Uzbekistan and Kashmir appear like separated siblings living thousands of miles apart and still bearing striking similarities in more ways than one – cultural, linguistic, architectural, culinary and music. And, yes, there is a chance that a security man may stop you and scan your phone for any pictures of sensitive places!
In fact, the commonalities are not completely surprising because Kashmir owes much of its cultural legacy to the Central Asian region, including the ancient Persian-speaking Transoxiana what now largely forms Uzbekistan – a land of magnificent mosques, abounding non-vegetarian food and smiling faces of hospitable people with gold-capped teeth. And, despite being an Islamic country, liquor is freely available and there are plenty of beer gardens.
For a Kashmiri like me, the seemingly surreal sameness appeared something more than romantic nostalgia for hundreds of Syed families whose ancestors brought Islam, arts and crafts, architecture and language to Jammu and Kashmir and settled in different parts of the state in early 14th century.
It was a nine-day experiential tourist trip covering nearly 60% of the double landlocked nation, surrounded by five landlocked countries in the heart of a mineral-rich region so coveted by China.
The journey connected up-close a group of 11 avid Indian travellers to Uzbek history, people and culture – way beyond the textual look-up in history books or common folklore – an experience of seeing is believing.
The commonalities between Uzbekistan and Kashmir seemed writ large almost everywhere.
Even in capital Tashkent, a metropolitan and an emerging world class city, similarities pop out in common conversations with locals. Everyday art, food and sign boards on shop fronts and streets appear talking to you in Kashmiri.
For example, kocha-si in Uzbek means street and in Kashmiri it is also kocha. Moyxona (xona pronounced as kha na) is a liquor bar. Hojatxona is public lavatory.