The Ustyurt plateau in Karakalpakstan is called the mysterious tomb of time.
Once there was the ancient Tethys Ocean, and now it is a dry bottom with separate ridges and ledges, up to 350 meters high.
Exactly 20 million years ago, natural phenomena and cataclysms created this unearthly beauty. For several decades, more than 60 monuments of primitive society and about 1000 architectural monuments have been discovered here. The main mystery for researchers and tourists is the so-called “Arrows of Ustyurt”, which can only be looked at from a bird’s eye view. These mysterious arrow-shaped geoglyphs were discovered in the 1980s when filming a topographic map of the plateau from a helicopter.
Today, it is still not known for certain how these mysterious natural phenomena appeared. However, there are two hypotheses for the appearance of such geoglyphs on the plateau:
1. The arrows look like ditches with ramparts and arrowheads at the end. Perhaps the ancient water structures served to collect drinking water because at the end of the arrow there is still a depression that resembles a reservoir.
2. Archaeologist Lev Galkin believes that the arrows were intended for cattle corral.
In the area of the arrows, a whole complex of archaeological monuments was discovered, as well as traces of ritual burials and barrows, some of which date back to the 10th century. The main landscape of Ustyurt is a desert without fresh water and vegetation.
But, as the legend says, the Massagetae tribes lived here many thousands of years ago, as evidenced by the remains of ancient caravanserais and tombs belonging to the Scythian culture.
As the ancient historian Herodotus wrote, the great king of Persia, Cyrus the Great, paid dearly for his attempt to seize these lands and died at the hands of the Massagetae queen Tomyris.
And for more than 2000 years, the stone tombs of the ancient Massagetae have stood motionless in the middle of the desert – untouched either by the elements or by man. Who knows, maybe these arrows have a direct connection between the tombs of the Massagetae.
Perhaps, soon, scientists will still be able to unravel the great mystery of the Ustyurt plateau.
Speaking about Karakalpakstan, many, of course, remember the Aral Sea, which has become the symbol of this republic. But do not forget that there is another reservoir on the territory of the region. This is Lake Sudochye.
Lake Sudochye was once the largest lake in Uzbekistan. It is located in the Amu Darya delta and used to be its largest reservoir. Its area reached 350 sq km, width – up to 15 km, and length – 50 km. The average depth of the lake was up to 2 meters.
The drying up of the Aral Sea and the cessation of the flow of river water into Lake Sudochye led to the fact that by 1968 it disintegrated into several separate small lakes. At the end of the 60s, the waters of collectors began to flow into the lake, on which the water regime subsequently completely depended. In 1972, the area of Lake Sudochye was already 96 square kilometers, and in 1978 – 78.5 square kilometers.
The unstable hydrological regime of the lake, the cessation of river water runoff caused its salinization. The water surface area in the Sudochie lake system in 2000 was 41.9 sq km, in 2001 – 9.6 sq km. and in 2002 – 6.5 sq. km.
In 2002, a two-year dry period gave way to rather high water levels. However, the discharge of water was not ensured to the proper extent, and about 80% of the water practically uselessly went into the right-bank delta of the Amu Darya.
The territory of the Sudochye lake system is represented by two main types of natural ecosystems: wetland and desert areas. Bird habitats include large shallow fresh and salt lakes, dense reed and shrub thickets, salt marshes, swampy areas, saxaul plantations, canals, desert, and semi-desert with cliffs of the adjacent Ustyurt plateau. A total of 117 bird species nest here.
The area serves as an important nesting and migration site for globally threatened bird species. Migratory accumulations reach 86 thousand waterfowl, including up to 4 thousand stiff-tailed ducks, which is half of the world population of this species.
In 2014, a nesting of pink flamingos was observed. In general, there are 13 animal species listed on the territory, listed in the national and international Red Data Books.
The territory meets international criteria for inclusion in the list of water bodies of the Ramsar Convention.
Lake Sudochye has been identified by the project “The Most Important Bird Areas of Uzbekistan” as the most important bird area and is included in the international register.
