Shahrisabz – a medieval fairy-tale
The green city of Shahrisabz becomes more and more popular. The flow of foreign tourists has increased six times, and with about a half million of Uzbek citizens coming to Amir Temur’s homeland last season the local tourism industry show numbers several times higher than previous years.
The Afrosiab high-speed train leaves the Tashkent Severny (North) station at eight in the morning. Time is more than convenient: it is not too early, as often happens with airflights, when you have to leave for the airport before dark, and not late, so as not to lose almost a light day on the journey from Tashkent to Shahrisabz.
“This railway line is not a new one,” says the head of the train, Timur Togaev. - However, the route with stops at ten stations used to last for up to twelve hours. Often, passengers arrived at their destination very late. After the railway line from Karshi to Shahrisabz was electrified, travel time of high-speed trains has shortened down for four hours”.
- Togaev mentions that in case of 15 minutes delay, Uzbekistan Railways JSC provides passengers with compensation. If the delay is more than 60 minutes, the full cost of the ticket will be paid back. For now, there is no precedent. Afrosiab is always in time.
Tashkent-Shahrisabz train consists of nine cars: two VIP-class, two business and four economy- class, and a dining-car. Nine stewards, who passed competitive selection to work here, service the train. Knowledge of English, Russian, Spanish is obligatory, speaking skills of Japanese, Chinese, Italian are welcome. It is noteworthy that almost all young stewards in elegant uniforms have higher education; the majority has graduated from the Uzbek University of World Languages and the Tashkent Institute of Oriental Studies.
On the way, tea, water, light breakfast is served. There are paid services of the dining car. Magazines and fresh newspapers wait on sliding tables.
According to a survey conducted by the State Committee on Tourism, 12.5 percent of tourists use railway transport. The second position after a taxi (52.9 percent). However, with the high-speed routes from Tashkent to Samarkand, Karshi, Bukhara, Shakhrisabz, and the forthcoming branch from Urgench to Khiva, the Uzbekistan Railways rating will certainly rise significantly. Even in the low season, the trainload is 96-98 percent.
When driving through Qashqadarya, businesswoman from Belgium, Susan Carnegie, who was on a business trip to Shurtan, asked: "Why are the local courtyards have no fences and are open to all winds?" She was very surprised that the steppe people even covered the dastarkhan for the guests right at the door. Stewards explained that they are descendants of nomads and shepherds, that’s why they do not recognize locks and doors keys.
Shahrisabz turned out to look completely different, compared to what I saw before. As in many other cities of Uzbekistan, comfortable streets and entire neighborhoods of new buildings appeared, with residential areas, cultural and entertainment buildings, retail outlets, and flourishing parks. This is not surprising. You quickly get used to the good.
The special pride of Shahrisabz is the 90 hectares tourist center, spread from the majestic Ak-Saray palace, built in the XIV-early XV centuries after Amir Temur order, to the Dorus-Saodat Temurids family crypt, where Tamerlan’s sons and grandsons are buried. There are seven brand new hostels, with artisan workshops on the ground floors, cafes and restaurants, the modern Chorsu market with 500 trading places for selling vegetables and fruits, meat, dairy products, and confectionery.
The doors of the Museum of Amir Temur and Temurids History, the Maqom Museum, the Palace of Culture are open welcomingly. One day was not enough to see all of the sights. Although, judging by the pedometer, I had to walk about twenty kilometers.
Ancient architecture coexisted with modern designer modern. Amazing tourist cluster. Now we have to use this center effectively. How?
“A special department has been created at the local police office to ensure the tourists safety,” said the head of the department Bekzod Ungbaev. - We observe everything on the territory of the tourist center with the help of 123 video cameras. We have four scooters and four speedways. In case of emergency help will come within seconds. Twenty of our employees are on duty around the clock, along with representatives of the traffic police.
Now the transport works the way it should, the security ensured, it’s vital to have enough hotels and guest houses. These objects are particularly interesting for the tour operators.
“When making the trip from Samarkand to Bukhara, we usually offered tourists a trip to Shahrisabz,” said the Sogd-Tour travel agency representative Regina Mnatsakanyan. - But these were transit routes for two or three hours, without overnight. Now that we have seen the current conditions, we intend to use the potential of Amir Temur’s Motherland to the full. Especially, for example, travelers from Japan wished to stay in this city for a little longer to appreciate all historical sites. With the launch of the tourist center, there are new opportunities we can use.
“This two-story building has been under construction for quite some time,” said hotel director Dildora Kadyrova. - manager of Kesh Palace Hotel. - The bank allocated a loan of one billion soums on favorable terms. The Uzbekistan Tourism Development Fund provided the support. It has compensated five percent of the fourteen percent bank’s interest rate. An agreement has been reached with the Association of Restaurateurs and Hoteliers of Uzbekistan to ensure that the occupancy rate of Kesh Palace. We employ over twenty citizens.
The hotel has more than 30 comfortable rooms of various categories - from standard - to luxury (family). Each has a satellite TV, Wi-Fi. There is a restaurant with 150 seats, where you can also hold conferences, business forums and seminars. Hotel has summer pool and transport park. They do railway station transfers, organize trips for the tourist. There is a booking and delivery of tickets to theaters, visiting museums, exhibitions, concerts.
Hotel interior is designed in national style. The picturesque paintings and bas-reliefs on the walls are made by Jamshid Namazov, a member of the Academy of Arts of Uzbekistan.
A whole block of artisans shops built in Shahrisabz will certainly attract tourists. Here you can buy not only unique souvenirs, but also take part in master classes in carpet weaving, fashion a dolls or a jug on a potter's wheel, work together with a blacksmith.
In one of the workshops, which is an embroidery shopping complex at the same time, we meet with Yulduz Mamadiyarova.
- We have a large assortment of goods - from hand-made carpets and suzane to colorfull skullcaps and unique women's handbags. We have signed contracts with more than a hundred skilled workers from nine villages. I give them raw materials - yarn and thread, and they provide us with ready products. It’s win-win. For example, a square meter of the original carpet costs 75 thousand soums. This is two days of work. You can calculate how much she will earn per month. We plan to open an embroidery training center, where famous embroiderers who know the age-old secrets of craftsmanship will teach next generation.
One more question of tour operators is solved: how to spend evening in Shahrisabz? You will not have to sit in cafes and restaurants or hours. Especially if you stay here for more than one night.
It is planned Shahrisabz will host various festivals during the whole season. There will also be theatrical performances "The Great Walk" with the "living" Amir Temur and Navoi, as well as meeting-competitions of maqom performers. Koba caravan-sarai plan to host presentations of agrotourism routes, trips along Gissar and Zarafshan mountain ridges. Noteworthy, these remote areas have evidence of dinosaur habitats.
They plan to host festivals of national clothes and architectural design, which would be attended by the leading Uzbek masters. The upcoming Bakhi Festival will gather singers from all the countries of Central Asia.
There will also be an international kurash tournament, to which sportsmen - palvans from almost forty states of Asia, Europe, Latin America, and Africa will come. Shahrisabz soon will host a unique international equestrian festival for the first time. It will be the one and only to have an Asian Kupkari equestrian competition as a part of the program.
The full story in Russian was originally published in Pravda Vostoka newspaper.