The capital of Uzbekistan, and Central Asia's premier metropolis, Tashkent betrays little of a 2,000-year history at the crossroads of ancient trade routes. Yet this modern city of 2.3 million people, the fourth largest in the CIS after Moscow, St Petersburg and Kiev, holds much to arrest the curious traveller, from imposing squares, monumentalist architecture and fine museums, to the mud-brick maze of the old Uzbek town, autumn colours on dappled poplar lanes and the sweet spray of fountains on burning summer days.
Sprawling Tashkent, Central Asia's hub, is an eccentric kind of place. In one part of the city Russian-speaking cabbies scream down broad Soviet-built avenues. Across Old town, old men wearing long, open-fronted chapan (quilted coats) cart nuts through a maze of mud-walled houses towards a crackling bazaar. In a third part of town hundreds gather amid steaming cauldrons for their daily repast of plov.