Uzbekistan, known as the heart of the Silk Road, is rich in tourism resources and has named tourism the strategic sector of its economy. It is home to many world-famous Islamic shrines and possesses 8400 cultural heritage sites across the country. Some ancient cities in Uzbekistan – Samarkand, Bukhara, Khiva and Sharisabz, with excellent and unique architecture, are included in the UNESCO World Heritage List.
Ravshan Usmanov, Ambassador of Uzbekistan to Malaysia, told @Halal that Uzbekistan had ambitious plans to develop the tourism industry in the country effectively and positively.
“Today, the country is a bright destination for cultural, historical, and religious tourism. Back in Uzbekistan, we have a special terminology for religious tourism – Ziyarah tourism,” said Usmanov.
Being located at the crossroads of the Great Silk Road, Uzbekistan has always charmed travellers from all over the world. It offers travellers a one-of-a-kind experience, highlighting the fusion of the world’s cultures and civilisations.
The traditions reflecting the diversity and antiquity of Uzbekistan are also expressed in its music, dance, applied arts, language, cuisine, and textile. Many of them are included in UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage List of Humanity. These include – the Bakhshi art of storytelling, miniature fine arts, Lazgi traditional Khorezm dance, Navruz culture festival, Palov culture and tradition, Shashmaqom music, and others.
“Navruz is one of the festivals celebrated in Central Asia, including Uzbekistan, Turkiye, Iran and Pakistan. It is like our new year, which we celebrate on Mar 21. Also included in the UNESCO List is Palov, our main dish. Just like Nasi Lemak in Malaysia, Palov is our national pride. It is a trademark that attracts tourists and makes them remember our country,” Usmanov explained.
Notable cities in Uzbekistan
With its Islamic shrines and madrasah, the famous city of Bukhara has long been known as the most significant centre of Islamic theology and science. One of the most prominent hadith scholars of the Muslim world, Imam al-Bukhari, was born in Bukhara. Interestingly, during Soviet rule, Mir-i Arab Madrasah in Bukhara remained the primary centre for religious education across Eurasia.
Further sharing about cities in Uzbekistan, Usmanov stated: “Samarkand, former home to some of the finest architects credited with creating the masterpieces of Registan Square and Gur-Emir Mausoleum.”
“Khiva, another city in the Western part of the country, is an open-air museum that captures the exotic atmosphere of the Silk Road with its winding alleys and bustling bazaars. It is a twin city to Versailles in France.”
The country also has other unique destinations like Termez, a Buddhist centre on the southern border and Shahrisabz, the birthplace of the great statesman Tamerlane.
The new Samarkand
According to Usmanov, the country is trying to make the city of Samarkand a tourism hub just like it used to be hundreds to thousands of years ago. Samarkand is becoming the ‘New Tourism Gate of New Uzbekistan’ today. It now welcomes foreign travellers with modern infrastructure and new facilities.
“This year, we have launched a brand-new terminal of Samarkand International Airport. The state-of-the-art facilities meet all international standards. The terminal building resembles an open book inspired by the Astronomy manuscript by medieval Uzbek astronomer Mirzo Ulughbeg.
“Outside of the city, we built a tourism cluster – the largest international tourist complex of Central Asia, the Silk Road Samarkand. It features eight world-class hotels, a huge congress, a historical ethnographical park and much more. All of it was built from scratch,” shared Usmanov.
The ethnographical park, called ‘Eternal City’, highlights Oriental bazaars, handicraft workshops, masterpieces of Islamic architecture, and Uzbek traditional tea houses, immersing travellers and researchers into a modern interpretation of a medieval town.
“The venue has already started attracting huge international summits. Over a short time, Silk Road Samarkand has hosted the Summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, the Summit of the Organisation of Turkic States, the EU-Central Asia Ministerial Meeting, and other international events. At the moment, Samarkand is becoming the diplomatic capital of Eurasia.”
Islamic Tourism in Uzbekistan
Uzbekistan is committed to developing and promoting Islamic tourism and Muslim-friendly hospitality. With its rich Islamic legacy, Uzbekistan is becoming more famous as an Islamic tourism destination and cradle of Islamic civilisation, attracting more and more travellers over the years.
