Following the footsteps of Mevlana Rumi in Uzbekistan
By Iris Bezuijen and Sedat Çakır
The Rumi Trail is a long-distance pilgrimage trail that honours ancient Khorasan traditions which travelled with Mevlana Rumi. It starts in the heart of central Asia, and follows the Silk Road, ancient pilgrimage and caravan routes to Mecca and Jerusalem as far as the city of Konya in Turkey. Rumi Trail is suitable for cyclists and hikers.
The underlying philosophy of the Rumi Trail is that of Mevlānā Jalal ad-Din Muhammed Rumi, a thirteenth-century philosopher and poet of Islam, whose wisdom transcended national boundaries, seeking inclusion and peace for all (Mirdal, 2012).
The history of the new pilgrimage trail is part of the discussion, as we explore the traditions, languages and cultural heritage of the peoples along the way. Modern-day pilgrims can walk or cycle the entire route. They are issued with a Rumi Trail travel passport (credential) and receive stamps from locals, recording their progress. In the end, they will be issued with the Parendelik Certificate in Konya. A special Uzbek certificate will be issued in Termez after completing the Uzbek part of the Rumi trail.
Traces of past civilizations are evident along the route such as Uzbek including Timurid and Khorezm, Afghan, Persian, Arab, Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman heritage. Some villagers are still familiar with the concept of pilgrimage, and they treat travellers with reverence as harbingers of good fortune.
Following the footsteps of Rumi in Uzbekistan, Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Palestina, Israel, Syria, Turkey. Future connections may include Tajikistan and Turkmenistan as well.
Mevlānā Jalal ad-Din Muhammed Rumi
In the early thirteenth century, the brutal Mongol conquest of Central Asia led to major disruptions, with many people fleeing west including the young Mevlānā Jalal ad-Din Muhammed Rumi (born in 1207, in Balgh), known to the world now simply as Rumi. The young Rumi travelled with his illustrious father, the Islamic scholar and jurist entitled Sultan al-Ulama (Sultan of Islamic Scholars), although his real name was Baha ud-Din Walad.
Rumi, his whole family including a group of their clan disciples, left their home in Balgh in Persia (but now part of Afghanistan) to travel to Baghdad, Mecca and then via Jordan and Syria to arrive in Konya in what is now Anatolia in central Turkey. As a boy, he was already acknowledged as a great talent. While on a stop-over in Nishabur (Iran) he met with a famous mystic poet from Persia, Attar, who presented young Rumi with a copy of his book Asrarnama, a treatise on the precarious position of the soul in the material world.
Once settled in Konya, he became a well-known scholar, visited by many of his peers and seekers of all descriptions. When he was in his mid-thirties, he had a second, even more significant meeting, now with Shams-e Tabrizi, a famous mystic on 15 November 1244, which changed his life completely. It unleashed his poetic talent, and he became the Sufi as we know him today, through two of his masterpieces, the Mathnawi (a poem written by Rumi) and the Ghazaliyat-e Shams-e Tabrizi (Poems written by Shams-e Tabrizi), his philosophy in the form of lyric love poetry.
The teachings of Rumi, in this pilgrimage context, shows its dynamic nature, allowing cultures and time to make their own interpretation:
‘Out beyond ideas of wrong-doing and right-doing, there is a field; I’ll meet you there.’
‘Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.’
‘You were born with wings. Why prefer to crawl through life?’
‘The wound is the place where the Light enters you.’.
Rumi is described in an UNESCO publication (2007) as an eminent philosopher and mystical poet of Islam who advocated tolerance, reason and access to knowledge through love. His mystical relationship to Islam produced masterpieces that well beyond the borders of Turkey have marked Islamic culture and devotion.
Furthermore, UNESCO regards Rumi as one of the greatest comprehensive thinkers and scholars of Islamic civilization and culture. He addressed humanity as a whole: ‘I do not distinguish between the relative and the stranger.’ That is also the extent of his thoughts and teaching. He connects directly to the divine, and through his honesty he knows no boundaries, connecting humankind. He embraces inclusivity, searching for the truth, love and unity, in order to strive to become a perfect human being. Rumi was buried side to side with his father in an elaborate shrine, in a historical garden, now part of a museum. His epitaph reads (in translation): ‘When we are dead, seek not our tomb in the earth, but find it in the hearts of men of knowledge.’ (UNESCO, 2007) Which are all winning arguments for any pilgrimage trail.
