Road stories #20: Ethnicity confusion, Tashkent and applying for a Tajik visa
Arriving in Tashkent and exploring the complex issue of ethnicity
It was our intention to couchsurf for a couple of days, organise our Tajik visa, then duck into a hostel to get our registration on.
The first part of the plan worked well, we met our couchsurfing host (the lovely Alesya) and arrived at her nice apartment on the edge of town. Alesya, was a Korean-Uzbek whose mother tongue was Russian, who was planning to head to Abu Dabi to work in the next few weeks. The idea of ethnicity being more important that nationality was something we were discovering more and more on our adventures through Central Asia, but it was still weird to me that somebody could be called Korean despite never having been there and not speaking the language!
We spent the evening walking through town. It seemed nice, if a little quiet talking about the city and life in general. The next day we got up and headed to the Tajik embassy.
Visa fear and being too lucky
Embassies are one of the most unpleasant places on Earth in my opinion. The fear of rejection, the confusion of a procedure you don’t understand… it is like being a teenager again trying to pluck up the courage to talk to a girl you know has no interest in you.
We negotiated the first step, getting the registration forms. We had approached the front gates of the embassy and they had directed us to a basement room on the other side of the street. When we entered it was chaos. Two small desks, a mob of people waving paper, shouting, cajoling and us. We played the foreigner card, shouted ‘tourist!‘, pushed to the front and stuck out our hands expectantly. Surprisingly, it worked.
We followed the now familiar method. Names, passport numbers, employer in the UK (my Mum, we actually live in Spain and have no jobs), hotel (pulled out of the guidebook). We had no idea how long it would take them to actually issue the Tajik visa so we gave ourselves (and them) 10 days, thinking it couldn’t be quicker than a week. We forced the papers into the overworked man at the desk, got them back promptly (the other people waiting didn’t look happy) then headed back to the embassy across the road.
There we once again skipped the queue, using our European faces for quick access. We stood in line behind a woman pleading in Russian to be let into the country to visit her sick son but the official was unmoved and wouldn’t give her a visa within a fortnight. Oh dear! What would he say to us? When we got to the window, to our amazement the man said (in English) we could come back and get our visas that afternoon. Yes! & No! at the same time. Yes, we were in and that’s always to be celebrated. No, why did we write them to start in 10 days? What were we going to do for 10 days? Damn them and their efficiency.
Registration nightmare and finding the best hostel in Central Asia
Normally we would have headed back to our couchsurfing host and bummed around for a bit but after asking at a couple of hostels we got some bad news. We found out that hostels in the Uzbek capital don’t except guests who are missing more than 1 day’s registration so a new plan was formed. That very day we would have to go to a guest-house so we found the cheapest in town and after packing our bags we were on the move again.
Topchan Hostel actually turned out to be a very cool place. It was run by the Kazan-Tatar Rafa (see what I mean about ethnicity) who turned out to be a really nice guy. At the hostel we once again met our French friends from Samarkand, drank too much beer and also met a Korean girl called Sonia (who was actually from Korea) who would pop up much later on our trip in an unexpected twist (a good reason to keep reading).
Now we couldn’t hang around in Tashkent for 10 days so we decided to head out to the hills north of the city to do a little walking…
written by: Jon