Before the ecological disaster, Lake Sudochye was a real oasis in the middle of the desert. Here was the settlement of Urga, where fish production and a fishing port flourished. Tourists came to the village to relax, swim in the lake, fish, and taste delicious fish. Now the village is abandoned, and only the ruins of old houses, abandoned boats, and the ruins of a fish factory remind of its former glory.
A village is located near Cape Urga. According to legend, the settlement was founded by fugitive Cossacks who took part in the Pugachev uprising. Winters here were always cold with piercing winds, and summers were hot and dry, so the dwellings were built using reeds. In winter, such walls more or less kept warm and sheltered from the winds, and in summer they saved from the heat. It is noteworthy that such reed dwellings are found not only in the Sudochye region but also in other places on the Ustyurt plateau.
Cape Urga captivates with its majesty. More than half a century ago, it was part of the lake. At the top of the cape are the ruins of an ancient Massagetae settlement, where a citadel and a watchtower were located. Not far from the ruins, you can see an old Orthodox cemetery and more ancient graves. Archaeological excavations have shown that people lived on the territory of the village in the 9th-10th centuries of our era.
In ancient times, Urga was a lively place, but today only ruins can be seen here. The coast is overgrown with reeds, and the water is moving further and further away from the old place.
Fishermen often come to Sudochye, especially during the fishing season. Near the lake, you can stop for the night near the signal tower, pitching a tent. And then in front of you will open the unique views of the lake with many reed islands. An indescribable pleasure to see off the sunset and meet the sunrise at this place amid the cries of birds and the flapping wings of large birds.
From the southwestern side, the Aral Sea moved more than 150 kilometers away. Now this place is the endless Aralkum desert, covered with takyrs and salt marshes, reminiscent of the unearthly life from science fiction films.
There is a fairly wide network of protected areas in Uzbekistan, covering many biocenoses and ecosystems. There are 9 reserves in the country, including the Amudarya State Biosphere Reserve, 2 National Natural Parks, the Republican Center for Breeding Rare Animal Species (Ecocenter Jeyran), and 12 state reserves. The total area of protected natural areas is 20,520 sq km, that is, 5% of the entire territory of Uzbekistan.
Based on the current reserve, the Primorsky Reserve was initially created in 1939, but it was liquidated in 1941, after which it was re-created in 1971 as The Badai Tugai Nature Reserve. A special contribution to the development of the reserve was made by the first director, Viktor Lim, who for the first time in Uzbekistan was engaged in the re-acclimatization of the Bukhara deer. His scientific and practical activities are reflected in the monograph “Conservation of wildlife in the territory of Uzbekistan: history and modernity” and in more than 70 scientific articles.
Bukhara deer acclimatized in the reserve. Once upon a time, these animals inhabited the basins of the Amu Darya rivers and the lower reaches of the Syr Darya. Currently, the reserve is the keeper of the world’s largest population of Bukhara deer and therefore can be considered globally significant.
In 2011, the Cabinet of Ministers of the Republic of Uzbekistan adopted a resolution on organizing the activities of the Lower Amudarya State Biosphere Reserve. It was created within the framework of a joint project of the government of Karakalpakstan, the United Nations Development Program, and the Global Environment Facility “Conservation of “Tugai Forest” and Strengthening Protected Areas System in the Amu Darya Delta of Karakalpakstan”.
It is hoped that the reserve will help preserve valuable wildlife and at the same time sustainably develop the region’s economy. The total area of the biosphere reserve is 68717.8 hectares, of which 11 568.3 hectares are a protected area with a strict regime of protection, 6731.4 hectares of a buffer zone, and 50 418.1 hectares of an intermediate zone.
The Lower Amu Darya State Biosphere Reserve is located along the Amu Darya River at the foot of the Sultan Uvais mountain range. It borders on the Gubedag region, Dashoguz region, the Turkmen Republic. The height above sea level is 60 m. It is located along the main road A-380, 2 km from the road.
Do you know where most secrets are hidden? Maybe in ancient fortresses, located as far as possible from noisy cities and inquisitive people? It is here that the ancient walls are silent about something and hide secrets that we will never know about.
The ancient Chilpik dakhma, also known as a Tower of Silence (I – IV, IX-XI centuries) is located on the top of a hill on the right bank of the Amu Darya, 43 km south of the city of Nukus. According to the Zoroastrian tradition, the dead were brought here. Later, the bones were collected by relatives and placed in an ossuary.
