Living in Israel, I have never heard of trips to Karakalpakstan, an amazing country that sometimes seems undiscovered and partially unknown to many travel lovers.
Visiting places on the territory of the South Aral Sea region, your gaze as travelers will cover various directions of ecological, historical, ethnographic, gastronomic, and pilgrimage character. Today, this potential is practically unknown to foreign travelers, since for many years of the post-Soviet times the region was practically closed to foreign citizens. The reference books contain the scantiest information about the republic. And for this reason, a visit to Karakalpakstan, of course, can be exclusive for a foreign tourist.
First of all, of undoubted interest are tourist routes combining travel in the Republic of Karakalpakstan and trips to archaeological sites and the coast of the Aral Sea region.
Archaeological sites represent the majestic ruins of antiquity and the Middle Ages. Most of them have not yet been studied, but the available materials represent the uniqueness and originality of these monuments on a global scale. Architectural complexes and buildings combine elements of ancient Persian, Greek, and European architecture. In ancient Khorezm, the cultures of Zoroastrianism, Buddhism, early forms of Christianity, and Islam existed side by side.
Today, there are more than 300 monuments of history, culture, and archaeology, which include the majestic monuments Toprak-Kala (1-3 centuries), Kyzyl-Kala, Ayaz-Kala (4-2 centuries BC), Ayaz Kala (1st-8th centuries AD), Kyrk-Kyz-Kala (4th-century BC), Janpyk-Kala (1st-14th centuries AD) Zoroastrian Dakhma Chilpyk (1st-8th centuries), Mizdarkhan, which includes a whole archaeological complex with the Gyaur-Kala fortress (4-2 centuries BC), the Nazlumkhan Sulu caravanserai, the Shamun Nabi mausoleum, and the Khalfa Erezhep madrasah (10-14,17 centuries).
According to your taste and interests, you can pick up to see different sights of the region.
For example, when it comes to cultural tours there are some interesting places to see. In the city of Nukus, since 1966, there has been a State Museum of Arts named after the founder of the museum, Igor Vitalyevich Savitsky, a man who tirelessly and farsightedly collected the museum’s collections. Thanks to his work, unique collections of ancient and medieval art of Khorezm, ethnography, and folk applied art, painting, graphics, and sculpture of Russian Avant-garde artists of the 20s and 30s of the 20th century, artists of Uzbekistan and Karakalpakstan were collected. In recent years, the museum has been visited by hundreds and thousands of guests from various countries of the world. His collections are featured in exhibitions and halls in many renowned galleries and museums around the world. Currently, the gallery is presented in two new exhibition buildings of the museum.
From the ethnographic point of view, it is worth taking a look at the yurt workshop in the city of Chimbay. Here you can see the continuity of the continuing generations of yurt-makers.
You might also go for ecological tours. The geographical conditions, flora, and fauna of the region are diverse and rich. In the Republic of Karakalpakstan, over 25% of the tugay forests of the entire Amu Darya delta are preserved. The animal world is also diverse. For example, in the Lower Amudarya Biosphere Reserve (Badaytugay) located in the spurs of the Sultanuizdag ridge, there are more than 800 Bukhara deers and other species of animals and birds, various shrubs, and other plants.
Of course, Karakalpakstan is famous for the ecological disaster that occurred in connection with the shallowing of the Amu Darya delta and the drying up of the Aral Sea. Travelers are interested in the “graveyard of ships” preserved on the former coast near the fishing city of Muynak, which remained “eternally locked” in the sands of Aralkum.
There is a museum of the Aral Sea in the city, created in the mid-80s by a former doctor-leprologist – Orynbay Yeserkepov. The museum presents unique photographs of the Aral Sea, the life of the people of the Aral Sea region, materials of the flora and fauna of the region, and ethnography.
The paintings of two artists, Rafael Matevosyan and Faim Madgazin, are unique. These are painters who have devoted most of their creative life to the theme of the Aral Sea. In their works, they reflected not only the active life of the people who inhabited the Aral Sea coast but also the tragedy of the region associated with the drying up of the sea. The exposition of the museum also includes a demonstration of documentaries about the life and existence of the Aral Sea.
