Nukus & West Area Travel Guide

Nukus is the capital of the Karakalpak Republic. The city of Nukus was created in 1932. Owing to its favorable geographical position, it became the capital of the autonomous republic in 1939. The city is located in the north of Uzbekistan near the Aral Sea and is surrounded by three deserts: the Kara-Kum (Black Sands), the Kizil Kum (Red Sands) and the stony desert (plateau Usturt). The first people settled in the territory of Nukus in the 4th – 3rd centuries BC. The history of the town of Shurtcha shows that people have lived in the territory of Nukus for more than 2000 years. Archaeological excavations show that Shurtcha has existed since the 4th century BC. Before the 4th century BC, it had been a strong point of the Khoresm state. Hundreds of years later the new city and capital of Karakalpakstan has grown on this ancient land filled with ashes and the blood of its ancestors.

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Main points of interest in west area of Uzbekistan

karakalpakKarakalpakstan is an autonomous republic and a member of Uzbekistan, which was confirmed in the constitution of the Republic of Uzbekistan in 1991. The capital of this autonomous republic is Nukus. Karakalpakstan is situated in the lower reaches of the Amudarya River; its boundary located on the Turan lowland. The Kara-Kum desert borders upon Nukus from the southwest, the Usturt plateau is situated on the northwest and the Kizil-Kum desert is situated on the northeast. The territory of Karakalpakstan also borders the southern part of the Aral Sea, the dried bottom of which is forming a new salt-marsh desert called the Aral-Kum. It also borders the lower reaches of the Amudarya River. In Karakalpakstan, deserts occupy more than 1367 hectares, which is more than 80 percent of its total territory. The population of Karakalpakstan is more than 1.5 million with the capital city of Nukus having a population of 300 000. The territory of the modern Karakalpak Republic is a kind of “archaeological reserve”. The given area harbors more than 300 archaeological objects. In antiquity, this territory was called Khoresm.

Koungrad is situated in the very northwest of Uzbekistan. It borders with the Usturt Plateau on the west and kungradthe Amudarya River on the east, the dying Aral Sea from the north and ancient Khoresm from the south.  Its territory contains almost half of the area of Karakalpakstan and 12 percent of the territory of Uzbekistan.
The name of the town indicates its ancient history. It is the exact name of one of the principal Turk kings from where the origin of people in Central Asia began. Kazakhs, Uzbeks, Kirghiz and other nations also honor the Kungrad king. For centuries Kungrad had been a part of Khoresm, repeatedly it had become the capital of many states in the Aral Sea territory. Situated on the crossroads of Asia to Europe, this ancient land has seen Persian warriors, the Mongol hordes and caravans of Russian merchants. The conquest of the Khiva Khanate by Russia began with the invasion of Kungrad. The Kungrad region is rich in entrails such as oil, natural gas, gypsum and salt.
Though the town is located in the delta of the Amudarya River, 8 km from Kungrad starts the most amazing plateau on the planet – the Usturt Plateau.  This plateau has a unique fauna and flora that are gradually disappearing due to the aforementioned ecological disaster.

muynakMuinak is the town of real tragedy. It is gradually dying together with the waters of the Aral Sea. Earlier Muinak bordered and had been one of the two chief fishing ports of the Aral Sea. Nowadays it is a sea-desert stretching 40 km. from the water. The population is about one thousand people. This Uzbek ghost town has become the symbol of the death of the Aral Sea: deserted streets, closed shops and cinemas. Stripped and robbed vessels, ships and barges, port structures rusting among the sands where once it used to be the harbor. It is a cemetery for ships. Quite recently, Muinak had been a rather well to do place. Wonderful beaches and abundance of fish provided the whole city with work and wages. The town remains a tragic monument of the conscious devastation of the environment. Extremely self-confident interference of humans with natural resources inevitably leads to such terrible consequences.

Toprak-Kala. The Amudarya River, which seasonal high waters brought irrigation and fertile silt to the fields toprakof farmers, not only gave life and wealth to the area, but also brought death and chaos. The refractory riverbed of the Amudarya was famous for its catastrophic floods in the past. That is why ancient residents of Khoresm erected their towns on the desert highlands, but never on the river banks. They protected the rulers’ palaces, military barracks, fire and sun worshiping temples and craftsmen’s blocks with impregnable walls. In 1938 well-known Soviet archaeologist, S.P. Tolstov, during exploratory works 50 km from the east bank of the Amudarya, discovered the ruins of an ancient town with an area of more than 17 hectares (500×350 m) surrounded by fortress walls that were 20 meters high and 12 meters thick. Thus, Toprak-Kala or “Earthy town” was discovered and is considered to be the capital of the great dynasty that ruled over Khoresm from the 2nd –3rd centuries AD. The most valuable godsends from the dig are sculptures and frescos. These were seriously damaged by rains and excessive temperatures over the centuries because most of them had been made of the same material as the magnificent buildings themselves – from ordinary clay.

