When one thinks of Uzbekistan, plenty of images come to mind. There’s the ancient Silk Road; Samarkand – one of the pearls of the Islamic world with i’s famous Registan; Bukhara with its monumental madrasas and mosques, and small alleyways transporting you back to the time of Amir Timur and the great civilisations of past; vast deserts and fields of cotton, just to name a few. What if I told you there was a place in Uzbekistan that made you forget you were there and instead felt like you were back in the 1970s during the height of the Soviet Union?
Yangiabad, located 120km east of Tashkent, is a former mining town, which now has a population of a little over 8000 people. But not just any mining, it was a Uranium mining town which meant that during the Soviet Union it was a closed town with no access even to nearby locals. Being a place of significant importance also meant that rather than utilising a local workforce, highly skilled scientists, miners and engineers were brought in from all over the USSR to live here in secret.
The beauty of Yangiabad is the traditional Stalinist and Khrushchev era architecture. Unlike in other parts of Uzbekistan, you’ll still find the old Palace of Culture, Young Pioneer and Komsomol meeting halls, and even the old Universam (Central Supermarket) still stands. The local population is also mainly Russian, Ukrainian, Belarussian and people from other formerly brotherly countries, as the old generation decided not to leave but rather live out their days in this picturesque little town. You can definitely feel the age of the place and the local governments have little interest in repairing the slowly dilapidating Soviet architecture. There is even a feeling of being in Germany as the majority of the town was built by German POWs after World War II and this left its mark on the buildings of Yangiabad.
Today’s population is only about 20% of what it was in 1991 when the USSR collapsed, and most young people left, leaving quite an elderly population. With the population being a fraction of its original intention, many of the apartment blocks are left empty, allowing you to explore these relics of the towns Soviet past.
Today, local Uzbeks venture to Yangiabad due to its location in the mountains and proximity to natural mineral springs. Hiking can be done in the area and its cooler temperatures provide relief in the hot Uzbek summer. While young Uzbeks will cruise straight through town, for those of us interested in Yangiabad’s unique history, there are plenty of elderly locals sitting around who are happy to have a chat and tell you about their story. Not surprisingly most miss the Soviet Union and regret its demise. For the inhabitants of this very un-Uzbek town, life was good. Being a closed town meant that although they couldn’t freely come and go, they had access to goods and services usually not available to ordinary people. They also received significantly more income and definitely did not go without.
If you'd like to join us in Yangiabad, join us on one of our upcoming Uzbekistan tours .