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Where in the world is Sheryl?

Most of the country is seismically active.


Although Tashkent was probably first settled around the 1st century BC, written records date the city to its Arab occupation in the 8th century AD. The 13th-century defeat to Genghis Khan and his Mongolian forces threw Tashkent into an era of turmoil. The Mongols lost the city in the 14th century when the Timurids Empire seized control. The Timurids Empire ruled Tashkent until the late 15th century, when the Sheibanids swept through the region. Today, Tashkent is the capital of Uzbekistan.

Greetings from Tashkent, Uzbekistan.

If it's Monday it must be Uzbekistan! It's been a whirlwind trip. I arrived here in Tashkent yesterday.

Since last I wrote, we were in Almaty, Kazakhstan, a large and seemingly well-off city full of designer shops and expensive restaurants. There were also many excellent museums spread all over town. I must have walked 10 miles in one day. The museums here have had very good art; I especially like the contemporary works rather than the traditional paintings. I even had an authentic espresso at a small cafe.

From Almaty we flew to Tashkent, where Nadia and I parted ways. I flew directly to Nukus, in the Karakalpakistan autonomous region of western Uzbekistan. My primary interest in visiting that region was to see the Aral See, a true environmental disaster.

Prior to the 1950s, the Aral Sea encompassed approx. 67,000 sq km and supported a huge fishing industry, supporting many towns. The Soviet central planners wanted to boost cotton production to increase the soviet textile industry, so they decided to divert the water from the Aral Sea to a series of open canals, which fed the thirsty cotton fields. Over the last 50 years, the volume of the sea has decreased to 1/3 of its original size and decimated the fishing industry. There are hardly any fish left in the sea; the water is extremely saline and polluted from the use of pesticides and fertilizers in cotton farming. The environment has also radically changed: the air is drier, summers are hotter, winter colder, and there is less rain. Also, salt and dust from the exposed sea bed blow hundreds of kilometers in huge salt-dust storms. There is a noticeable increase in respiratory disease, cancers, birth defects, and infant mortality.

On the upside, the town of Nukus has a fantastic art museum, which houses a collection of work by early 20th century dissident Soviet artists, many of whom were exiled to gulags and prisons.

I spent a day in Khiva an ancient walled city which is now a tourist mecca and full of shops and souvenirs.

Back in Tashkent, I'm again walking miles from museum to monument, enjoying the opera and ballet. It's a huge city - very westernized except for the old city near the main bazaar. There's a wonderful subway here - each station has a different theme. It's safe, convenient, and very inexpensive. I prefer to walk most of the time so I can see life above ground and keep my bearings.

I'll be heading back the day after tomorrow after a very interesting and fulfilling trip. I hope many of you will be able to see the slide show. Thanks again to those of you who have written. I've enjoyed hearing news from home.

Sheryl

In the centuries past, Tashkent, the present capital of Uzbekistan, was called Chach, Shash, Binkent at various times. Each of the names is a part of the city's history. Tashkent has always been an important international transport junction. Unfortunately, only a small part of its architectural past is preserved, due to demolition of historical and religious buildings after the revolution of 1917 and a massive earthquake in 1966. Some old buildings lie in the old town to the west of the downtown. A labyrinth of narrow winding alleys, it stands in sharp contrast to the more modern Tashkent. Of interest among the older buildings are the 16th century Kukeldash Madrassah, which is being restored as a museum, and the Kaffali-Shash Mausoleum. Many of the Islamic sites in Tashkent, like Khast-Imam structure, are not open to non-Muslims, and visitors should always ask permission before entering them.

Tashkent houses many museums of Uzbek and pre-Uzbek culture. These include the State Art Museum, which houses a collection of paintings, ceramics and the Bukharian royal robes. The Museum of Decorative and Applied Arts exhibits embroidered wall hangings and reproduction antique jewelry. As important historical figures, such as Amir Timur - better known as Tamerlane in the West - are being given greater prominence, the exhibits and perspective of the museums are also changing.


Sheryl Shapiro is a freelance writer and photographer based in Boulder, CO.