Day 95: Charvak

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Charvak Reservoir on a clear spring day looking towards Kyrgyzstan

Not even 100km from central Tashkent, the Chirchiq river flows out of the Tian Shan mountains and into a massive man-made reservoir named for Chorvoq, literally Char bagh, or “four gardens” in Persian.  The stone dam responsible for the lake was constructed during the 1960s as a Soviet hydroelectric project, soaring 168m (551 feet) high above the village of Hojikent.  A remnant stone relief of Lenin can still be seen on the mountainside as the main road winds its way up to the lake, looking over loyal comrades below.

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patriotic poster on the lake road in 2015

Today the lake is only partially filled, depending on the day.  Reasons for this are unclear considering the seemingly normal rainy season.   Mud stretching up to 50 meters from the former lakeshore leaving resorts left high and dry makes for interesting scenery.  This probably fluctuates frequently though as reports from colleagues indicate that on other days the water level seems almost normal, explaining why the mud remains uncolonized by weeds and grass.

Socalled “resorts” are actually quite popular with citizens of Tashkent, who are eager escape the heat during the summer to “the mountains” where temperatures are at least 10°c cooler year round.  Those who don’t stay the night still come for the cool mountain air and the scenery, with plenty of entrepreneurial locals selling honey, shashlik, flowers, balloons, kites, etc… Picnics are quite popular, especially during Navruz, with open fields turning into parking lots with a carnival like atmosphere.

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Rush hour in Yusufhona

Charvak is also home to several Soviet-era sanatoriums and pioneer camps.  Some of these are still open today as cheap vacation rentals.  Visitors can rent a dacha (cabin), which is usually a shared accommodation with two or three ensuite bedrooms, and a shared kitchen and dining area.  This is fine if you’re going with a group but could be a bit awkward if going alone and finding yourself sharing a cabin with strangers.  Normally you should rent the whole dacha for yourself, but expect to pay per room, even if unused.  Think of it as a hostel and it won’t seem so unusual.

More upscale lodging options do exist with more private facilities available.  The entire area is undergoing a kind of renaissance with the improving Uzbek economy, though much of the area remains a fascinating time capsule of large scale Soviet resort projects that simply ground to a halt with the collapse of the USSR.  All that remain are massive concrete shells of what presumably would have been an entire network of hotels and sanatoriums centered around the lake for the citizens of Tashkent to escape on state holidays.

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Behold! The Uzbek mountain cow!

The result is a kind of relaxing yet post apocalyptic USSR meets pristine mountains and nature with traditional aspects of Uzbek society thrown in for good measure.  Austere accommodation away from the city is a perfect escape.  Photo opportunities are everywhere.  Capture the elusive Uzbek mountain Lada on a gravel road with snow-capped peaks in the background.  Hike to the top of a hill with spectacular panoramic views of the lake, and see a scrapped airliner which crash landed during Soviet times in the village below.

Charvak is a place of stark contrast, historic remnants, traditional society, clean mountain air, and peaceful relaxation.  Changing fast, but not so fast that the uniqueness of the place will be lost anytime soon.  The Charvak lake and surrounding environs continue to provide summer relief from the heat to the citizens of Tashkent , and promise to remain a unique weekend getaway for adventurous travelers and expats for years to come.

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Soviet-era resort complex project frozen in time
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purchasing amazing mountain honey from a roadside vendor

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