Tourism: A mantra for Uzbekistan

Ashok B Sharma

Tourism has become a mantra for Uzbekistan to bolster its economy. There is a steady rise in the contribution of travel and tourism to the Uzbek economy. With a number of sites in the country designated by UNESCO as heritage sites, the Central Asian Republic has drawn up a perspective plan to market tourism in a big way on a global scale. As most of the UNESCO heritage sites belong to the Islamic period, the country is planning to expand its basket of tourism products by including sites of pre-Islamic period, namely ancient Buddhist sites. It is, therefore, eager to strengthen its cultural and civilization bonds with India from where Buddhism travelled to Central Asia, Tibet, China and Mongolia.
The total contribution of travel and tourism to Uzbek GDP was $830.7 million, amounting to 2.8 percent of GDP in 2017. This is forecast to rise by 3.1 percent in 2018, and by 6.0 percent per annum to $1,537.5 million or 2.7 percent of GDP by 2028.
Uzbekistan has signed an agreement on tourism with India on the recent visit of Uzbek President Shavkat Mirzigoyev. According to Ulugbek Kasimhodjaev, the acting first Deputy Chairman for Tourism Development, who was in India, the country has planned to excavate about 2,000 sites with the possibility unearthing ancient Buddhist remains. The country has civilization links with India dating back to pre-Islamic period about 2,000 years ago.
When asked if there is a possibility of pre-Buddhist remains of Vedic culture in the region and the influence of epic Ramayana and Mahabharata, Kasimhodjaev said: “We have to find out.”
On the first ever visit of an Uzbek President with a high powered business and official delegation, apart from cooperation in tourism, agreements on cooperation in military education, usage of outer space for peaceful purposes, science, technology and innovation, health and medical science and combating drug trafficking were signed. Further MoUs were signed for security cooperation and for cooperation in pharmaceutical sector and setting up of Uzbek-India Free Pharmaceutical Zone in Andijan region of Uzbekistan, setting up of India-Uzbek Business Council, sister city relation between Agra and Khokimiat of Samarkhand and sister states cooperation between Gujarat and Andijan region. Both sides agreed to raise bilateral trade to $ 1 billion by 2020.
Uzbekistan has developed a holistic model approach to preventing and countering the spread of violent extremism and terrorism among the youth. The country has been fighting extremism for the last two decades, ever since the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) tried to overthrow former President Islam Karimov’s government to establish an Islamic state in the country. Uzbekistan government’s approach has evolved from tough, hard-headed and uncompromising measures in dealing with the extremists to the present flexible and accommodating approach. Greater focus has since been given on the youth and enhancing awareness among them. The country is eager to share its model and experience with India
Buddhism had travelled to Central Asia, by entering Termez region and spreading up to Tashkent region and beyond. Uzbekistan is the most populated country in Central Asia with more than 32 million people. The multiethnic country is home to over 100 nationalities, including 80 percent Uzbeks, 5.5 percent Russians, 5 percent Tajiks, 3 percent Kazakhs, 1.5 percent Tatars. Though the majority of the people are Sunni Muslims, the country still has a small population of Buddhists amounting to less than 3 percent.
Termez is the capital of Surxondaryo region. It is located on the right bank of the Amu Darya river and is one of the ancient cities of Central Asia. The city evolved throughout history into different places around the modern city, reflecting cultural layers depicted in the remains of historical sites.
Buddhism played a considerable role in ancient Termez. Several Buddhist sites were uncovered during the archeological works around the city, which remind one about the days when Termez was one of the Buddhist centBuddhist Stupa Zurmala, Fayaztepa Complex, Khalchayan site, ancient Dalverzintepe, Kirk-Kiz fortress and Karatepa complex are some of the ancient pre-Islamic sites unearthed around the modern city of Termez.
According to Uzbek government, there has been a steady rise in tourist arrivals from India. Shooting of Bollywood movies and honey moon trips have also helped in the rise of tourist arrivals.
In ancient times also, Uzbekistan and the north and north-western parts of India were under Kushan rule with its capital at Purushapura, the modern Peshawar. Babar, the founder of Mughal dynasty, hailed from Uzbekistan and Timur Lang, who invaded India, was also from Uzbekistan. There was a cultural marriage during Mughal rule with Uzbek architecture mingling with Indian architecture to form what is called the Indo-Islamic architecture. There are many architectural sites in Uzbekistan designated by UNESCO as heritage sites and are the source of tourist attraction. In Tashkent the monument of former Indian Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Sashtri, who died in that city, is a source of attraction for India tourists. With steady increase in tourist arrivals from India, Uzbekistan mulls to diversify its product basket by incorporating ancient Buddhist sites and stressing more on pre-Islamic cultural relations between the two countries.
Uzbekistan’s plans for excavating 2,000 Buddhist sites would promote Buddhist tourism in a big way, particularly tourists from Japan, Thailand, Cambodia, Sri Lanka, Tibet, China, Taiwan Korea, Vietnam and other Buddhist countries. The bulk of Indian tourists will be interested in the scenic beauty and ancient cultural relationship between the two countries. India should learn from Uzbekistan how it is planning to attract tourists by selling Buddha products. Though Lord Buddha’s activities were mostly within this country, India has been very slow in developing Buddhist pilgrim sites to attract foreign tourists. Comparatively, in South Asia, Sri Lanka has been successful in attracting foreign tourists. (IPA)

Sunday, 28 October, 2018