NUKUS & ARAL SEA

The isolated Soviet creation of Nukus is one of Uzbekistan's least appealing cities and gets few visitors compared to its attractive Silk Road cousins. With its giant boulevards and decaying apartment blocks, in many ways it feels like Uzbekistan 25 years ago. However, as the gateway to the fast-disappearing Aral Sea and home to the remarkable Savitsky Museum – one of the best collections of Soviet art in the world – there is actually a good reason to come here.
Nukus is far away from everything and surrounded by a rather monotonous landscape of desert with dry shrubs. However, it might surprise you that Nukus, is in fact, a capital. The capital of the autonomous republic of Karakalpakstan.
Nukus is also changing quickly. Recent modernization projects have destroyed much of its Soviet past. Replacing older buildings with new flat apartments.  
Despite its isolation there are, however, a few interesting things to do in Nukus for the foreign traveller that make it a worthwhile destination in your Uzbekistan itinerary.  
 
 

 
Savitsky Museum
The Savitsky Museum houses one of the most remarkable art collections in the former Soviet Union. About half of the paintings were brought here in Soviet times by artist and ethnographer Igor Savitsky, who managed to preserve an entire generation of avant-garde work that was proscribed and destroyed elsewhere in the country for not conforming to the socialist realism of the times.
The paintings found protection in these isolated backwaters and it’s interesting to hear how this nonconformist museum survived during the Soviet era. An English-language guided tour can really help to contextualise the collection and acts as an introduction to the fascinating stories behind many of the paintings.
The museum owns some 90,000 artefacts, including more than 15,000 paintings, only a fraction of which are actually on display. The museum also has some archaeological displays from the Ellik Kala fortresses, including Zoroastrian ossuaries from Shilpik (Chilpak) and a bodhisattva statue from Guldursan. There are also some ethnographic displays, with a fine collection of jewellery, camel bags and wedding jewellery.
 
Muynak & Ships Cemetery
Imagine the sound of sea waves and the sound of water watching the Sandy Shore. This was the sound who didn't hear. Moynak which was once washed by the fresh waters of Aral Sea. Muynak is one of the cities that have experienced the scale of environmental tragedy. The local population was severely affected by the decline in the level of the Aral Sea.
The ship cemetery became a place of pilgrimage for tourists in the last century. The sea is gone. On the site of the former pier, you can now find rusty boats, all that remains of the numerous Aral flotilla. 
The banners placed here contain information about the reduction of the sea area from the 1960s to the present day. Its water area was more than 68 thousand square kilometers. Today, only 1/10 of it has been preserved. A unique natural object – the fourth salt lake in the world - for its fascinating property to resemble the sea with its blueness, has secured this name forever. Now few people talk about it as a lake, only as a sea, so this disaster is so sensitive for a country that has lost its sea. 
 
Aral Sea
In the 1960s, when both Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan were still part of the Soviet Union, the Russians decided to divert Amu Darya and Syr Darya, the two major inflow rivers that fed the Aral Sea, to irrigate a desert land to produce cotton and become one of the top world’s cotton exporters. In fact, it actually achieved this ambitious objective and, by the end of the 1980s, Uzbekistan was the world’s largest cotton exporter. Therefore, over the decades, diverting the water until the Aral Sea shrank almost completely, it has become an actual, dry and desolated desert.
 
 
 
Yurt Camp
From Muynak 200 km off-road drive brings you to the actual seashore where you will be welcomed at the yurt camp. The camp offers several traditional Karakalpak yurts at the Aral sea for the guests relax. At the yurt camp there are shower cabines, WC, kitchen, dining room, tapchans, umbrellas, tables, benches and special place for camp fire for the guests use.
The meal is arranged beforehand. If the guests wish to prepare their own food at the camp there is all necessary kitchen stuff: wooden oven, gas stove, pure water, pots, tea-pots, plates and cups, as well as the recycled plates and cups.

All the guests, without exemption, note the clear night sky with the bright rash of stars from horizon to horizon and of course the welcoming Milky Way. That's why all the guests call this camp the "Hotel of Million Stars". 






Mizdakhan
On a hill 20km west of Nukus, near Hojeli, are the remains of ancient Mizdakhan, once the second-largest city in Khorezm. Inhabited from the 4th century BC until the 14th century AD, Mizdakhan remained a sacred place even after Timur (Tamerlane) destroyed it; tombs and mosques continued to be built here right up to the 20th century.
The most impressive of the tombs is the restored underground vault of the Mausoleum of Mazlum Khan Slu, dating from the 12th to 14th centuries, and the seven-domed Mausoleum of Shamun Nabi.
On the neighbouring hill towards the Turkmen border are the remains of a 4th- to 3rd-century BC fortress called Gyaur-Qala, which is worth checking out.

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