We develop hiking and cycling trails with a deeper meaning for travellers to experience. The Rumi Trail starts in Nukus, the old land of Khorasan Saints. It’s these oases that still hold the stories we love to hear, the people we love to meet and the land we love to see. Rumi’s work, poems and life has travelled already over the complete globe, is beyond time and space and has touched countless hearts. To be able to go there by means of slow travel is the goal we set for developing the cycle road. To make a cycling route we first have a logistic and technical part where we cycle the route, from Nukus to the three UNESCO world heritage cities: Khiva, Bukhara, Samarkand via Shahrisabz to Termez at the Uzbekistan-Afghanistan border. Length approx. : 1,500 km.
Uzbekistan has always been the heart of the Silk Road, important in all era’s and of course is the home of art and culture as we know today woven into our daily lives. We are developing hiking and cycling trails to get close to these traditions, people and nature that carry treasures for our own wisdom, health, fitness and on top of all this the mystical adventure being on the land of such great artists, scholars and the wise people helping us through life’s challenges.
Nukus, the capital of Karakalpakstan Republic, is the start point of the Rumi Trial in Uzbekistan. Nukus is home of the Savitsky Collection in the Karakalpakstan Museum of Art. With the world’s second-largest collection of Russian Avant-garde Art. It is also a good starting point for excursions to the Aral Sea and neighbouring Kunye-Urgench in Turkmenistan.
Since Rumi Trail is designed as green, inclusive and resilient tourism it will bring a lot of green type of industry and industrial activities to the region e.g. bike shops, bike factories, bike tourism related activities with little to none carbon footprint.
With local people, Rumi trail will participate in community based tourism projects such as homestays, small bike rentals, home made dishes for cyclists and hikers etc.
After Nukus, we pass alongside the Amu Darya river to continue to Khiva. First UNESCO city on the Rumi trail in the Khorezm Region.
The ancient caravan oasis holds many impressive sights like the Itchan Kala (castle) the
Central walled city of Khiva– is stuffed with mosques, madrasas and mausoleums e.g.
Alla Kouli Khan Madrasa (school), Pakhlavan Makhmoud Mausoleum, Islam Hoja Minaret, Muhammad Amin Khan Madrasa and Kalta Minor. The whole town is an open air museum and every corner will bring you stories from an ancient past. In the region there is a trail of desert fortresses.
After Khiva, we pass the mausoleum of Sheikh Mukhtar Vali and leave the fertile delta of the Amu Darya and cycle five days in the desert before reaching Bukhara. In the desert you will feel the wide openness of the film scenes in deserted areas. The nights in the desert are spectacular and will show the stars in their full glory without the city lights interfering as in dense cities around the world. It’s great to see NASA’s Earth’s city lights as you can then see you are in the perfect region for stargazing. It’s often said the more hardship the bigger the satisfaction, this will most certainly apply for a desert ride. A long distance route and being in this case in the desert, seeing the stars this way certainly gives an incentive to be on this bicycle in the middle of nowhere.
The second UNESCO Silk Road city on the Rumi Trial is Bukhara. The main highlights in Bukhara are:
Ensemble Lyabi Hauz (Nadir Divanbegi Madrassa, Khanaka, Kukeldash Madrassa and the monument of Khodja Nasreddin);
Magoki Attari Mosque is one of the oldest mosques survived in Bukhara from the time before the Mongolian invasion;
Abdullakhan’s Tim with numerous handicraft shops of souvenirs, ceramics, national clothes, and carpets;
Caravanserai Sayfuddin (the Center of Handicraft Development of Bukhara);
There are three trading domes or so-called covered bazaars Toki Sarrofon, Toki Telpak Furushon and Toki Zargaron preserved from the XVI century and these bazaars were centres of silk trade, selling jewellery and even for money exchange. Today as well, one can enjoy and purchase different souvenirs in a wide range, from small souvenir magnets to the famous Bukhara carpets; Visit Ulughbek and Abdulazizkhan Madrassas or so called Kosh (pare) madrassas opposite each other with distinctive style of facade ornamental decoration;
Poi Kalon Square with Kalon Minaret and Mosque, Mir Arab Madrassa – the heart of Bukhara, a monumental complex impresses the imagination of every visitor;
Ark Fortress – the oldest citadel dating back to 1. Century BC where anyone can feel the history of the great fortress covered in beautiful legends and myths.
Seven important Naqshbandi Sufi orders can be found in Bukhara city and surroundings, including the shrine of Baha-ud-Din Naqshband Bukhari, founder of the order.
