Uzbeks have relaxing down to an art form. So much so that they invented a special piece of furniture that can be used all day and all night, without having to get up for anything… well, almost anything. A staple of Central Asian culture, the tapchan is basically a raised platform used for relaxing and reclining outdoors. Found in private gardens, hotels, parks, cafés, alongside streams in the mountains, chaihanas, on roadsides, and even under trees next to working fields, this multipurpose piece of furniture is everywhere.
While its exact origins are unclear, a raised platform for resting has served an essential purpose in Central Asia for centuries. Several early depictions of Amir Timur feature him sitting on a raised platform, resting on a pillow. Tapchans also served practical purposes for travelers in the desert. As a table, bed, and spot for resting, the tapchan kept people out of the dust, and protected them from creatures that might crawl into their beds at night. Food kept off the ground was also cleaner than simply laying a blanket on the sand. Caravansaries kept tapchans in the courtyard for sleeping protected under the stars, open air sleeping being a much more comfortable alternative than being holed up in a hot stuffy cell on cool summer nights.
Tapchans can be made of wood, welded steel, or in the case of the tapchan/swing in our garden, a welded together random assortment of spare metal parts formed into a suspended platform. Because resting on a hard wooden platform would be otherwise uncomfortable, any tapchan also includes several kurpacha mattresses laid on top of a carpet over the wood planks. At night during the summer, a mosquito net can be fitted over the tapchan for sleeping in the open air, or you can just take your chances and get eaten alive. Even today, most houses lack air conditioning, so sleeping outside on the topchan in the garden is the norm in many Uzbek households. Some tapchans also have a pergola latticework for grape or other vines to provide shade, or simply a solid cover to keep out the rain, although it rarely does so from June to August.
In the traditional Uzbek household, a tapchan is the center of life in the garden. It serves as a dining and resting place during the day, and as a sleeping place at night. This multipurpose piece of furniture replaces the chair, bed, table, and couch all in one. When entertaining guests, the tapchan is just as important as the formal dining room. Shoes are not allowed, but guests are expected to relax for hours socializing with the host while drinking tea, and eating plov. A typical tapchan has room for six to eight people to sit, or four to comfortably stretch out and relax.
Tapchans are also an essential part of the Uzbek mahalla lifestyle. In more traditional mahalla, the elders gather on a tapchan in a central location under the shade of a tree to discuss community issues. Today the mahalla office has replaced this traditional gathering place as administrative functions are more necessary than they were in the past. The office often relocates to the local chaihana however, where tapchans are plentiful and the real work can begin, which often involves drinking tea, neighborhood gossip, and plenty of napping.
Traveling Uzbekitan today, the tapcan is still featured heavily in all aspects of traditional life. Driving between towns and villages, simple platforms can be seen on the sides of the road under the trees on the edges of the fields. Here harvest workers sleep, or take a break from the unrelenting heat of the Uzbek summer sun. In tourist areas elaborately carved and decorated tapchans with plush karpachas welcome visitors at restaurants and in carpet sellers showrooms. As a traditional symbol of Central Asian hospitality, travelers should expect any trip to Uzbekistan to include at least several hours on a tapchan, forever changing your understanding of what it means to experience true relaxation.