Deep in the East in Samarkand, Uzbekistan – Ecotourism Works

By Agha Iqrar Haroon (Former President Ecotourism Society Pakistan and Former consultant Ministry of Tourism Government of Pakistan.)

My obsession for Central Asia and the Silk Road again pushed me to Tashkent. I have travelled there many times while my soul lives there always. My journey to Samarkand from Tashkent will be interesting and presented soon but I am excited to explain not about history or archeological spots of Samarkand—the jewel in the crown of East – but about how this time I went deep inside villages to feel and smell the Real Uzbekistan.

Samarkand is the second largest and most densely populated city of the Republic of Uzbekistan. The city is located on the left bank of the River Zerafshan. From 1924 till 1930 it was the capital of Turkistan ASSR. Samarkand is one of the ancient cities of the world, and with its historical and architectural monuments, is comparable with world famous centers of civilization.

At the first millennia B.C Samarkand already existed under the name of Marokanda, but later, the city acquired the current name of Samarkand. The city was conquered by the troops of Alexander the Great in IV century B.C, Arab caliphate in VII century and Chingiz Khanin the XIII century.

It was a capital city of the powerful country Sogd, the center of the vast empire of Great Tamerlane, a place that takes care of its fortification and beauty. Exactly in the epoch of Timurid’s in XIV-XVI, Samarkand reached the highest peak of its bloom. Wonderfully blue facing tiles of buildings, exquisite architectural forms, and complex vegetable and geometrical ornaments decorate the architectural buildings.

World famous ensembles of the city are: Registan square – with its three remarkable madrassah: the Madrassah of Ulughbek, Sher- Dor, Tillya Kori; the Shakhi Zinda complex, which consists of 11 mausoleums, with theirs being a unique glaze of patterns, and the grandiose mausoleum of Bibi Khanum. The most famous monument of the Samarkand city is the crypt of Timurids. Gur Emir Mausoleum is one of the best patterns of Central Asian architecture. In the north- east part of the city, there is a sextant-observatory, which was built in 1428- 1429 by Ulughbek. Ulughbek was an outstanding scientist, the ruler of Samarkand and the grandson of great Tamerlane . Not far from the observatory one can discover the city before the Arab invasion at Afrasiab settlement.

The history of the city is closely connected with prominent figures of the ancient East such as astronomer Kazi Zade Rumi, poets Alisher Navoi and Abdurahman Jomiy.

The architectural masterpieces of Samarkand still retain their beauty for tourists all over the world.

In Samarkand my host was Mr. Ravshan Turakulov who is an energetic, young but very professional person running Silk Road Destinations – a tour Operation Company. Ravshan is a multilingual person and his command of French is remarkable because he got his Masters degree in that language, a reason for which he is attracting major French markets and bringing French tourists to Uzbekistan. Ravshan believes that local communities must get financial benefits from tourism dollar and this is the reason he has taken on the initiative of an ecotourism project to support a local community at the outskirt of Sarmarkand City. He invited me to visit this project since I had been a former Consultant of the Ministry of Tourism in the government of Pakistan and former president of the Ecotourism Society of Pakistan, so it gave me tremendous excitement to critically look into an ecotourism project in rugged central Asia.

Mitan is a small village in the vast and beautiful district of Samarkand, 60 km from the famous oasis of Registan. I never heard this name before because few foreigners are aware of this village, away from major tourist routes. The area is in the heart of the great steppes, and is also a land of contrasts that hide secret paths through beautiful villages with mud houses, where life seems to have stopped centuries ago.

Only one dirt road leads to Mitan village and you could find mules full of loads passing this route. The villagers are mostly farmers of cotton and livestock (cattle, silkworms, bees). I found locals very friendly and it was enchanting for me to contact and exchange views through Ravhsan as my translator.

My stay in a homestay traditional house was a remarkable experience. I was amazed to see European and Turkish touches in restroom facilities, but other construction was purely local.

Mitan is truly an ecotourism destination where you can plunge into the heart of the Uzbek culture gradually as meetings and exchanges with the villagers. Through immersion in village life you will discover the Real Uzbekistan. You can visit the village and discover the lifestyle of Uzbekistan (travel on foot or by donkey). You can see and even practice milking cows, preparing traditional cakes, doing embroidery, plowing, harvesting, etc.

I have always been a firm believer that sustainable tourism must have a cultural component. Ecotourism is a travel activity that ensures direct financial support to local people where tourism activities are being generated and enjoyed. It teaches travellers to respect the local cultures of destinations where travellers are visiting. It supports small stakeholders to ensure that money doesn’t leave the local economies. It discourages mass tourism, mass construction of hotels, tourism resorts and mass activities in fragile areas.

I have personally seen all these concepts in real practice at the Mitan project. People who are running this project told me that they are only a source or only a vehicle to arrange the meeting of tourists with local communities, and then let nature take its course as they interact. This is a true new concept of Ecotourism and if it works, it will indeed be a new chapter in the history of Ecotourism and sustainable Tourism Development.

Photos by Miss Julia of Silk Road Destinations

August 15, 2011 · admin · Comments Closed
Posted in: Samarkand, Uzbekistan