Uzbekistan has been a big influence in my journey as a fashion designer. I have created several collections inspired by that glorious country.

I was appointed the “Cultural and Tourism Ambassador” for the country this year, after which I began my adventure of exploring the beauty of the various crafts of Uzbekistan.

The country’s culture, its intriguing history, and the fascinating places like Samarkand, Bukhara and Khiva over there have always been awe-inspiring to me.

Earlier this month, I was invited to attend the first edition of the International Handicrafts Festival in Kokand city, in Fergana valley in Uzbekistan, an initiative by the President of Uzbekistan, Shavkat Mirziyoyev.

It was going to be a networking trip, on which I could meet with senior officials of Uzbekistan to understand their policies and explore possibilities of working together to create synergies between both the countries.

I met the representative of the state committee of the Republic of Uzbekistan on Tourism Development in the cities of Samarkand, Fergana, Kokand and Tashkent.

Beri explored the local culture and crafts of Uzbekistan. Photos: Istedod Usmonov

I arrived at my first stop, Samarkand, via Afrosiyob, the fast rail line connecting the country’s capital Tashkent with Samarkand, the city known for its mosques and mausoleums.

Samarkand was a reminder of the country’s incredible past, and it rightfully deserves to be included in the UNESCO World Heritage Sites list. The city houses formidable architectural delights, like Registan, Shah-i-Zinda and Bibi-Khanym Mosque, to name a few, which are also the world’s most spectacular examples of Islamic art and architecture.

There, I was warmly welcomed by the Governor of Samarkand, Erkinjon Turdimov. I took the opportunity to personally invite him and request him to facilitate the participation of an eclectic delegation of artists and craftspeople from Uzbekistan at the Luxury Symposium 2019.

Tashkent, the political capital of Uzbekistan, is a modern, metropolitan city, a lot like Delhi. I enjoyed interacting with local Uzbeks who were friendly and warm. I also spoke with some senior government officials here.

The First Lady of Uzbekistan, Ziroat Mirziyoyeva, and her daughter, Saida Mirziyoyeva, epitomise the generosity and amiability integral to the Uzbek character.

Ulugbek Kasimkhodjaev is the first Deputy Chairman of State Committee of the Republic of Uzbekistan, and is responsible for the development of the country’s tourism industry. We discussed ways to strengthen ties between India and Uzbekistan through our arts, crafts and cultural heritage. I had dinner at the TV Tower in Tashkent, the 11th tallest tower in the world, and was joined by the Indian Ambassador to Uzbekistan, Santosh Jha, and his wife, Tanuja. Our Ambassador was proud about the MoU that was signed between Surajkund Mela Authority, Haryana, India, and the organising committee for International Handicrafts Festival in Kokand, Uzbekistan, in the presence of Vijai Vardhan, Additional Chief Secretary (Tourism).

Dinara Dultaeva (founder of Dinara & Co. publishing house and chief editor of Visit Uzbekistan magazine) and Guli Begim (the first business lady in Uzbekistan and owner of Begim Parfums) invited me for dinner during my first day at Tashkent, to the fabulous restaurant, Golubie Kupala. It was interesting to see the enthusiasm with which both these women promote their country. They will also be participating in the Luxury Symposium 2019.

I met Jakhongir Artikkhodjayev, Mayor of Tashkent, the first businessman in Uzbekistan to hold a post in the government. I was impressed by his understated elegance, his class and assiduity. He told me that he will be inaugurating a World Trade Centre, created by him, to promote global cultural relations, and that eh would like to do a joint Indo-Uzbek Craftsmen Symposium there. “India and Uzbekistan are like siblings with very similar cultural sensibilities,” he said.

Nestled into the eastern Fergana Valley, the Kokand Museum, as I discovered, is a must-visit site in Uzbekistan.The inauguration of the International Handicraft Festival in the capital city was a spectacular ceremony and saw the participation of representatives of over 80 countries, as well as most heads of handicrafts councils from the world over. It reflected vividly the importance of crafts for this country. I enjoyed discovering the large expanse of talent at the festival with Manzurahon Mansurova, the curator of the festival and director of the Kokand Museum.

I was especially impressed and moved by this initiative of the Uzbek President, as it proved that he valued the  importance of his country’s artisans and their craftsmanship. The highest officials of Uzbekistan rightfully consider their handicrafts to be the soft power of their country. They understand that the new generation of craftsmen needs encouragement and support in order to continue their legacy. Professor Adkham Ikramov, Chairman of the Chamber of Commerce in Uzbekistan, was also enthusiastic about creating cross-country synergies of arts and crafts. He was one of the organisers of this spectacular festival.

I hope that in the near future, the Luxury League [Ritu Beri’s not-for-profit foundation that strives to provide platform for branding Indian luxury globally], would be able to generate this feeling, for our arts and crafts, in our government too. As in Uzbekistan, in India there are rare handicrafts that deserve attention and need to be kept alive.

In Uzbekistan, my days were devoted to getting to know and learn more about Uzbek culture and heritage. It was time well spent.

 

The author is a renowned fashion designer and Cultural & Tourism Ambassador of Uzbekistan in India;

Uzbekistan is the country partner of The Luxury Symposium 2019, organised by the Luxury League

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