Legend has it that in ancient times people left old people on the mountain. One day a young man named Chilpik decided to take his father up the mountain. On the way upstairs, he stopped to rest and sat down. His father started laughing. Chilpik asked, “What are you laughing at? After all, I leave you at the top of the mountain. ” The father replied: “When I was young, I also brought my father here and decided to rest. I just remembered this. ” Chilpik realized that it was a bleak laugh, changed his mind, and secretly courted his father at home. If his actions had been exposed, he could have been sentenced to death. After a while, Padishah fell ill. Doctors were called from everywhere for help, but no one could do anything.
Then Chilpik’s father told him that herbal tincture could cure the ruler. He went to the governor and offered him to drink this medicine. The tincture helped, and the ruler asked Chilpik how he knew about this wonderful herb. He replied: “If you will forgive me, I will reveal my secret.” The Padishah agreed. “My old father told me about this. I secretly look after him at home. If you knew about it, I would be dead. ” After this conversation, Padishah issued a decree: “From now on, older people are not left on the mountain and they need to be taken care of until their natural death.”
Jampyk-Kala is another ancient fortress located on the territory of Karakalpakstan, not far from the lower reaches of the Amu Darya River, near the Bagai-Tugai nature reserve.
Coming off the Urgench-Nukus highway, you will find yourself on the road between hills crowned with green peaks. Approaching the cherished point, bizarre ledges, dilapidated towers, and the silhouette of walls will be visible from afar. Either a mirage in the middle of the desert or a miracle created by the hands of an ancient civilization. And now, very close, being under the clay walls of the fortress, comes the realization of how ancient our world is, and how many unexplored secrets remained in the past, surrounded by double walls.
This is one of the most picturesque and majestic monuments on the right bank of the Amu Darya, which has a thoughtful configuration. In the eastern part of the settlement, there is a rectangular citadel. The rammed clay walls are decorated with closed semi-columns, the tops of which end with a pair of stepped arches.
The first building of the complex was built in the period from the 4th century BC to the 1st century AD. However, the surviving walls that we can observe now were built in the 9th-10th centuries AD. On the coins found in the settlement, the date of the last residence is indicated as the XII-XIV century AD.
In the Middle Ages, the settlement was used as a port city. During excavations, several items were discovered here, brought from different countries and regions of the East and West, including China, Egypt, Europe, and India.
Soviet archaeologist Sergey Tolstov called Jampyk Kala the most beautiful fortress of Ancient Khorezm. It really looks very impressive, especially at sunset. And even at night, under the Milky Way, the fortress seems to whisper about the past life. Who knows, maybe the spirits of the ancient Khorezmians live there inside.
Living and utility rooms have been preserved inside the fortress. Also on the territory of the fortress, there is a palace building and a citadel, on the walls of which you can see the facade decorations. Such decoration was typical for the architecture of Ancient Khorezm.
Five towers have survived to this day. One tower has an entrance to the interior. Other towers are monolithic. The entrance to the north wall overlooks the cemetery. And on the southern wall, there are traces of a breach after the Mongol invasion.
Looking out from behind the walls of the fortress, it is difficult to understand what made people build such majestic structures in the middle of the desert. Perhaps, earlier there was not a desert here at all, but a blooming oasis, or, nevertheless, the Khorezmians had something to hide from their contemporaries. We will never know about this.
The ancient fortress Sultan Uvais Dag Gyaur Kala (IV century BC – III century AD) is located on the left bank of the Amu Darya River between the Chilpik and Jampik-Kala monuments. The fortress was built in the early antique period, and today only the southern and part of the western walls have survived. Initially, the structure had the shape of a trapezoid with two-layer walls typical for the architecture of Khorezm, towers, battlements, and two-story archery galleries.
In the fortress, you can see a preserved monumental building with small halls with columns decorated with pedestals, frescoes in niches, and a sanctuary. It seems likely that this was a fire worshipers’ temple. According to scientists, the word Gyaur means “fire-worshiper”. Gyaur Kala was in active use until about the 3rd century AD.
