Letters from Uzbekistan: Sex Tourism

dance-group-dushanbeFrom the blog of M. Gautham Machaiah

Sex tourism: Is Tashkent going the Thailand way?

Note: The Government of Uzbekistan has now imposed curbs on prostitution. With this, lets hope Tashkent becomes a family destination, as it deserves to be [note: this, which is not true, was the work of Mr. Arslan Levantinov. RH]

M. Gautham Machaiah

“Sir, do you want a girl?” This is what the cab driver is most likely to ask you in Tashkent, rather than, “Where do you want to go?”

Welcome to the Thailand of Central Asia.

Though it might be difficult to replace Thailand as the sex capital of the world, Tashkent with its booming underground prostitution industry, is set to give Pattaya and Bangkok a run for their money.

Tashkent, which is now the capital of Uzbekistan after the disintegration of Soviet Union, is one of the most beautiful cities in the world with its immaculate tree lined streets, wide walkways, large parks, historic monuments, imposing buildings, 8-D theatres, ballet shows, snow capped mountains, excellent public transport system, pristine rivers and  pollution free environment. But these hold no interest to the average sex-hungry traveller.

The stage was set the moment we landed at the Tashkent airport, with prying eyes virtually stripping every passing woman. This being the first day, we were treated to a gala dinner and belly dance, where our Indian group mates were at their obnoxious best. After some failed attempts to grope the girls, the guys wanted some ‘action’ which the tour operators readily organised elsewhere.

The second day was a shocker. After a hurried sightseeing trip of the City, our tour operator pompously took over the guide’s microphone in the coach and announced two interesting options for the evening. One was the Villa, the other being lap dance.

Now, what’s a Villa? Listen to what our illustrious operator had to say: “A Villa is like a farm house on the outskirts of Tashkent. It has a massage parlour and sauna, a dance floor and two-three bedrooms. You can have a massage, dance with the girls, have some Vodka and then take the girl of your choice to the bedroom. That is not all. After you have had your share of fun, you can even swap your girl with others.”

And then, what about lap dance? “It is a strip tease where the girls will dance completely naked. They will grind on your lap and you are free to fondle them to your heart’s content,” the operator volunteered.

Exciting options indeed!

We then adjourned for lunch so that a considered view could be taken on which of these options to choose from. But even one hour after the lunch, there was no sign of the operators. A little bit of probing revealed that they were busy collecting the advance from those who had chosen their options. After some heckling by me, everybody was herded into the coach to continue the tour in which most were not interested.

“We have come here to see the place, not to drink, dance and womanise,” I protested, but the tour operator shamelessly responded, “That is what people come to Tashkent for. There is nothing to see here.” That was when I realised Tashkent was being sold as a sex destination and the operators were doubling up as touts and pimps. Obviously, a cut from the Villa and strip tease goes to them.

The operator then went on to proudly announce that in the next few days he would fly in a 180- strong contingent from India on an exclusive sex package. “We have factored in all costs ranging from Villas, lap dance and night clubs. There will be no sightseeing, only fun.” While a trip to Tashkent costs less than Rs 50,000, the Gujarati team had shelled out over Rs 1 lakh each,” the operator boasted.

The second half of the City tour ended sooner than it began. While we decided to call it a day, most others made their way to the Villas.

The next day on, we decided to break away from the group and explore the City on our own, but that too did not really solve our problem. Every taxi driver we hired was only interested in making a fast buck by selling to us what seemed to be the most easily available ware – young women.

One night when we were returning to the hotel after dinner, the only question the Hindi speaking cabbie asked us was, “Do you want girls?” We politely declined first and then firmly when he persisted. Instead, we asked him to take us to a pharmacy as my friend was suffering from a headache. The driver was so upset by our refusal that he drove straight to the hotel and declared, “There are no pharmacies in the City.”


Montefiore’s “The Court of the Red Tsar”



If Cheney would be Stalin, who would be Beria? Ok, so Cheney would be Stalin and Beria. Or let Wolfowitz be Stalin. Bolton as Molotov? Close enough. Obama? Let’s say Bulganin. This regime unleashed a terror the likes of which have only been seen in previous regimes with different Stalin/Berias. Only they did it outside their own country. What is remarkable in the case of Stalin is that he did it to his own people (and to a lesser extent those in his sphere of control to the west). Is it justifiable to compare this ‘Monster’ to our monsters? I think so. Our comparisons are effective and sometimes necessary, particularly when we begin to make the mistake of looking at politics in terms of good versus evil. Stalin and gang’s crude and massively murderous rapid industrialization is certainly ugly to read about, but what was it if not a compression of the Industrialization that took place in England, which certainly exceeded Stalin’s efforts in terms of vicitms, coming as it did along with colonial rapine and the complete gutting of India, where the British orchestrated famines as bad as that in the Ukraine in the early 30s.

