters celebrating the worker, staff dressed from the times, etc. I think it would be a hit!

The Hotel Uzbekistan at Night

We walked around in the center of the city after dinner. The Palace of International Forums next door is another impressive building. The downtown of Tashkent is really quite nice and developed compared to our neighborhood of Mirobad. The term “palace” is appropriate in this case. It reminded Owen of Washington DC.

Uncle Jack and the family (sans Oliver) in front of the Palace of International Forums