Holiday in Central Asia (25): Karakalpakstan in Uzbekistan

It was our penultimate day (Day 24) in Central Asia and, leaving behind Khiva after three nights, it was back to travelling, back to bumpy roads, back to the endless desert. However, the temperature had suddenly fallen from around 35C to about 25C which was more comfortable. 

Over the last few weeks, we have spent a lot of time in different parts of Uzbekistan, working roughly from east to west, starting in the north-east at the Fergana Valley and finishing now in the north-west in a region called Khorezm which is the delta of the Amu-Darya River. Historically, what the Nile is to Egypt, the Amu-Darya has been to Central Asia.  

For this morning, we reunited with local guide Ana to travel to a part of the Khorezm region called Elliq-Qala (Fifty Fortresses). We visited two of these fortresses quite close to the town of Buston, but otherwise in the middle of the empty desert. 

First was Ayala-Qala which was at its height in the 6th & 7th centuries. It was quite a tough climb to the top and only three members of the group – I was one – bothered to do it.  The second was Toprak-Qala which dates from the 3rd & 4th centuries.  A new set of stone steps made access relatively easy. Before leaving the area, sitting in our coach we had a packed lunch.

After lunch, we drove a further 150 km (over 90 miles) to a place called Nukus which “The Lonely Planet” calls “one of Uzbekistan’s least appealing cities”.  This is the capital of a semi-autonomous part of Uzbekistan which is styled the Republic of Karakalpakstan (the name means ‘black hat’). It has an area of 166,590 sq km – a bit bigger than England & Wales and over one third the total area of Uzbekistan – but a population of only two million. It has a right to leave Uzbekistan at any time, but it is so poor that this would not make any sense. 

Nukus’s only real tourist attraction is the Savitsky Museum, an impressive art gallery founded by the Russian Igor Savitsky (1915-1984) who somehow managed to curate the world’s second largest collection of Soviet avant-garde art (the largest is in St Petersburg). The museum opened in 1968 and the new building was completed in 2017. We spent about an hour and a half here with a museum guide called Muhabbat who knew the collection extremely well but had never heard of Frida Kahlo. 

Dinner was just around the corner of our hotel at a Turkish restaurant called “Sofram” – it was good to ring the changes with two types of pide. 


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