kyzylkalaKizil-kala. The neighboring fortress of Kizil-Kala originally served as an additional afterthought, but outlived the Toprak-Kala by ten centuries. Despite relatively small dimensions (65×55 meters) this fortress had double walls, each eight meters thick, to prevent the enemies’ access to the inner premises by the means of battering rams. Thanks to such a defensive design, the Kizil-Kala protected the borders of Khoresm until the invasion of Genghis-khan’s hordes in the 13th century. Local citizens believe that evil ghosts of the desert inhabit a very long underground passage and that the souls of their ancestors still connect Kizil-Kala and Toprak-Kala. Uncountable riches are also believed to be hidden there.

Ayaz-kala. The ancient city-site Ayaz-Kala, or the “Windy Citadel” may be referred to as a world wonder. ayazIt is situated 20 km. to the northeast of Toprak-Kala, between the moving sands of the Kizil-Kum and the holy mountains of the Sultan Uvais range. An extensive site of the ancient town located on a flat highland appeared somewhere in the 4th century BC. Five centuries later, during the dynasty of the Kushan Empire, this town was fortified with an amazing castle on the top of a steep hill which measured more than 60 meters. Even pedestrians without luggage have had difficulties in overcoming this ascent. The walls of the Ayaz-Kala faced the four sides of the world. The only exit with a rather complicated labyrinth faces south. This construction was done with reason to allow the prevailing winds to blow out dust and dirt from the town itself.

mirzadhanMizdakhan. For thousand of years Zoroastrism was widely spread throughout Khoresm, Sogdiana and Baktria. The unique historical/archaeological complex, the Mizdahan, was discovered in the Lower Amudarya, 3 km from the town of Khodgeili. This complex is situated on three hills where a mysterious “clock of the world” is ticking. An ancient cemetery of hundred hectares stretches through this area. Its age, according to the historians, numbers 2 000 years. This cemetery is considered one of the most ancient in Asia. According to early chronicles, a large town had existed in this place. Many burials were preserved till present days in the eastern part of the cemetery. Mizdahan was also a big center of trade and crafts for the Khoresm state and one of the off roads of the Great Silk Road traversed here. The complex consists of the Mazlumkhan-sulu mausoleum (12th –14th centuries), Gyaur-kala (4th century BC), Shamun-nabi mazar (18th century), the Jumart kassab and the Erejhep khalifa mausoleum (9-11th centuries).

Ancient town Gyaur-kala. Situated on a western hill, this ancient town has existed since the 4th century BC. guyazThe total area of the town occupies about one hundred hectares of land. Locally it is called Gyaurkala, which means the “town of unfaithful”. Uzbek scientists believe that fire worshippers, adherents of Zoroastrism, had once lived here. It was in this town where Zoroastrism began to spread throughout the world. In 712-782 AD the inhabitants of Gyaurkala fought for their independence. The town thrived until the 13th century, when the Mongolian hordes destroyed the town and turned it into a heap of ruins. Only enormous clods of clay wall testify to the fact that there once existed the town of Gyaur-kala. Under the plain mixed in with the sand, one can trace the block planning of the late town’s infrastructrte  of 13th –14th centuries. Currently, the local population knows this town under the name Shahar-Antakia. During excavation work, not only housing structures were discovered, but also various shops manufacturing ceramics, ironmongery, creamery and winemaking shops were also found.

savitskyThe Karakalpak State Museum of Arts named after Igor Savitsky. The archaeological exhibits of this museum demonstrate the intellectual wealth and culture of the ancient Khoresm state (the citadel of Zoroastrism doctrine) and the trade relations of Khoresm residents with the ancient world. The museum possesses a large collection of unique medieval ceramics, national Karakalpak silver and jewelry items, cornelian and traditional carpets. The museum is also widely known throughout the world for its collection of Russian vanguard art. In the museum halls, one can see the early works of famous masters/impressionists who lived in Uzbekistan and Russian vanguard masters from the beginning of the 20th century.  For the last ten years, the museum has turned into a hotbed of culture and active life of the republic. Many outstanding politicians have paid attention to the museum’s efforts directed towards the preservation and propaganda of a variety of cultures represented in the collection of The Karakalpak State Museum of Arts named after I. Savitsky. Among these advocates are the ex Vice President of the USA, Albert Gore, the former President of France Jacque Shiraque, Prince Charles of Wales, the ex-State Secretary Madeline Albright and many others.

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