An amazing fortress, Ayaz-Kala, is located 20 km northeast of the city of Buston, Ellikala district. The ruins of this fortress have survived to this day. Like many monuments of the Kyzyl Kum desert, strewn with ancient fortresses, the area has long been an interesting object for archaeologists.
Probably not for nothing that the fortress got its mysterious name. Translated from the Turkic Ayaz-Kala means “fortress in the wind”. Blown by the strongest winds, this fortress has stood proudly and unapproachable for many centuries, witnessing many events that took place on this land.
In general, there are three fortified settlements in Ayaz-Kala. One belongs to the III-IV centuries BC and is located right here, and the other is a necropolis fortress, belongs to the second half of the 1st century AD, and is located southwest of the main fortress.
On a high hill, not far from the salty lake Ayazkol, there is the Great Fortress of the first settlement Ayaz-Kala. The second fortress, located nearby, was founded in the Kushan era. The third fortress is located in the southwestern part of the complex. The last fortress is fenced off by a powerful fortress wall, behind which you can see the ruins of a large palace, minarets, and labyrinths.
The height of the main fortress is 169 m above sea level and rises about 60 meters above the surrounding Kyzyl Kum desert. For many centuries, these steep slopes reliably protected the fortress from raids. To the east, an open plateau adjoins the fortress, which was also a powerful obstacle to the capture of the enemy.
The strong defensive walls of the fortress were built of mud bricks and faced on 4 sides. The outer wall was 10 meters high and 2.5 meters thick. To strengthen the inner walls, semicircular towers were erected here every 10 meters, in which the inner rooms for guards and ammunition storage were located. Here, from the side of the walls, there were beautiful views of the Ayazkol salt lake.
The entrance to the fortress was located on the south side. A strong wind from the south carried all the debris and dust out of the fortress, and enemy detachments that got from the entrance to the fortress found themselves in a labyrinth. The wind, sweeping away dust and debris, confused and blocked them all the way. This was a well-thought-out defense system.
Ayaz-Kala is 200 km away from the Aral Sea. You can get there from Urgench, 80 km to your destination. Intercity buses run to Buston from Urgench, and from Buston you need to drive another 20 km to the fortress.
Most tourists come here on sightseeing buses that run from Urgench and Khiva across the bridge across the Amu Darya.
You can stop at the local yurt camps, and thus get acquainted with the daily life of the local population. After relaxing in a yurt and enjoying the local cuisine, you can go on an excursion to all three settlements, ride camels, listen to local folklore and even go to a wedding.
Toprak-Kala or “Earthen City” is one of the most valuable and majestic monuments of Ancient Khorezm. It is located on the territory of the Ellikkala region of the Republic of Karakalpakstan, 12 km from the village of Buston.
This historical monument, like many other monuments of the ancient Khorezm civilization, was discovered by an outstanding archaeologist and historian Sergei Tolstov. It happened in 1938 during exploration work. The area of the settlement is 120 hectares, and as it turns out later, once there was a whole city and a magnificent castle-palace, surrounded by an imposing defensive wall and square towers.
At one time, this magnificent castle was the core of the ancient city and was the residence of the Khorezm kings of the 2nd-3rd centuries AD. Here, behind the defensive wall, there were protective galleries from enemy attacks, there were numerous streets and shopping arcades, and a wide front street ran in the center.
The ancient city was so large that its territory included 10 quarters with about 200 utility and residential premises. Each quarter had its own centers, which housed sanctuaries and craft premises. More than 2.5 thousand people lived in the city, half of them worked in the palace residence.
The palace deserves special attention. It will not be difficult to imagine how majestic and luxurious it was if you understand that its height reached 40 meters, and the palace consisted of 150 rooms decorated with sculptures and paintings.
During the excavations, scientists noted an interesting detail of Toprak-Kala: not only the premises of the palace but also the houses of ordinary townspeople were decorated with art paintings in the Hellenistic style, which speaks of the high culture of the ancient city.
The castle consisted of three floors. A huge number of relics were found in his rooms, ranging from food remnants (bones, seeds) to fragments and whole parts of vessels, various dishes, decorations, sculptures (one of the most famous sculptures is the Statue of the Priest), paintings and even ancient Khorezmian texts.