Simon Sebag Montefiore’s The Court of the Red Tsar has little new to say in broad terms about Stalin and his crew, because Stalin has been written about repeatedly, from the early and percipient biography by the all but forgotten Isaac Deutscher to the perhaps definitive biographer Robert Service. But Montefiore has more information at his disposal than any writer has yet had and he made the decision to write a rather gossipy book that reads like a South American novel of a despot. Even his language is that of a novelist at times, freely using the word dwarf, mostly to describe the sadistic (the book is filled with sadists, but it has to be said here anyway) shorty Yezhov, who headed the inquisitions after Yagoda and before Beria. So the book is highly entertaining, more so than any other biography of Stalin, giving specific inside story after inside story, quote after quote, so that a bland statement like ‘Stalin was merciless even in his closest circles, ordering the executions of…’ is given horrific life by closely acquainting the reader with these people, what they said, and how they subsequently suffered: there are many accounts of specific tortures (One thing I learned was that I have been wrong all these years to believe that a paranoid Stalin was quite practical about offing his enemies, simply sending them to the Lubyanka to be shot; given the extraordinary numbers of political murders [millions] this had to be to some extent true, but he often requested various tortures be applied and in many personal cases took an interest in the reactions of the victims.)

Since so little of the general story was new to me, I didn’t begin marking the book until late, around page 500 or so. Here are some of these bits:

Stalin: ‘Leave them in peace. We can always shoot them later.’

‘The film star Zoya Fyodorovna was picked up by these Chekists at a time when she was still breastfeeding her baby. Taken to a party where there were no other guests, she was joined by Beria whom she begged to let her go as her breasts were painful. »Beria was furious.« The officer who was taking her home mistakenly handed her a bouquet at the door. When Beria saw, he shouted: »It’s a wreath not a bouquet. May they rot on your grave!« She was arrested afterwards.

‘The film actress Tatiana Okunevskaya was even less lucky: at the end of the war, Beria invited her to perform for the Politburo. Instead they went to a dacha. Beria plied her with drink, »virtually pouring the wine into my lap. He ate greedily, tearing at the food with his hands, chattering away.« Then »he undresses, rolls around, eyes ogling, an ugly, shapeless toad. »’Scream or not, doesn’t matter’,« he said. »’Think and behave accordingly.’« Beria softened her up by promising to releaase her beloved father and grandfather from prison and then raped her. He knew very well that both had already been executed. She too was arrested soon afterwards and sentenced to solitary confinement. Felling trees in the Siberian taiga, she was saved, like so many others, by the kindness of ordinary people.’

Like I say, the book fleshes out novelistically what we for the most part already new. One of the most astonishing things we knew was how Stalin refused to accept the fact that Germany was going to attack his country and refused to make any efforts to prepare, in fact did the opposite so as not to offend Hitler, who might take troop movements and such as a provocation. This book does not bore on the topic, for instance Montefiore finds a quote from Stalin who is told less than a week before Operation Barbarossa that a spy in the Luftwaffe confirms the impending attack, and Stalin replies ‘Tell the »source« in the Staff of the German Air Force to fuck his mother!«

Other matters of particular interest to me are Churchill’s calling his agreement to divide post-war Europe into states controlled by East and West, using percentages (Greece 90% west, 10% East…) a ‘naughty document’; And, moreso, I was pleased that an anecdote I have been telling for years regarding attempted assassinations of Tito was factual. Some letters were found on Stalin’s Kremlin desk, apparently the contents unknown to any but Stalin. In my old version there were three, two from Lenin, one from Tito. In this version there were five, but only three could be recalled by witnesses. One was indeed from Lenin, scolding Stalin for speaking ill of Krupskaya, one from Bukharin asking why he needed to die, and the third was from Tito that read ‘Stop sending assassins to muder me…If this doesn’t stop, I will send a man to Moscow and there’ll be no need to send any more.’

Finally, grading this book. The effort, the travels, the inexhaustible reading and travelling the author undertook…this alone suggests five of five stars. The writing itself, weaving the personal and the enormous historic without jarring the reader, managing to tell readers what they quite likely already know without boring them, that too suggests five of five stars. And, more difficult than anything probably, telling much the same personal tales of victims, endless victims close to Stalin, their stories not significantly different from all the others for the most part, without either appealing to the basest instincts of the reader (I, for one, could have used more specifics) or boring us—that deserves a five as well.


