Chapter-21: Arriving in Tashkent

June 7, 1995

By Indradyumna Swami

Beginning early this morning, we drove eleven hours from Bishkek to Tashkent, the capital of Uzbekistan, passing briefly through Kazakhstan. It was a long and arduous journey through 800 kilometers of arid land. One compensation was the snow-capped Himalaya Mountains that remained to our left for most of the journey. There was not one petrol station the entire 800 kilometers. You either bring your own petrol or buy it from the old petrol tankers that park intermittently along the route.

At one point we found a crystal-clear river coming down from the mountains and stopped and bathed for an hour. It was a welcome relief from the sweltering heat.

We arrived in Tashkent at 10:30 pm. The devotees had been awaiting our visit for more than a week because our travel plans had been adjusted several times. When our car pulled up in front of the temple, the devotees exploded into an amazing kirtana that swept us into the small temple room. After guru-puja, Govinda Maharaja and I spoke, thanking the devotees for the reception and telling them how much we looked forward to the next few days with them.

The temple is a simple building in a residential district on the outskirts of Tashkent. The devotees struggle to maintain it. They are able to collect only the equivalent of 100 American dollars a month, and that must go for all their expenses. I simply couldn’t understand how they survived.

But people in this part of the world are tough and enterprising, and so the devotees go on. They have even started a small restaurant here, although on their income I couldn’t understand how. But the temple president said that everything in the restaurant—the small storefront itself, wood for re-decorating, kitchen equipment, and plates and cutlery—was donated by friends and well-wishers, even Muslim neighbors.

The Uzbekistan Government is very strict regarding all religious movements. No one—neither the predominant Muslims, theminority Christians, nor us—is allowed to proselytize in any way, means, or manner because the government fears the fundamentalist Muslims who have taken control in countries to the south, like Afghanistan. We are not allowed to do any Harinama or public programs, so  our stay in Tashkent is simply for being with the devotees and  the congregation in the temple. The first Mogul invasion of India originated in Uzbekistan.

A thousand years ago, the conqueror Mohammed Gazzi left from Samarkand, a city to the west of Tashkent, with a massive army  to conquer India. When he reached the outskirts of Mathura he marveled at its majesty and beauty.

“In all my imagination,” he is quoted as saying, “I could never have dreamed of such an opulent and beautiful city.” Then he  ordered his army to level Mathura. After destroying the city, its Deities, and most of the population, he took all the gold and riches back to Uzbekistan. It was the beginning of Islam’s long domination of India.