Nukus is often the starting point or final destination on the tour through Uzbekistan.Notwithstanding the worsening ecological condition and the location of the modern city in the heart of the Kizil Kum desert.It is the capital of Karakalpakstan,autonomous republic inside Uzbekistan and thus the regional centre and transport hub of the republic.

The Karakalpak (Black Hat),whose ethnic umbrella gives the republic its raison d`etre,are a Turkic people whose language,traditions and clan structure have closer links to the Kazakh than the Uzbek and whose physiognomy owes more to the nomadic Mongol than to the settled Persian.Their ancestrial heartland was traditionally centred upon the lower Volga and Syr Darya rivers and northern Aral,but towards the end of the 18th century the clans were gradually driven southwest into the Amu Darya delta by relentless Kazakh aggression.Their signed treaty of friendship with the ambassador of Peter the Great in 1722 meant little in these new lands and they were made recultant and unruly subjects of the Khans of Kungrad and later Khiva.In 1827 a Karakalpak rebellion held the town of Kungrad for a time but it was bloodily suppressed by Khivan forces.In 1873 Karakalpak lands were ceded to Russia and rose restlessly under Soviet rule through the ranks of nationality from an autonomous province in the Kazakh republic(1925),to autonomy in the Russian Federation (1930),to an autonomous republic in its own right (1932),to an autonomous republic inside the Uzbek republic (1936).In these dizzy days of ethnic assertiveness the republic`s status in somewhat ambiguous,but practical autonomy stretches little furthes than a national flag,emblem and TV station.approximately 30 per cent of the population are ethnic Karakalpak,30 per cent Uzbek and 30 per cent Turkmen.Only 2 per cent are Russians,descended mainly from Cossack fishermen,and most of these are leaving.

Today the land is characterized by impending ecological disaster and entrenched popular Islam,a heady mix of environmentalists and pilgrims and a tiny trickle of tourists.


KARAKALPAK STATE ART MUSEUM by the name of IGOR SAVITSKIY. Originally was from Kiev and raised in Moscow, Savitskiy fell in love with Karakalpakstan and its folk art on an important archaeological expedition he joined in 1950.To the amazement of the local population,he salvaged objects of Karakalpak cultural heritage and thus was able to become director of the new State Museum in 1966.He was also able to use to museum premises to collect work by artists living in Central Asia and simultaneously amass and store forbidden avant-garde art through his close connections with artistic circles in Moscow.Today the collection of Russian art is the largest in the world outside of Moscow.Savitskiy devoted his life and strength to the museum and its exhibits and personally appointed this successor.The stunning new building and outstanding funds comprising 90 000 pieces and surprising contrast of applied arts and modern fine art and the excellent exhibition of archaeological finds of ancient khorezm make for an unforgettable day at the museum.Visitors have the opportunity to become a member of the international NGO “Friends of Nukus Museum”.

Nukus is the starting point to the Golden Ring of Khorezm,a tour along the relics of a high cultural defined in urban centers,the “kal`as”,which thrived 2 000 years along the original Great Silk Road and river bed of the Amudarya,before the river changed its course.

TOPRAK KAL`A, this 2 000-year-old ruined city fortress,350m by 500m,framed by the brooding Sultan Vais Dag Mountains,is the best explored in the region.The settlement grew up around the first-century B.C. to peak around the third century under Kushan and White Hephtalite rule left the region open to devastating Turkic raids which destroyed irrigation canals and led to the depopulation of the town in the sixth century.

The huge royal citadel dominates the rectangular city and,together with the still-strong city walls,provides an eloquent testament to the fragility of medieval life.Although the three-arce citadel is clearly etched by a series of internal courtyards,rooms and decorative niches and is surrounded by three,three-storeyed,25m high towers,the strengths of the site lies in its general impact rather than fine details.Three main halls have,however,been identified by archaeologists:the state Hall of Kings,decorated with royal scultures;the Hall of Victories,whose seated pantheon included the Hellenistic God Nike;and the Hall of Black Guards,named after the scultures of Indian guardsmen recruited into the Khorezmian script,wall paintings depicting river reeds,tigers,stylized red hearts,fantastic griffins and dancing couples were all recovered by Professor Tolstov`s 1938 desert excavations and have since been sent to St.Petersburg`s Hermitage Museum.

AYAZ KAL`A. 40km to the north-east of the town of Beruni,the impressive ruins are perched high on a hill overlooking the once fertile plains.Ayaz Kal`a is 3-tiered into a cliff,as is distinctly visible when approaching by road from Beruni.It is quite miraculous how the raw bricks of the walls have withstood the test of time.The exact purpose of Ayaz Kal`a has not been determined as of yet by scientists for there is little indication that it was used as human habibat.

Once supported one of its earliest vinicultures,say archaeologists who dug up three grape presses in the oldest of the three structures here.Twelve golden statues were also discovered in the ruins of local ruler Ayaz Khan`s residence,built in the 4th to 3rd centuries B.C.,and removed to the Hermitage in St.Petersburg.

MIZDAKHKAN COMPLEX (4th century B.C.). The ancient Mizdakhkan archeological complex is located on three hills in the south-western suburbs of Khodjeli town.It includes the fortress Gyaur-Kal`a,the Shamun Nabi mausoleum,the Mazlumkhan Sulu,Khalfa Erejep and a unique example of underground caravanserai.During the archeological excavations,unique ossuaries were unearthed,the burial receptacles of the Zoroastrians next to coins,household items,glass ware and highly artistic objects made from gold.Mizdakhkan definitely rates among the most magic and interesting complexes of Khorezm.

The legend about the Mausoleum Mazlumkhan claims that a beautiful girl by the name of Mazlumkhan and a builder fell in love with each other.To prove his love,the builder set out to erect the highest tower in her honor.When Mazlumkhan`s father however refused to allow his daughter to marry the ambitious builder,the desperate couple jumped together from that very tower to meet a sad ending.Another legend recounts the story of the Caliph Erejep,claiming the mausoleum to be the tomb of the holy man who so strongly propagated the religion of Islam at its earliest stage.The remaining walls testify to its former impressive size.According to yet another legend,Adam`s grave is at the same spot.Near the entrance of the mausoleum is a pile of baked brick.It is said that each year one baked brick falls down from the wall and the day the last brick drops is doomsday.No need to worry though,the walls of the mausoleum are rather high and thus doomsday will not arrive soon.

MUYNAK AND THE ARAL SEA. The Aral Sea once the fourth largest inland sea in the world.The landlocked port of Muynak stands as a silent witness to its death throes.Muynak was once the largest port on the Aral Sea,a finger of coast where a significant part of the aral catch was processed and canned.In 1921 as the Volga region suffered a terrible famine,Lenin appealed to the Aral fleet for help and within days 21,000 tonnes of fish had been dispatched,saving thousands of Russian lives. Today it is a nightmarish town of stagnant,corrosive pools and deserted factories,the victim of a Soviet crusade to overcome nature.Not a single fish can survive in the sea,10 000 fishermen have lost their jobs and Muynak has lost its raison d`etre.The only reason to visit it is a macabre one;to witness the death throes of the sea and the dramatic sight of dozens of deserted fishing boats(known as “ship`s graveyard”) rusted at their moorings,submerged in sand,riding the crest of a sand dune.