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Travel memoirs

A journey through true Uzbekistan

Agha Iqrar Haroon, Former Consultant, Ministry of Tourism, Government of Pakistan  Aug 16, 2011

I have been traveling in the quest of knowledge of past and finished many journeys through lost civilizations like remains of Mohenjo-Daro, Harrapa, Taxila, Swat, and Gandhara Civilization traces in Pakistan, monks routes in Bamiyan (Afghanistan), and prehistoric traces in Tajikistan. This passion of travel pushes me many times to Central Asia - the cradle of many civilizations and the major route of civilization - the Silk Road.

This time my journey targets not only places but faces of remote
paths - faces that are not polluted by commercialization or a ruthless competitive world. They are faces of innocence, and I found them in a remote village of Samarkand - the jewel of the east.

Samarkand is the most exciting and historic town of Silk Road in today's Uzbekistan.

My host, Mr. Ravshan Turakulov, is an energetic, young, but very professional person who is running Silk Road Destinations - a tour operation company. Ravshan is a multilingual person, and his command on French is remarkable, because he got his master's degree in French. This is the reason he is attracting a major French market and bringing French tourists to Uzbekistan.

Ravshan believes that local communities must get financial benefits from the tourism dollar, and this is the reason he has the initiative for an ecotourism project to support a local community at the outskirts of Sarmarkand city.

Ravshan invited me to visit this project since I had been a former consultant of ministry of tourism government of Pakistan and former president of the Ecotourism Society Pakistan, so it was my high excitement to critically look into a ecotourism project in rugged central Asia.

On his way, he kept briefing me about the Mitan Sustainable Tourism Project. 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 in the heart of the great steppes, 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 the path. The villagers are mostly farmers (cotton, horticulture) and livestock (cattle, silkworms, bees). I found the locals very friendly, and it was an enchanting contact to exchange views through Ravhsan as my translator.

Our accommodation was a homestay in traditional houses for 4-7 people with 2 bedrooms (sleeping on the ground provided for mattresses, sheets, blankets). I was amazed to see European and Turkish touches in the toilet, but other construction was purely local.

I was tired and wished to sleep early, and we had diners sitting cross-legged on the traditional Uzbek Charpoi (a sort of sofa or Turkish Divan). I knew a memorable day awaited me at morning, and I had a sound sleep till I woke up by the singing of birds sitting on a tree near a window of my room.

Mitan is truly an ecotourism destination where you delve into the heart of the Uzbek culture gradually through 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, getting there by travel on foot or by donkey. You can see and even practice milking cows, preparing traditional cakes, embroidery, plowing, harvesting, etc. It was a wonderful sight to see tourists picking up and plucking cotton buds along with the local community in a cotton field. East and west working together - helping each other and respecting each other's culture. This is the true sprit of sustainable tourism that brings peace among cultures and nations.

The concept of Ravshan's project is to place communities in the center of travel and tourism activities, as he believes the first right of benefit from tourism is of communities. He maintains that he prefers to talk about balanced tourism, rather than sustainable tourism through a cultural approach and an approach that helps the local people through the financial support of travelers - a balance that is likely to last. He strongly believes in the direct financial and social benefits of tourism to communities for their wellbeing and claims that is only possible when there is direct contact from tourism with the host community.

He says he is only a source, or only a vehicle, to arrange the meeting of tourists to local communities and then he lets both interact. This is a true new concept of ecotourism, and if it works, it will a new chapter in the history of ecotourism and sustainable tourism development.

A journey through true Uzbekistan
Tourists and local people working together / Photo by Miss Julia of Silk Road Destination

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