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The Great Silk Road Today

When in the second half of the 19th century German orientalist Ferdinand Richthoven, who investigated the ancient caravan trails heading from the East to the West, in his fundamental scientific work titled "China" for the first time coined the term "Silk Road", he did not expect, that only one and a half century later the term "The Great Silk Road" would become a global historical brand.

On the Great Silk Road lie the cities whose names breathe of Oriental exotics - Samarkand and Tashkent, Bukhara and Khiva, Teheran and Baku… But life goes on and everything changes in the world. The ancients had all the reason to say that one can't hold the time. The Minaret Kalyan in Bukhara, which for many centuries dominated over the city, has yielded the palm to the modern TV tower. Camel trails have been intersected by modern autobahns, railways have been built along the caravan routes.

In the age of globalization, when transnational companies gain importance, the revival of intercontinental route is becoming a social need, a demand of the times.

In 1988 UNESCO approved the project "The integral research of the Silk Road - the road of a dialogue", intended for the period of 10 years. This project was meant for a large-scale and detailed study of the history of the ancient route, the formation and development of cultural contacts between the East and the West, improvement of relations between the nations populating the Eurasian continent.

In 1993 the UN General Assembly took the decision on reviving the Great Silk Road as an important channel of international cooperation in the field of diplomacy, culture, science, trade, and tourism.

Transport communications and tourism have become important components of the brand "The Great Silk Road". Nowadays, the leading role in the revival of the ancient route belongs to the World Tourism Organization (WTO), which is carrying out the long-term project called "Tourism on The Great Silk Road". A unified concept of transcontinental tourism was elaborated by tourist companies of nineteen countries of the Great Silk Road region - Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Iran, Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, China, Pakistan, Turkey, Japan, India etc.

In Uzbekistan alone there are more than four thousand ancient monuments, including those whose age exceeds 1000 years. Here one can find such treasures of the world culture as the Mausoleum of Ismail Samani and Minaret Kalyan in Bukhara, built in the 10th - 12th centuries, Registan square in Samarkand, Buddhist temples in Dalverzintepe and Fayaztepe and a lot more. According to the UNESCO decision the historical centers of Samarkand, Bukhara, Shakhrisabz, the complex of Ichan-kala in Khiva are included into the World Heritage List.

Like landmarks of history on the Great Silk Road are such cities as ancient Merv, located in Turkmenistan and called by Arab historians the "father of the cities", the majestic construction of Amir Temur epoch - the mausoleum of Hodja Ahmad Yassavi in the Kazakh town of Turkestan, the monuments on the territory of Iran - the ruins of ancient Elama, Chogi-Zembil, a well-known complex of Meydan-Imam in the centre of Isfahan, Tahte-Suleyman settlement with its Zoroastrian temple dedicated to the goddess Anahit.

The routes of the Great Silk Road also crossed South Caucasus - Armenia, Georgia, Azerbaijan. The UNESCO World Heritage List was supplemented with the names of cathedrals and monasteries of Echmiadzin, temple of Zvartnots in Armenia, cathedrals of Sveti-Tshoveli and Bagraty and Ghelaty monastery ensemble in Georgia, the old urban ensemble with castle of Shirvanshah and Maiden's Tower in Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan.

All of them like many other historic monuments are main tourist attractions and are visited by crowds of travelers all the year round. At the service of tourists there are comfortable jet planes, high-speed buses, fast trains, developed infrastructure and comfortable hotels.

Tourism on the Great Silk Road has rather distinctive features. Transnational tourism becomes more and more popular. This notion appeared not long ago, in the nineties of the 20th century, when the traditional practice of making a tour of one country was supplemented with the tours to the neighbouring countries. Such a 'regional' tourism is very convenient and advantageous for travelers and tour operators alike and promote further cooperation of the countries in travel market. The most wide spread sort of such traveling is 'touring triangle', when tourists are offered to visit three neighboring countries of their choice, for example, Uzbekistan - Kazakhstan - Kyrgyzstan or Uzbekistan - Turkmenistan - Iran.

There are also other forms of traveling on the Great Silk Road. For example "The Great Silk Road World Heritage" tour offers the travelers the itinerary which includes several countries: Kazakhstan - Uzbekistan - Turkmenistan - Iran. Another tour, called "Along the countries of Central Asia", allows the travelers to make acquaintance with different countries of Central Asia.

But the Great Silk Road is not only the network of caravan trails and a number of cities and towns which used to be stopping places for traders. It is also a magnificent scenery: mountain peaks and alpine meadows of the Tien-Shan and the Pamirs, sandy deserts intersected by a unique handmade construction - the Karakum Canal, glittering waters of Lake Issyk-Kul and relic pine forests of Borovoye, skiing resorts of Chimgan and Beldersay, picturesque Charvak water reservoir, nut groves in Arslanbob tract and a number of other notable places to visit. Those who fancy extreme tourism could try their strengths by mountaineering, down-stream boating or rafting on the rapid mountain rivers, or, just as ancient pilgrims did, to make a horseback riding or even more exotic camel riding along desert dunes.

The development of transport communications on the Great Silk Road also contributes to its revival. During the years of independence the transport system of Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Turkmenistan obtained new outlets to China, Iran and through Georgia to Turkey.

It is planned to gradually build new routes to the west, in particular, Lyanyungan (China) - St.Petersburg and Lyanyungan - Rotterdam.

An important project, which is being carried out at present, is creation of a transport corridor Europe - Caucasus - Asia (TRASECA). In the South it passes round Trans-Siberian trunk-railway and is ready to provide services for the increasing number of tourists and flow of cargo from Europe to China and back. At the heart of all these projects is an idea of the Great Silk Road revival - building up of a through highway across two continents.

The Great Silk Road has luckily escaped the common lot of many ancient roads, known in the past but well forgotten today, as for instance 'via Appia' - a road in ancient Rome. Today the Great Silk Road has been called for by the world community and experiences its rebirth, its renewed popularity. And for all those who take the routes of the Great Silk Road - the road of communication between the East and the West, we say: "Have a good trip on the Silk Road!"