Whilst Islam originated from Saudi Arabia, Usmanov noted that Central Asia gave birth to two Islamic Golden Ages in the 9-12th centuries and 14-15th centuries, making way for Islamic Renaissance.
“Famous scholars in Islamic theology and Law, Astronomy and Math, Humanities and Literature came to the world in this region. To name a few, Al-Khorezmi, Al-Beruni, Ibn Sina (Avicenna), Imam Bukhari, Imam Maturidi, Imam Termizi, and Ulughbeg.
“Al-Khorezmi is from Khwarazm, one part of Uzbekistan. He was the scholar and scientist who invented algorithms. Ulughbeg was a prince and a great astronomer. He constructed a huge observatory, which is still in Samarkand. He made a map of stars, widely used in the Muslim world and other parts of the planet.”
As part of the cultural and spiritual legacy, one of the world’s oldest surviving Quranic manuscripts (7th century), the Holy Quran Muskhaf of Usmon, is preserved at Hazrati Imam Ensemble in Tashkent. The manuscript is inscribed on UNESCO’s Memory of the World Register.
Welcoming tourists to Uzbekistan
Being a Muslim-friendly destination, Uzbekistan offers halal food, family-friendly entertainment and Muslim-friendly facilities, including hotels, prayer and faith-needs facilities and services.
“Thanks to large-scale measures by the government and daily routine work undertaken by stakeholders to develop this industry, today Uzbekistan is in top-10 Muslim-friendly destinations of the world. According to the Global Muslim Travel Index 2022 (GMTI) announced recently by CrescentRating, Uzbekistan has shown significant progress by climbing up seven positions and ranking 9th among 138 countries,” said Usmanov.
Uzbekistan has introduced simple visa procedures for foreign tourists to facilitate travellers keen to explore the country’s beauty. In particular, travellers from more than 90 countries enjoy a visa-free regime. Malaysian citizens can travel without a visa for 30 days. An electronic-visa system has also been introduced for additional 57 countries.
“Today, Uzbekistan offers worry-free travel after the long pandemic, which means borders are open, no need for PCR, covid vaccination and quarantine. Starting in November, Uzbekistan Airways re-launched its regular flights between KL and Tashkent. The flights to Uzbekistan are being operated on A321Neo and Boeing 787 Dreamlineron Wednesdays and Saturdays.”
Uzbekistan tourism picks up pace
Uzbekistan has ambitious plans to dramatically increase the number of foreign travellers visiting the country, including religious, cultural, food, and safari tourism. Bukhara and Samarkand International Airports also offer an Open Skies policy for foreign airlines.
“We believe it will boost the country’s appeal as a transit and tourism hub by creating better and more convenient connectivity for international travellers,” said Usmanov, adding that the country is working on making it a hub for travellers to go to or from Jeddah, calling it as an Umrah Plus package.
Considering Malaysian expertise in developing Muslim-friendly tourism, Uzbekistan aims to launch joint training programmes to develop Islamic tourism for their industry players in cooperation with the Ministry of Tourism and Cultural Heritage of Uzbekistan, Government of Bukhara Region and Islamic Tourism Centre (ITC) Malaysia.
Usmanov also revealed that from 2022, the country would host International Ziyarah Tourism Week annually. Its first edition was held on Nov 1-5, 2022, welcoming representatives of public and non-government agencies of Malaysia and other countries to the historic cities of Uzbekistan.
Happening on another side of the world is an exhibition titled “Treasures of the Oases of Uzbekistan. At the Crossroads of Caravan Routes”, hosted by Louvre Museum in Paris, on Nov 23-Mar 6, 2023. Another exhibition, “On the Road to Samarkand. Colours and Splendours of Uzbekistan”, being held at the Arab World Institute in Paris on
Nov 23-Jun 4, 2023.
The events will display more than 300 exhibits from nine museums in Uzbekistan. Among them are unique Islamic calligraphy, miniature art, textile, and jewellery of Uzbekistan, as well as one of the oldest Quran manuscripts in the world – the Quran of Kattalangar.