The center of the luxurious palace, of course, was the throne room, decorated with monumental wall paintings and antique ornaments. In the Hall of the Kings, sculptures of late Hellenistic art, various portraits, and statues with very realistic faces were found.
The excavations of the Toprak-Kala castle became a sensation and yielded a huge amount of interesting material, which made it possible to conclude that in the III century the city was the progressive capital of Ancient Khorezm, ancient culture flourished on this land, and the streets and premises were so well designed that Toprak-Kala can be called the kingdom of geometry.
Uzbekistan is full of surprises. A rich culture, interesting history, and fantastic legends are associated with this country. The most unexpected corners can hide amazing places that hide the dark spirit of ancient monuments.
The Mizdakhan necropolis is an ancient cemetery and archaeological complex located 40 minutes drive from the city of Nukus, on the western outskirts of the city of Khojeyli on both sides of the road leading to the city of Kunya-Urgench. It covers an area of two hundred hectares. There are ancient burials here, some of which are 2,400 years old.
Mizdakhan is one of the oldest and largest cemeteries in the Central Asian region. Since ancient times, this place has attracted many pilgrims with its mystery. The last burials date back to the XIV century.
The most ancient city of Mizdahkan arose on the western hill in the 4th – 3rd centuries BC. The ruins of this settlement are known today under the name Gyaur Kala, which means “Fortress of the infidels.” The settlement received this name after the conquest by the Arabs of the 8th century since the inhabitants of this area were Zoroastrians and, therefore, fire worshipers. Thus, the term “gyaur” was applied to the area where, presumably, the encampments of the gyaur were located, i.e. fire worshipers. According to research, in antiquity, there was also a large trade and craft center, not far from which one of the northern branches of the Great Silk Road passed.
On the eastern hill, there are architectural monuments Mazlumkhan Sulu Mausoleum, Khalifa Erezhep, Shamun Nabi, Jumart Kassab hill, and others.
The ruins of the Khalifa-Erezhep Mausoleum are located 120-130 m south of the Mazlumkhan Sulu Mausoleum and date back to the X-XI centuries. They were once a square building 11×11 m in size. To date, only three of its walls have survived, as well as minor remains of the dome and masonry of burnt polished bricks on the front side. According to scholars, the monument was of Sufi origin. This is evidenced by its layout, as well as the name itself.
Another famous monument of the Midahkan complex is the Shamun Nabi Mausoleum, located next to the Jumart Kassab hillock. It is a rectangular structure, the main facade of which is emphasized by a portal and is oriented to the east.
Inside the mausoleum, there is another rectangular room covered with seven successively placed domes. It has been established that the construction of this structure dates back to the XIII-XIV centuries.
There is a legend according to which Shamun Gaziin Nabi was gifted with the abilities of a healer and could also work miracles. He came to these places to preach religion. Here Shamun Nabi also dealt with the treatment of patients, for which he did not take a dime. He lived in the place where his grave is now located.
According to another legend, on the territory of the cemetery, there is “World Clock” or “Clock of the Apocalypse”, which counts down to the end of the world. Every year a brick falls out of the wall of the “clock” and, as the legend says, when the last brick falls out, the apocalypse will happen. Therefore, pilgrims who come here carefully collect stones, carefully stacking them nearby and reciting a prayer for salvation.
Another legend is associated with the Mizdahkan settlement: in ancient times a rich man named Jumart lived here. Once there was a crop failure in the district, and Jumart took it upon himself to provide the population of the surrounding areas with fresh meat free of charge. Jumart is the patron saint of pastoralists. When the cattle began to die, the cattle were driven around the hill seven times. People believed that this could cure the disease.
Scientists associate the origin of the name “Jumart” with the ancient mythical hero Gaumard, associated with the half-bull-half-human of the Zoroastrian tradition, who lived in Ayryan Vejo (Khorezm), on the banks of the sacred river Daithiya (Amu Darya).
Mizdahkan continued to be used in flesh until the 14th century.
