Thursday, February 19, 2015

Going Underground. The Tashkent Metro.

Bodomzor Metro Station.  Photo from traveloutthere.com

Pat and I will have two days on our own to explore Tashkent. Our hotel is centrally located and easily walkable to most of the major sites. Nonetheless, there will be times when we'll need to use some form of transportation. I was relieved to find out that there is a metro system in Tashkent. Of course, I had to Google to see what a Tashkent metro station looks like and that's when my jaw dropped....all the way to floor. The stations are stunning works of architecture and art! I had to find out more about the system and the stations.


On 26 April 1966, Tashkent was hit by a major earthquake measuring 7.5 on the Richter scale. An estimated 300,000 people were killed and much of the city was destroyed. 

Soviet planners took the devastation that happened to Tashkent as an opportunity to build a gem of a transport system for the city, the crown jewel of which is the underground metro.  Tashkent's metro is the oldest and largest metro system in Central Asia; Almaty, Kazakhstan has the only other metro in the region.

Construction on the metro began in 1973, an effort carried out by workers from all over the Soviet Union.    In 1977,  the first line began operations. Today, the Tashkent metro is 37.5 km of track, with 29 uniquely designed stations. 

From advantour.com.
There are three main lines: the Chilanzar Line, opened in 1977; the Uzbekistan Line (1984); and the Yunusabad Line, (2001), for which an additional eight stations are currently being built or planned.

Compared to what Pat is used to in NYC and me in DC, the Tashkent metro system is comparatively small but it appears to be well laid out and will easily take us to the places we are interested in going to as tourists.

From all accounts I have read, the system is very efficient with the average wait between trains outside rush hour averaging 5 minutes except on the the Yunusabad line which has fewer trains operating so the average wait time is 10 minutes.  Good luck waiting only 5 minutes for a train in non-rush hour in DC!

The stations also all look to spotlessly clean - we can't say that about the NYC system though DC's metro is pretty clean.

Photo by Elke Wetzig
The fare for the Tashkent subway is 1,000 soum which is about US $0.41 per today's exchange rate. Very cheap by US standards!

Although the system has the capacity to carry up to a million passengers per day,  I have read that the system is vastly underutilized.  Low ridership seems to be attributed to the cost of the fare which although low by US standards is high for Tashkent residents especially considering that a subway fare does not transfer to the bus.  The other reason seems to be security.  I read an article, dated July 30, 2014 that describe security measures, along the lines of security at airports, that had been recently implemented at the stations.  I can see that having to wait to go through a security check or have your bags hand checked would be a cause of frustration for the daily commuter who's rushing to and from home and work.

Setting aside the history of the system and the logistics of using the system, what caught my attention and still continues to capture my eye is the beauty of the stations.  I appreciate that someone believed that train stations, which serve a very utilitarian purpose, have to neither be boring nor drab or just plain ugly.

The leading architects and artists of Uzbekistan took part in the designing of the stations.  For the interior décor, a variety of materials were used for the design included engraved metal, glass, plastic, granite, marble, smelt, art ceramics, and even carved alabaster.  Each station is an original work of art, centering on a particular theme – usually some proud aspect of Uzbekistan’s people, history or culture.

Alisher Navoi station.  (Photo from bestourism.com)
For example the Alisher Navoi station is named after the 15th century father of Turkic literature. Its walls are decorated with scenes from this famous poet’s work. Thanks to its domed architecture, Alisher Navoi stays cool even during the height of summer.

Bodomzor station, shown in the photo that opens this posting, displays ceramic images of chillies and bread, two important staples of Uzbek daily life.

The Ming Orik (‘Thousand Apricots’) station, pays tribute to this popular Uzbek fruit the Pakhtakor station, the second to be completed,  displays beautiful mosaics of cotton, the main cash crop and export of Uzbekistan.

Kosmonavtlar station.  Photo from plume era
Kosmonavtlar station is dedicated to Soviet space travel. Images of cosmonauts line the walls, including those of the first human in space, Yuri Gagarin, and the first woman in space, Valentina Tereshkova.

The first station to be built, Mustakillik Maydoni (‘Independence Square’), sits across the road from the Senate building. The marble used in its construction comes from the Kizil Kum desert in western Uzbekistan. Numerous chandeliers brighten the platform and the star patterns in the marble floor represent the contribution made to Uzbek history by Ulug Bek, a fifteenth-century astronomer prince and the grandson of Timur.

I know that Pat and I will take at least one ride, if not many more, on the system.  We'll both appreciate the beautiful interior space of each one.  Unfortunately, for both of us, the stations are considered to be military facilities and as such, photography is prohibited.  Apparently, the stations are regularly patrolled by soldiers whom I am sure are there to ensure rider security but I know they will not take kindly to someone snapping away so I will refrain from using my camera.