Nukus & Moynaq

Nukus & Moynaq

The Autonomous Republic of Karakalpakstan occupies 165,000 square km and is situated in the north-western part of Uzbekistan. The Amu-Darya River flows through the territory of Karakalpakstan. This region borders on Turkmenistan (in the south), on Khorezm province (Uzbekistan) and on Kazakhstan (in the north). The population is more than 1.5 million people. The official language of the Republic of Karakalpakstan is Turkic, close to Kazakh and less so to Uzbek. Cotton, rice and melons are the main products. Life is not easy here, because today the age-old oasis of rivers, lakes, reed beds, forests and farmland that constitute the Amu-Darya delta has greatly dried up. The capital of Karakalpakstan is Nukus, 1255 km from Tashkent, 166 km from Urgench. It has the population of only 180,000 people. Nukus had developed from a small settlement since 1932. It is in the Aral Sea region, which has been registered as the dustiest place on the planet because of ecological disaster. Nukus is not a top of tourist destination.

Karakalpak people

The Nukus Art Museum is named after Igor Savitsky. Created by an eccentric, fanatical collector Igor Savitsky, this highly unusual museum managed to preserve a world-class collection of the works of artists which otherwise would have been lost forever. The collector secured a huge set of samples of Soviet art of the 1920s and 30s, saving it from communist destruction. It is the second best gallery of Russian avant-garde in the world after the Russian Museum in St.Petersburg. There are 90,000 pieces in Savitsky’s collection. It contains items executed in accordance with state approved socialist realism alongside with dissident; decadent art repressed and rejected by the communist regime. The State Museum offers an interesting exhibition of the fauna and flora of the region. There are also displays of the Aral Sea and local health problems, of archaeology and ancient history. Samples of traditional jewellery, costumes, musical instruments and yurt decorations are excellent.


Nukus is the sixth-largest city in Uzbekistan and the capital of the Republic of Karakalpakstan. The population of Nukus as of January 1, 2018 was approximately 312,100. The Amu Darya river passes west of the town. The city is best known for its world-class Nukus Museum of Art.

History of Nukus

The citie’s name comes from the old tribal name of the Karakalpaks, Nukus. Nukus developed from a small settlement in 1932 into a large, modern Soviet city with broad avenues and big public buildings by the 1950s. The city’s isolation made it host to the Red Army’s Chemical Research Institute, a major research and testing center for chemical weapons.


For thousand of years Zoroastrism was widely spread throughout Khoresm, Sogdiana and Baktria. The unique historical/archaeological complex, the Mizdakhan, was discovered in the Lower Amudarya, 3 km from the town of Khodgeili. This complex is situated on three hills where a mysterious “clock of the world” is ticking. An ancient cemetery of hundred hectares stretches through this area. Its age, according to the historians, numbers 2 000 years. This cemetery is considered one of the most ancient in Asia. According to early chronicles, a large town had existed in this place. Many burials were preserved till present days in the eastern part of the cemetery. Mizdahan was also a big center of trade and crafts for the Khoresm state and one of the off roads of the Great Silk Road traversed here. The complex consists of the Mazlumkhan-sulu mausoleum (12th –14th centuries), Gyaur-kala (4th century BC), Shamun-nabi mazar (18th century), the Jumart kassab and the Erejhep khalifa mausoleum (9-11th centuries).


The Amudarya River, which seasonal high waters brought irrigation and fertile silt to the fields toprakof farmers, not only gave life and wealth to the area, but also brought death and chaos. The refractory riverbed of the Amudarya was famous for its catastrophic floods in the past. That is why ancient residents of Khoresm erected their towns on the desert highlands, but never on the river banks. They protected the rulers’ palaces, military barracks, fire and sun worshiping temples and craftsmen’s blocks with impregnable walls. In 1938 well-known Soviet archaeologist, S.P. Tolstov, during exploratory works 50 km from the east bank of the Amudarya, discovered the ruins of an ancient town with an area of more than 17 hectares (500×350 m) surrounded by fortress walls that were 20 meters high and 12 meters thick. Thus, Toprak-Kala or “Earthy town” was discovered and is considered to be the capital of the great dynasty that ruled over Khoresm from the 2nd –3rd centuries AD. The most valuable godsends from the dig are sculptures and frescos. These were seriously damaged by rains and excessive temperatures over the centuries because most of them had been made of the same material as the magnificent buildings themselves – from ordinary clay.


Kizil-kala. The neighboring fortress of Kizil-Kala originally served as an additional afterthought, but outlived the Toprak-Kala by ten centuries. Despite relatively small dimensions (65×55 meters) this fortress had double walls, each eight meters thick, to prevent the enemies’ access to the inner premises by the means of battering rams. Thanks to such a defensive design, the Kizil-Kala protected the borders of Khoresm until the invasion of Genghis-khan’s hordes in the 13th century. Local citizens believe that evil ghosts of the desert inhabit a very long underground passage and that the souls of their ancestors still connect Kizil-Kala and Toprak-Kala. Uncountable riches are also believed to be hidden there.

Ayaz Kala

The ancient city-site Ayaz-Kala, or the “Windy Citadel” may be referred to as a world wonder. ayazIt is situated 20 km. to the northeast of Toprak-Kala, between the moving sands of the Kizil-Kum and the holy mountains of the Sultan Uvais range. An extensive site of the ancient town located on a flat highland appeared somewhere in the 4th century BC. Five centuries later, during the dynasty of the Kushan Empire, this town was fortified with an amazing castle on the top of a steep hill which measured more than 60 meters. Even pedestrians without luggage have had difficulties in overcoming this ascent. The walls of the Ayaz-Kala faced the four sides of the world. The only exit with a rather complicated labyrinth faces south. This construction was done with reason to allow the prevailing winds to blow out dust and dirt from the town itself.
Muynak (the Aral Sea) – is 210 km north of Nukus, once the largest fishing port on the Aral but now it stands 40 km from the water. The port of Muynak poses as a silent witness to its death throes, the victim of a soviet crusade to overcome nature. Ship’s graveyard with dozens of deserted fishing boats smothered in sand is to the north of the town stretching for two km.

Aral Sea

For millennia the Aral Sea was one of the planet’s largest inland bodies of water, straddling what is now Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan and for thousands of year was fed by two major rivers, the Amu Darya and the Syr Darya. Local population prospered as farmers, fishermen, merchants etc.

This changed after Uzbek S.S.R. became part of the Soviet empire in the early 1920s when Stalin decided to turn Central Asian republics into giant cotton plantations, undertaking one of the most ambitious engineering projects in world history, hand-digging thousands of miles of irrigation canals to channel the water from Amu Darya and Syr Darya into surrounding desert.

The Aral Sea disaster & the effect on nature.

The salt covering the road sides is the first indication that something has gone terribly wrong in the area. The Aral Sea, once one of the four largest lakes in the world, has been shrinking since the 1960s and today is a mere 10% of its original size, leaving behind desertification on a mass scale and the destroying of nature and livelihoods on an unprecedented scale.
The causes are surprisingly simple, human stupidity. It was decided in the early 1960s, by the centrally planned Soviet government to divert the two rivers that fed the Aral Sea, the Amu Darya and Syr Darya, in order to irrigate the desert.

See our tours:
Uzbekistan Aral Sea Tour

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