There is no exact historical data about the name of this place, but Mizdakhan is consonant with the name of the Zoroastrian deity Mazda (or Ahuramazda – the supreme god), mentioned in the sacred book “Avesta”. It is also known that the first person in the Zoroastrian religion, Gayomard, was buried under the Jumart-Kassab mound. Many scientists correlate this version with the burial place of Adam.
Another interesting detail of the necropolis is that in the territory of the entire cemetery, the number seven often appears in one way or another. In this place, the number seven began to play a special role. Many pilgrims consider it compulsory to assemble a pyramid of seven bricks near the “World Clock”. So, there is a belief that later on goodwill triumphs, and only a happy life will await ahead.
The Mazlumkhan Sulu Mausoleum of XII – XIV centuries. is an architectural semi-underground monument. A portal and a dome are located on the surface of the earth, and the main part, its central room, is located below, where a vaulted corridor with stairs leads.
The central hall of the mausoleum is square, with three deep and one shallow niche, covered with an octahedral dome. The walls of the mausoleum are faced with pale blue tiles.
Back in the early 1930s, the Russian orientalist Nekrasov found an integral tombstone covered with majolica, with epigraphic inscriptions in Persian, where a fragment of the verse was preserved: “Oh, dear one … Be proud of me! Do not think that I am unhappy in the cell of ashes. Know that I am the closest to the sanctuary, and consider that I am one of the hermits of paradise. A paradise servant … ”
A beautiful legend is associated with the mausoleum of Mazlumkhan Sulu about the daughter of the local ruler, Mazlum, whom her father decided to marry to someone who will do something unusual and surprise the world.
His daughter’s lover erected a building in the ground, leaving only the dome on the surface. Then the ruler asked him if he could throw himself down from the unfinished dome as a token of his love.
Two graves in the mausoleum are attributed to the beautiful Mazlum and her lover.
The architectural complex Narinjan Baba of the XIII-XIV centuries is one of the most revered holy places. It is a group of buildings, the initial core of which is the mausoleum. In the center of the room is the tombstone of Saint Narynjan Baba.
Tombstones with inscriptions have survived from the monument, which is now kept in the Karakalpak State Museum of Local Lore in Nukus.
In the 13th century, the mausoleum was discovered by the Muslim leader Mukhtar Vali, who built a new building for the mausoleum. Later, a room for pilgrims was completed.
This place was often used for performing Sufi rituals (dhikr).
In the early 90s of the XX century, the monument was rebuilt again, and the tombstone was faced with marble.
Hakim-Ata Suleiman Bakirgani is a legendary Sufi sheikh, the spread of Islam in Central Asia, and is also known as the most outstanding of the students of Khoja Ahmed Yasawi, the 4th caliph of the Yasawi school of Sufism. He is also commonly known as “Hakim-Ata”.
Suleiman became a disciple of Khoja Ahmed Yasawi at the age of 15. According to legend, the spirit of the Islamic righteous man and the prophet Khidr appeared to the young Suleiman and ordered him to call himself Hakim Suleiman, that is, “the wise Suleiman.”
From that moment on, Suleiman acquired the gift of composing hikmat, like his teacher. His “Bakirgan Kitabi”, “The Book of Bakirgan”, a collection of poems by his own composition and other authors gained wide popularity. Other works include Akhyr Zaman Kitabi (Book of the End of the World), which sets out the Islamic version of the Apocalypse, as well as the poem Hazrat Mariam Kitabi (The Legend of Saint Mariam), dedicated to the last days of the Virgin Mary.
Hakim Suleiman Bakirgani got his name from the name of the Bakyrgan settlement, which he founded in Karakalpakstan. His mausoleum still enjoys the attention of pilgrims.
The founding of the settlement was associated with the fulfillment of the order of Ahmed Yasawi, who sent his disciples to different parts of the world to spread Islam. The camel took Suleiman “towards the west of the city of Khorezm” (Urgench) and stopped in the Binava-Arkasy area in the reserved meadow of the ruler of the Karakhanid state Ibrahim II Bogra-khan.
Khan rejoiced at the appearance of a student of the famous Ahmed Yasawi, gave his daughter Anbar-Ana to Suleiman, provided him with land, gifted him with cattle and himself, with many close associates, became his murid (disciple).