Her name was Dilnas and she was different from other students. We all were different there – Uzbeks, Russians, Tartars, a Korean girl, and me – representing the Jews in the class. But there was a girl whose name was in consonance with a well-known Uzbek name Dilnoz but still sounded slightly different. Later we found out that she and one other boy were from Nukus, the capital of Karakalpakstan, and that they were Karakalpaks. This was my first encounter with the people of that region.
They were in love but their parents were against their relationship. I even don’t remember the reason why they were. But it was sad to see how the young couple avoided being seen together when their parents came to visit. They used to leave their homes not telling anyone that in an hour or so they will be coming together to Tashkent. And they left the lyceum dorms together to come to Nukus separately. Of, course, they had no future together. And as I remember staying in touch with Dilnas we’ve never discussed the topic. Both of them have families now. And I guess no one ever knew what was going on during those two years when they studied in Tashkent.
We studied together in a lyceum which was a common practice back then at the beginning of the 2000-s. The municipality of Tashkent decided to open lyceums for the state universities which turned to be very effective since the university staff taught the program needed for the entrance exams and future study there.
I never met the Karakalpaks since then but I know that these are people living together with other nations in Uzbekistan for decades turning now into centuries.
Karakalpakstan is located in the north-west of Uzbekistan and is its largest region. Most of this region is occupied by the Kyzylkum desert, the Aral Sea, and the Ustyurt plateau. The most ancient settlements here date back to the Stone Age.
The Karakalpaks belong to the Central Asian ethnic groups with bold Mongoloid features. Earlier they led semi-nomadic life, practiced agriculture, cattle breeding, and fishing. For the most part, they lived in yurts (nomadic temporary houses). In spite of the fact that today the native customs are being kept only by the old generation, the signs of ancient traditions can be traced in the house interiors, clothing, food, peculiar applied art.
Karakalpakistan truly proves to be a vivid example of times correlation. Beautiful and tempting, promising surprising meetings and discoveries, it is ready to impart its mysteries and share its legends.
You can enjoy the unique nature and fauna of the Amu Darya Delta and the Ustyurt plateau, live the real life of nomads in Karakalpak yurts on the shore of the Aral Sea, experience the rich culture of the Karakalpak people, visit local celebrations in honor of marriage or the birth of a child, capture a flock of pink flamingos that fly every spring to lake Sudochye, and much more.
Karakalpakstan has always been famous for masters of applied art since it has developed over many centuries. Among the general diversity, one can single out the Karakalpak headdress, called “Shogirme”. As well as traditional musical instruments, such as dutar, gyrzhek or balaman’s flute invented by local shepherds, kamys-nai flute and duduk reed pipe. The region has its own distinctive ornaments that are applied to clothing, carpets, and fabric. Local artisans will also not let you forget about staying in this beautiful region. Masters make beautiful crafts from wood, leather, and other materials.
The traditional cuisine of the Karakalpaks intersects the culinary art of their many Central Asian countries, such as Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan and many others. The main dishes, as well as in other regions, are pilaf, manti, samsa, and of course fish. Fish is prepared here according to special recipes, so this is the first thing you should try while being in Karakalpakstan. But these dishes also have their own peculiarities due to the fact that here people eat not only beef and mutton, but also horsemeat and camels that are unusual for a foreigner. Side dishes such as potatoes, rice, beans, and other vegetables and cereals are widespread.
Nukus, the capital of Karakalpakstan, is a beautiful modern town, the center of the economic and cultural life of the republic with an international airport. From there you can get to the major cities of Karakalpakstan – Muynak, Kungrad, Beruni, Turtkul, and other places.
Nukus is one of the most north-western cities of Uzbekistan. It was built on the site of an ancient settlement called Shurcha, which was on this place until the 4th century AD. According to archaeologists, this settlement was used as a defensive structure built to protect the borders of the Khorezm state and the waterway passing through the Amu Darya.
The first version of the origin of the name of the city “Nukus” came from the name of a very old Karakalpak family. This is hardly mentioned in history textbooks, but some researchers claim that the word “Nukus” came from the Persian root “Nukus”, which translates as “nine people.”
According to the second version of the name, it came from the historical name of the Amu Darya River – “Oxus”.
Nukus received the status of the capital of Karakalpakstan on April 1, 1932.
Everyone who is visiting Nukus should certainly see Karakalpakistan State Museum of Art named after its founder, the famous artist Igor Savitskiy. The museum, also known as the “Louvre in the desert” displays not only works of painters but also a wide variety of local artifacts found in the region, which attest to the continuity of cultures.
The Savitsky Museum is considered one of the largest museums in Uzbekistan, and the collection of its exhibits is the second in the world among the collections of the Russian avant-garde.
The Berdakh State Museum was created with the aim of acquainting residents and guests of the region with its history from antiquity to today. The building was erected in 1997, in connection with the 170th anniversary of this great Karakalpak poet and thinker.
Another large city in Karakalpakistan is Muynak. It is located 200 km from Nukus and was once located on the shores of the Aral Sea. Now, this city attracts tourists who love extreme travel. The ship cemetery, located not so far from the city, can please photographers and immerse people not for long in that post-apocalyptic world that is shown in many films.
Also, at the ship cemetery, the annual abstract electronic music festival called “Stihiya” takes place.
At the event, eminent DJs perform, the mission of the festival is to raise awareness of the world community about the problem of the Aral Sea region and to contribute to its revival.
Muynak used to be a rich port island in the Amu Darya delta, the main sea gate of Uzbekistan. Ships entered with a load of fuel, fish, and food, and left with bales of cotton. In the second half of the XX century, the Aral Sea began to disappear, and today the territory of this huge lake and the former port town is just about 100 kilometers.
All that remains of the city’s fishing fleet is at the bottom of the former sea near the city’s border, turning into an object of interest for photographers and video directors. Today Muynak has the status of a city-museum and is a silent reproach for all humankind, a testament to the environmental disaster. It is interesting that even after the Aral Sea tragedy, nature seems to help people in the region. A couple of kilometers from the city a freshwater lake has formed and solved the problem of drinking water for the local population.
Over the past few years, Muynak has been transformed. In addition to the once-lost seaport, the area has something to surprise the visitors of the country. For example, these are the delicious Karakalpak cuisine, hospitality, interesting national traditions, and just good people, who know firsthand what it means to cherish and appreciate the simplest thing that a person has – water!