Tatarstan,a state under the Russian federation,where East meets West is fast-emerging as a popular destination for Asian and European tourists for its exotic locales,warm hospitality and rich cultural heritage.
It serves as a melting pot for Eastern and Western cultures and that is what makes it an attractive destination for people across the globe.
Tatarstan is a federal subject of Russia lying between the Volga and the Kama rivers,and extends east to the Ural Mountains.
The state,which gets thousands of tourists from Greece,Cyprus and Turkey,is now looking to attract Indians.
India has emerged as the world’s fastest-growing outbound market and in absolute numbers it is second only to China. The number of Indians travelling overseas is set to rise from around 15 million to 50 million by 2020,according to estimates.
“We are looking forward to having Indians coming over and experience our culture and heritage,” Aydar Khasanov,Tatarstan’s Ministry of Youth,Sports and Tourism official,told a group of visiting Indian journalists.
Khasanov said Indian visitors could visit major tourist attractions in Kazan,Bolgar,Elabuga and Sviyazhsk.
Kazan,a city with more than 1.1 million people,is one of the most populous cities in the Russian Federation.
It is a vibrant city with an eclectic mix of Eastern and Western cultures and has almost an equal number of Christians and Tatar Muslims,making it one of the most secular and multi-cultural cities in the world.
Visiting Kazan is an enthralling experience with places like the Kazan Kremlin,a world heritage site. The city’s Islamic heritage is spell-binding and Kazan is often referred to as the ‘Mecca of the North’.
A special monument in the city is the Kul Sharif mosque with a majestic church near it,which makes the spiritual experience complete.
The turquoise-blue domed Kul Sharif mosque,built between 1996 and 2005,is a remarkable piece of architecture and is named after Seid Kul Sharif,the imam of the namesake mosque,situated on the territory of the Kremlin at the time of the Khanate of Kazan.
The leaning tower of Syuyumbike named in honour of the last tsarina of Kazan is also a rare sight to behold.
The old Tatar district,the Baumana Street often dubbed as the ‘Kazan broadway’ and the city malls make Kazan a tourist’s paradise.
Kazan is also the sports capital of Russia and just hosted the 2013 Summer Universiade in which 162 countries participated. It is slated to host the World Swimming Championships in 2015 and in 2018 it will play host to the FIFA World Cup.
It is also home to the world-famous Rubin Kazan Football Club.
The second city of interest in the state is Bolgar,where lie the ruins of the capital of one of the largest medieval states of Eastern Europe,located 180 kilometres from Kazan.
Bolgarians officially accepted Islam and cast their lot with culture of Islamic world.
The contrast to this Islamic heritage is the Sviyazhsk,which has has a considerable Christian presence. It was an island but now a road has been constructed connecting it to land.
The water route though still remains in use and makes for a picturesque ride to the area which has had a dark past of “decimations” and executions during the first part of the 20th century.
Elabuga is another destination that is a visual and intellectual treat. Dubbed as the ‘city of museums’,including the well-preserved house of first Russian female soldier Nadezhda Durova and a number of well-crafted sculptures,it leaves a lasting impression on the mind of the visitor.
Russian hospitality might not be fabled but certainly it is a cut above the rest as unlike their media image of being stiff they are a set of warm and friendly people,an official said.
Tatarstan’s cuisine involves a three-course meal in which first salad is served,then soup and finally the main course which involves meat with bread. And of course if you happen to be a ‘vegetarian’ you will be given fish.
So for all those who not just want to holiday,but have a culturally enriching experience,Tatarstan might just be the destination to visit.