Firstly, you might be thinking “Tashkent has a metro?”
Some of you might be asking “where is Tashkent?”
Lastly, if you know these two other facts already, you’ll be wondering “what about the Tashkent metro made it hair raising?”
You’re probably thinking about the safety of the trains and infrastructure, but that couldn’t be further from the real reason.
Firstly, Tashkent is the capital of the Central Asian republic of Uzbekistan. It’s a large cosmopolitan city of roughly 2.5 million people and was the first city in Central Asia to get an underground metro system (Almaty in Kazakhstan also has an underground metro). It also happened with be the 7 th metro system in the former Soviet Union.
Tashkent was devastated by a massive earthquake in 1966 and over 100,000 homes were destroyed. In the aftermath the building of a newer more modern city was undertaken and one of the projects was an underground metro. The Tashkent Metro itself is quite extensive with 3 lines (a 4 th is currently being constructed) and 43 stations. It was opened in 1977 and has amazing ornate stations in the tradition of other former Soviet Metro systems.
So why was it a hair-raising experience? Firstly, were the security checks. Before entering a metro station a police officer would stop you and ask to scan your bag with a handheld metal detector. If you responded in a foreign language, they would immediately ask to see your passport, inspecting each page and in many instances asking for a bribe from you to get it back. Many tourists only 10 or 15 years ago would take a photocopy with them instead and insist their passport was being held by the hotel or a foreign embassy to receive a visa. Our tactic was to try and pretend we were locals or not speak at all.
Then you would enter the metro walking down the stairs and buy yourself a token to ride the system after which there is an x-ray machine which you would need to put all your belongings in as well as walking through a metal detector. Once again if they realised you were a foreigner you would no doubt be held up. Even locals hated this and would often choose to catch a bus instead of riding the metro.
Finally, you would get down to the metro platform and realise it was probably worth the hassle to see the amazing architecture and art in the station, so you would take out your camera to take a picture. Photos of course were illegal, and you would immediately have police (which are stationed on every platform) or even more scary, one of the old babushka platform controllers coming up screaming “no photo, no photo…give camera, give camera” or something similar. They would insist on looking through your camera and deleting any photos they found of the station and sometimes others they didn’t like either.
The reason apparently for the ban on photos is that the metro stations were considered military installations, however like most rules left over from the USSR (such as no photos in markets) it didn’t really make much sense and even those implementin g the rules didn’t really understand them either. They just knew they had to enforce them.
Then, over the last 5-10 years everything changed. The security checks became more friendly. They were happy to see tourists and the other bother was answering the same questions repeatedly, questions like “Where are you from? Do you like Uzbekistan? Have you tried national dish plov? Where have you been in Uzbekistan? Ah, you are from Australia, do you have kangaroo? Do you know how I can get visa to visit America?” and then again in 2018 everything became normal when the ban on photography was lifted! Apparently, the new President (elected in December 2016) thought the photography ban was stupid as well.
Now you can ride the metro in a relaxed atmosphere and take photos of the amazing stations and retro train carriages until your heart is content. It’s now not only a quick and efficient way to get around the capital of Uzbekistan – Tashkent – but a pretty fun one too.
You want to give it a go for yourself? Join us in Uzbekistan!