Letters from Uzbekistan: What Arslan Shared with Stalin

Both Josip Vissarionovich and Arslan Levantine hung reproductions of Ilya Repin’s Reply of the Zaporozhian Cossacks to Sultan Mahmoud IV, which happened to be the favorite painting of both men.


The painting depicts the Cossacks of nearer Dnieper to a Turkish Sultan’s demand that they submit to him. They had a letter writing party to refuse as insultingly as possible, heading the letter:

‘O Sultan, Turkish devil and spawn of devil and family, asslicker of Lucifer . What devil kind of fighter are you, who but one who at best can slay a hedgehog with your naked ass? The devil excretes, and your army eats. Ne, you scrotum scruffer, you will not make subjects of real horesemen. We do not fear women. Oh, and you unholy goatfucker, Ivan says you can go fuck your mother, as he himself has.’

Letters from Uzbekistan: Something Bizarre about the New Tsar



Arslan’s letter read something like this: ‘Our national cuisine remains the same over centuries (his English is pretty good here),’ and went on suggestively to say as I decoded it: ‘Putin’s grandfather was Stalin’s chef, and before that Lenin’s chef, and before that Rasputin’s chef!’ What was Arslan trying to tell me? This was the closest he had come to commenting on his heritage, and why when I typed in ‘Rasputin eating’ was this the only photo that came up?

Naturally I checked the information–and it’s true! Putin’s grandfather cooked for the last tsar, Rasputin, Lenin, and Stalin. What was Arslan trying to tell me? Should I cancel my flight?

Letters from Uzbekistan: Aral Sea Tours

My friend and correspondent Arslan Levantinov made the best of a difficult assignment–to make of the Aral Sea disaster a tourist attraction–and he asked my help. Most of the article is his, but this clause is mine: ‘Trip to Aral Sea is one of those that enable each traveler to feel the human madness and miracles of nature…’ more or less. His editor cut it, but I think the subtle irony remains.

Aral Sea Tours

Aral Sea Tours and Travel Package

A full day excursion (a round trip of some 350 km) to Moynaq, former fishing community on the Aral Sea when water of the sea was at its normal old level. Here you will see the rusting remains of boats stuck in the sand where the sea used to be before its tragic shrinking in size. We offer Aral Sea tours with various travel options: short excursions, one day, multiple day tours and tours by air and by train.

Aral Sea Travel Tips

It is not so easy to get to the Aral Sea itself; it is a long and tough way through the desert. It is about 8 hours drive from Nukus to the Aral Sea.  The challenging complexity of the Tour by off-road 4×4 vehicles makes it more attractive not only for ecologists, geologists, oilmen and journalists, but also for adventure seeking tourists.

Trying to get to the Aral Sea there without any guidance would not be a wise thing to do, because there is no real road and no road signs.

Trip to Aral Sea is one of those that enable each traveler to feel the human madness and miracles of nature, see the human power in the architectural monuments of Karakalpakstan and its soul in the paintings kept in Savitsky Museum. The landscape Aral Sea is interesting, especially bearing in mind that you are walking on what used to be the bottom of the sea. There are sea shells all over the ground and dry sea plants. The places around are hilly and plain, as it is a desert place. But it is beautiful to see.

The dying Aral Sea with graveyard of abandoned ships, deserted settlements of fishermen, tombs of old Massaget tribes, over 1000 archaeological monuments and mirages in the steppe – these are what you see and experience with one of our Aral Sea Tour packages.

Letters from Uzbekistan: The Aral Assignment

Let this serve as an introduction to the next post. Arslan Levantinov of the Uzbekistani tourist bureau was given the assignment to make of the Aral disaster a tourist attraction. As he lives in Tashkent, of course, this seems to be a sign of the discontent of his superiors, but that may be an anachronistic Soviet era cryptological impulse of my own. The fact is, however, that I know that Mr. Levantinov has a great fear of travel and it is quite unlikely that he had the least desire to take on this project. What he fears more than travel, however, is getting burned–and a man in Tashkent certainly risks getting burned, at least by the son, at some point during the long journey to the Uzbeki wastes that were once the Aral sea. Yet he pulled off a masterpiece of travel bureau writing. The likelihood that he did so without leaving his apartment in Tashkent is neither here nor there, especially if there is Karakalpakstan, particularly the once coastal city of ‘Muynak’ (pardon my Cyrillophobia).

Welkom in Moynaq, eens een van de grootste vissersplaatsen aan het Aralmeer