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World-renowned #SilkRoad is back on track

Photo by Yaşar Çelik

The Turkic Council, a relatively new international organization, comprised of Turkey, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, is determined to revive the ancient Silk Road, writes Eli Hadzhieva.

The Council has designed a tour package and expects 1 million tourists from around the world to visit the destinations involved between, now and 2023. This new route promises a unique experience for tourists interested in cultural tourism and alternative safe destinations.

The tour package will see online sales start very soon. Two tours were organized in April and May, with tour operators and journalists coming from across Europe, Asia and America.

The tour takes in İstanbul, Konya, Nevşehir, Kayseri, Gandja, Sheki, Qobustan, Baku, Almaty, Turkistan, Shymkent, Taraz, Bishkek, Naryn, Issyk-Kul and Tash Rabat.

The package makes use of several public and private sponsors in four countries over 14 days. There are 11 tour operators involved, co-ordinated by a Turkish operator. Meanwhile, the Turkic Council is leading negotiations with airlines and hotels to obtain competitive prices.

The secret of the success of the tour will be its unique formula, which allows tourists to pick and choose and design their own tour online. Holidaymakers will be able to combine destinations and are not obliged to join all the steps of the tour.

The tour will be full board and will offer a lot of flexibility, with different options for hotels appealling to the taste of all income bands.

One of the aims of the project is to boost the economy, employment and social development in the region while allowing member countries to decrease their dependence on oil and to diversify their economies.

According to the Secretary-General of the Turkic Council, Ramil Hasanov, ‘Akin to Italy and Spain sharing a common Latin heritage, the four Turkic Council Member States have common roots, language, culture and traditions.”

Hasanov added that these common traits may be instrumental in resolving regional conflicts and will be seen as an opportunity for future stability and peace in the region.

The organization plans to strengthen its ties with other Turkic-speaking countries, such as Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan. The Silk Road may be the first step for the rapprochement of these nations, which were isolated and alienated from their Turkic roots during the Soviet era.

The Turkic Council currently collaborates with the UNDP, UN Office for South-South Cooperation, UN World Tourism Organisation and the UN Alliance of Civilisations on several projects, including projects dedicated to young people and the prevention of radicalisation.

According to the Deputy Secretary-General of the Council, Ömer Kocaman, the Silk Road connects China with Europe, with a daily trade volume of 1 billion dollars. This is expected to reach 3-4 billion dollars in the near future.

By promoting the Central Corridor of the Silk Road, passing through the Caucasus and Central Asia, the organisation is aimed towards connecting infrastructures and developing new routes to bring east and west together.

Azerbaijan, for example, has seen a huge transformation with new ports, railways, roads and more since 2006. Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan will follow suit, increasing the connectivity in the region. A new railway project on its way, Baku-Tbilisi-Kars, is an important example of the fast modernisation of the region.

Ali Faik Demir, professor at Galatasaray University and one of the participants on one of the earlier Silk Road trips, said: “The Silk Road will be a road from heart to heart. There is everything – culture, history, religion, nature, gastronomy.”

The Silk Road is inspiring and magical, stretching from Turkey’s Erciyes mountains to Kazakhstan’s celestial Tian Shan mountains, from the Caspian Sea in Azerbaijan to the Issyk Lake in Kyrgyzstan.

The journey starts with a boat tour on the Bosphorus, goes on with a hot-air balloon flight over the fairy chimneys in Turkey, a train journey through the Kazakh steppes and a camel ride in Azerbaijan’s Naftalan. It ends with a horseback-riding adventure in the mountainous Tash Rabat region of Kyrgyzstan.

It is a special destination for cultural and historical tourism, which is unspoiled and relatively undiscovered.

From Khodhja Ahmed Yasawi to Rumi, the Silk Road is home to numerous mystics. At the crossroads of Jewish, Christian and Muslim pilgrimage routes, traces of shamanism and Zarathustrianism can also be found.

Moreover, visitors can travel through history by tracing the footsteps of their ancestors through the oldest cave paintings in the world in Qobustan in Azerbaijan, and petroglyphs dating from 2000 BC to 400 AD in Cholpon Ata in Kyrgyzstan.

The Silk Road has its fair share of writers and poets, such as Nizami Ganjavi, the Azerbaijani writer of the oriental version of Romeo and Juliet – Leyla and Mecnun.

Chingiz Aitmatov – whose books, such as Jamila, The First Teacher and The White Ship were translated into 150 languages – is the pride of Kyrgzystan, as is the Manas epic poem, which holds a Guinness record for the longest poem in the world.

Great scientists, such as the Turkish Nobel prize-winners in chemistry Aziz Sancar and Al Farabi, are among the jewels of the region. It goes without saying that there are painters, such as Abilkhan Kasteev, the father of Kazakh art, who paints realist scenes of nomads in yurts, milking horses and making cheese, and musicians such as Azerbaijan’s Vagif Mustafazadeh, who is credited with fusing jazz with mugham.

One can do nothing but admire the splendid nature and architecture along the Silk Road, such as the mysterious geological formations of Cappadocia, Kyrgyzstan’s pristine alpine lake Issyk, 7000m snowy peak Kan Tengri, and the ancient Burana Tower.

From Kazakhstan’s endless steppes decorated with ethno villages and Taj Mahal-esque love temples, such as Aysha Bibi, to the green hills of Azerbaijan’s Sheki – famous for its khan’s palaces – to the land of fire and wind, Baku and its ever-burning mountain Yanar Dag, the stunning visuals seem endless.

Travelling from one caravanserai to another, which are usually at a 40km distance from one another, (this was seen as a maximum distance a camel could walk for nine hours each day), makes visitors feel as though they are travelling back in time.

Falcons and the golden eagles of Almaty, the camels of Naftalan, the snow leopards of Naryn and the horses of Cappadocia, accompany the tourists along this once-in-a-lifetime journey.

While the trade of ancient Silk Road goods such as silk (Sheki) and horses (Kochkor) is still alive, one can also shop for ceramics in Cappadocia, felt carpets in Kochkor and traditional hats in Almaty’s Green Bazaar.

One of the most important and distinguishing features of the Silk Road is its nomadic people, who still lead a semi-nomadic life in Kyrgyzstan’s Tash Rabat region, for instance.

It is a unique experience to spend a night in a yurt, decorated with colourful carpets, blankets and chests. Sitting on a floor table in a yurt camp, one can taste regional specialities, such as kumis (fermented mare milk), camel milk and horse meat.

Cappadocia’s Ürgüp region is also known for its authentic cave hotels and home restaurants.

Other gastronomical wonders one should absolutely not miss include beshbarmak (Kazakh and Kyrgyz ravioli with meat called ‘five fingers”), beef or sturgeon with pomegranate sauce, walnut jam, the meat and chick pea meal, called ‘piti’ of Ganja (Azerbaijani specialities) and Turkish specialities such as sarma (stuffed wine leaves), dolma (stuffed pepper) and tas kebabı (a special sort of kebab).

By offering these out-of-the-box tourism destinations, the tour package will bring tourists together with the unique cultural, spiritual, historical and gastronomic life of the traditional Silk Road, which was a source of inspiration for famous travellers, including Marco Polo.

More information

About the author

Eli Hadzhieva is an independent blogger. She is a former consultant at the OECD and an ex-Parliamentary attaché to a Member of the European Parliament.

Eli founded EURELIZ Media and Strategic Communications and Dialogue for Europe ASBL, based in Brussels. 

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Category: A Frontpage, EU, Turkey

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