Places for pilgrims to visit are such prominent places of the Islamic East as Naringjon-Bobo (10-14 centuries, Turtkul region), Sultan Uvais Bobo (13-17 centuries, Beruniy region), Shamun Nabi (12-14 centuries, Khodjeyly district). ), Hakim Suleiman Ata (Muynak region), and many others. Each of the items listed above reflects various ethnographic motives of the population of Karakalpakstan.
During your visit to the Republic of Karakalpakstan, it is worth making a small introductory tour of the amazing land that always excites visitors – this is the Aral Sea and the Aral Sea region, which keeps the secrets of ancient ancestors and the secrets of the harsh nature. Someone considers these places impossible for existence and development, while someone is attracted here like a magnet since these lands are covered with romantic events that have gone into the historical past.
Despite a large amount of different information about the Aral Sea, we never stop getting to know its rich history, traditional culture, and customs – which are endlessly remembered by the old-timers who once lived on the shores of this most picturesque sea – the Aral Sea.
Eyewitnesses of that wealth of the Aral Sea region are still alive – both fishermen and residents. The region borders on the majestic Ustyurt Plateau, which has preserved to this day remarkable traces of Ancient and Medieval culture. These are archaeological sites that have survived to this day as settlements, fortresses, burial grounds, caravanserais, and signal towers along the Great Silk Road.
The splendor of the landscape of Ustyurt, bordering the modern shores of the Aral Sea, is known in the world today as one of the remarkable steppe plateaus, surrounded by beautiful cliffs – canyons. The average height of the canyons is up to 230 meters above sea level. The total area of the Plateau is 16 million hectares, of which 7.1 million hectares in the eastern part are located within the borders of the Republic of Karakalpakstan. The height of Ustyurt above sea level ranges from 100 to 300 meters.
It is difficult to imagine Karakalpakstan and its culture without the vast steppes of the Ustyurt Plateau with its beautiful canyons. This is an amazing territory that keeps the secrets of a deep history associated with the early nomadic tribes of the Massagets, Sarmatians, Alans, Oguzes, and Kipchaks.
The Ustyurt plateau is the place of intersection and interlacing of many caravan routes connecting Central Asia with Western Asia. Today on its territory you can see the ruins of numerous caravanserais, signal towers, as well as necropolis belonging to the nomads of the 2nd-4th centuries BC.
It is no coincidence that sometimes shark and whale teeth, or some parts of the skeleton, are found on the former bottom of the sea. For the first time, fossilized vertebral bones of a whale and redfish that lived in the Oligocene period were found on the coast of the Aral Sea in the villages of Saryshyganak and Akespe, at a depth of 80 m. Similar finds are found in the vicinity of the Chilpyk archaeological site, and on the spurs of the Sultanuizdag mountains. All this testifies to the links of the Aral Sea with the ocean for a long time.
Today it is not easy to talk about the Aral Sea, which was replenished by the two great rivers Amu Darya and the Syr Darya. Both rivers brought the Aral Sea up to 60 cubic kilometers of water per year. The rivers carried with them more than 200 million tons of suspended sediment (minerals).
If you are interested in the most ancient monuments of Islam, you should visit the Sultan Uvais-Bobo Complex, located in the Beruniy region of Karakalpakstan.
This place is associated with the work of a contemporary of the Prophet Muhammad – Uvays ibn Amir al-Qarani, who devoted his life to collecting and studying hadith. His followers erected a symbolic mausoleum in his honor and turned it into a place of pilgrimage.
Now this place is considered sacred. An amazing pond with sacred fish has been preserved here, which are carefully guarded by local residents.
Uzbekistan is full of surprises. A rich culture, interesting history, and fantastic legends envelop this country. In the most unexpected corners, amazing places can lurk, concealing the gloomy spirit of ancient monuments.