The third UNESCO Silk Road city on the Rumi Trail is Samarkand. Maybe the most image appealing city of the Silk Road is Samarkand. Who doesn’t have this on their bucket list? It’s indeed the “pearl of the silk road” as said in the lovely composed book Uzbekistan, pearl of the Silk road by Burhanettin Carlak.
Sightseeing starts in Registan Square. Being in the presentence of so many important scholars is indescribable, it’s an experience to have. We just tip the list of names as you will need at least an extra day to even see all these important world heritage sites .
Bibi Hanim Mosque, Gur-Emir Mausoleum, Hazrat Hyzr Mosque, Khodja Akhrar Ensemble, Madrasah Tilla-Kori, Mausoleum Ishratkhana, Mausoleum of Imam al-Moturidi, Mausoleum of Khoja Abdi Darunee, Mausoleum of St. Daniel, Observatory of Ulugbek, Rukhabad Mausoleum, Settlement of Afrasiab, Shakhi Zinda Necropolis, Sher-Dor Madrasah, Siab Bazaar. Then off course there is more: museums, parks, landmarks and factories reminding you of the silk road activity and bygone ages. Just cycling or hiking through the great ones of earth will give us a wind of good fortune and most likely a privileged feeling of having been there in your lifetime.
The mausoleum of Imam al-Bukhari is one of the main pilgrimage sites in Uzbekistan. The visiting of three shrines in Samarkand – the mausoleums of al-Bukhari, Shakhi-Zinda and Rukhabad – within one day, is called “small Hajj”.
These two cities are the most significant sights of Uzbekistan & the whole world knows Uzbekistan pretty much because of them. Sky-blue Samarkand & sandy holy Bukhara are more ancient than anything in Uzbekistan, they’ve seen many historical events, with great people participating in.
Shahrisabz is being the birth city of Timur Lenk of course including in the Rumi Trail. We now cycle through more mountainous areas and will intensively look for small little shops in this area. This is the part where cyclists will stock up for their journey. There are many dustroads and one highway leading to the border with Afghanistan. For the Rumi Trail we will try to combine the two and possibly make an alternative route for people who like to take it slow or take the highway.
The Rumi Trail in Uzbekistan ends in Termez. It holds a lot of sightseeing pearls like the bridge of friendship and the Kirk-Kiz fortress. It’s known to be very hot and being the only river crossing bridge it’s always been a hot place in many ways. The name Termez (tara-crossing; maiθa-place) can be translated in old Iranian to “a place of transition” with the rich history that you will find here it’s on a high note or hot spot were we end the Uzbekistan Rumi part and invitation to explore more at the same time.
During the development of the Rumi cycling trail we make pictures, record videos and most importantly collect stories from people who still are like treasure maps. Every human is like a source or library, we often say. The collection of information in one single human is like a treasure map. Being on a slow pass means you have time to find these old stories, record and bundle them in books, movies and off course pictures. There are countless examples of how one person, picture, book and film can be life changing.
We however keep it simple and just cycle, record our findings, make the maps for cyclists so many people can enjoy these mystical adventures in the land of 1001 nights and the stories we love so much. Together with a group of mapmakers we use OpenStreetMap to record our detailed findings and also enhance the maps. As it’s open source it’s a powerful tool to immediately map your cycle and also hiking routes. In the guidebooks we use these maps that have all the valuable information for hikers and cyclists that are mostly only available after they are added to the map.
The goal is to get as many enthusiastic eco-tourists to enjoy these hiking and cycling trails. The cycling theme following Rumi’s way gives you more depth of the land and cultural heritage. Cyclists need small things like shelter for the night, food and a fairly nice route but a well kept and marked route can bring a big impact on the region or country. We know the success stories of Camino the Santiago that now hosts thousands of pilgrims every year.
The simple way of traveling makes you receptive to the knowledge and wisdom that comes your way.
The inspiration for the Rumi Trail is credited to Mohammed El-Fers, who wrote a mini-biography of Mevlana Rumi. His journey in 1978 was retracing the route of Mevlana Rumi. The Rumi Trail map is also by his design.
Conclusion for the Rumi Trail cycling route is that it aims to develop a sustainable cycling route enhancing the connection between the major UNESCO silk road cities and the little villages, even including a small cabin in the desert as one united trail with all the environmentally friendly aspects. Long distance hiking and cycling trails spread the economic improvement of all connected to the trail rather than the concentration of one city or object. It improves community based tourism and creates resilient communities with better future prospects.
For more information please visit www.rumitrail.com
Budhwani and McLean 2019: 209
Oezbekistan – Parel van de zijde route
9789492953049 Burhanettin Carlak e.a.
9789492953940 Mohamed El-Fers