The water that serveth all that country is drawn by ditches out of the River Oxus, unto the great destruction of the said river, for which it cause itfalleth not unto the Caspian Sea as it hath done in times past, and in short time all that land is like to be destroyed, and to become a wilderness for want of water, when the river of Oxus shall fail.
Anthony Jenkinson, 1558
Aral Sea was once the fourth largest inland sea in the world. Moynaq, was the largest port on the Aral, 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 Moynaq 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 rusted at their moorings, submerged in sand, riding the crest of a sand dune, 100 kilometres (60 miles) from the shoreline. Many of the ships have been sold off for scrap in recent years so you might have to hunt around to find some. To visit the ship’s graveyard continue north through the town from the bus station for two kilometres and head northeast, over the crunchy, white top soil of salt and sea shells, towards the large canning factory. A solitary taster of the debacle ahead lies on display at the bus station and a wider view of the area can be gained from the northern promontory. The town has a small museum (closed Sunday) with photos and paintings of the Aral’s heyday.
The city Nukus (Nokis in Karakalpak) is of limited interest to either tourists or inhabitants and is best used as a stopover for visits to the Aral Sea. Once you are here, however, its three affiliated museums are a must. The Karakalpak State Museum, Igor Savitsky and Appled Art Museum.
The city Nukus (Nokis in Karakalpak) is of limited interest to either tourists or inhabitants and is best used as a stopover for visits to the Aral Sea. Once you are here, however, its three affiliated museums are a must. The Karakalpak State Museum, Igor Savitsky and Appled Art Museumю The Karakalpakstan State Museum of Art named after I.V. Savitsky – also known, simply, as the Nukus Museum – hosts the world’s second largest collection of Russian avant gardeart (after the Russian Museum in St. Petersburg). It is also home to one of the largest collections of archeological objects and folk, applied and contemporary art originating from Central Asia. The highlight of Nukus is the recently relocated Igor Savitsky Museum, home to one of the finest collections of Soviet avant-garde art from the 1920th and 30th, an age of relative artistic freedom before the demands from the centre changed in the mid 1930th and Stalinist socialist realism became the only acceptable form of Soviet art. Nukus’s backwater obscurity enabled Savitsky to collect a wide spread of artistic life, from local art to Russian icons, at a time when the more celebrated museums in Moscow and in Petersburg had their wrists ideologically tied. Today the museum holds some 80,000 exhibits ranging from the Khorezmian art of Toprak Kala to Karakalpak cubism, which is the very knowledgeable and English-speaking director, Marinika Babnazarova, can place into sharper context. A few hundred metres left, out of the museum, hides the affiliated Museum of Applied Arts, where further fine examples of local fabrics, traditional dress and silver jewellery point to a distinct cultural tradition that is still hinted at today in local faces, although not local dress.
Islam’s influence on Central Asia for over a millennium is so pervasive that it is difficult for the modern-day traveller to envisage a time when nomadic shamanism, Persian Zoroastrianism and Indian Buddhism predated the monotheism of Islam. A visit to the archeological remains of Kara Tepe and Fayaz Tepe, however, requires from the visitor just such a leap of faith.
Fayaz Tepe is located two kilometers north of the Imam Termezi mausoleum and it consists of the archaeological remains of a two-millenniums old Buddhist temple and monastery complex, whose impact is perhaps more intellectual than visual. The large central courtyard, the heart of the Buddhist temple, is flanked to the west by the main living quarters of the monastery and to the east by the main refectory. The brick stupa to the north of the temple dates from the first century ВС and is only the inner section of a much larger construction that rose from the cross shaped foundations. Clay and gypsum statues of Buddha, a series of murals depicting various adorants in Kushan dress and fragments of pottery containing Brahmi, Punjabi, Kharoshti and Bactrian scripts have all been found on the site, underlining its essentially Eastern orientation. Remains have also been discovered of a two-kilometre aqueduct that supplied the monastery with water from the Amu Darya. UNESCO and the Japanese government plan to connect Kara and Fayaz Tepe with a road, shore up their walls and build a visitor centre, handicrafts shop and display of Kushan architecture.
The monastery was looted in the 5th century by Sassanid troops and later used as a burial ground and retreat for Sufic mystics of a rather different religious persuasion.
The trio of Buddhist archaeological memorabilia is completed by the sixteen metre high Zurmala Tower, situated three kilometres southeast of Old Termez and visible from l he main M-39. This sixteen-metre-high brick tower is the remnant of the largest Ikiddhist stupa in the area and is possibly the oldest construction still standing in Uzbekistan. Back in the third and fourth centuries AD, at the height of Buddhist influence, the base of the stupa would have been covered with white limestone slabs below red brick decoration and would have housed a collection of sacred Buddhist relics.
Pass through the Iron Gates and one approaches a triangle of secluded mountain villages offering access to the isolated mountains and river gorges beyond. The geology of the area lies open for all to see and is ripe for exploration. Derbent (Derband) is the first of the three towns to be reached from the west and nestles at the foot of a large cliff just off the main M-39. The town marks the gateway to the Machai River gorge and cave complexes, the archa juniper forests and remote Tajik valleys beyond. There are even said to be mummified bear remains in the Berloga caves. These Tajik regions should have re-opened: the Gissar range of the Pamir-Alay, the upper Tupolang and Sangardan rivers (Surkhandarya), Kyzyldarya, Tankhizydarya, Aksu and Djindydarya (Kashkadarya).
A Wild West town with teahouses, Baisun (Boysun) is the largest settlement in the triangle and the only one to boast an official hotel. Besides its unique skullcaps and other embroidery, the main attractions are again natural and the Gur Gur Ata massif and Ketmanchapt Mountains, which tower above the town, attract walkers from the whole oblast. The village goes crazy on the first moon in May during the UNESCO-sponsored Baisun (Boysun Buhori) cultural festival in May that includes fashion shows, dance and folk music ensembles from over Central Asia, performed in the town arena. Yurt accommodation is set up at this time. UNESCO recently declared Baisun to be on its list of the ’28 Masterpieces of Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity’.
The town has a handicraft, centre and local museum. Twenty-minutes’ drive outside town is the hollow tree of Alpamysh; the village is said to be the homeplace of the Uzbek epic of the same name. Outside town is the Amonkhana mineral spring.
For the day-tripper, however, the most picturesque of the three is the village of Sairob (Sayrob). The small village spills over the narrow valley, sheltered to the west by a deeply etched mountain ridge and to the east by a splintered spine of rock which curls , protectively around the town in a giant paternal embrace. Layers of stone cottages tumble down from the hills, separated by bands of deep, earthy reds and whitewashed walls to make the area reminiscent both physically and culturally of Turkey’s mountain hinterland. The two chinor trees in the centre of town are also its greatest pride and joy, each said to be over 1,000 years old.
From Sairob the M-39 follows ancient paths down to Shirabad and the Oxus. The town of Shirabad marks the last echoes of the fading Hisor range as the hills finally cede to the hot and arid plains of the southern border. The Kungrat emir, Shir Ali, is said to have founded the modern town and its royal connection was continued by many subsequent emirs of Bukhara, who were wont to use the local beg’s palace as a summer residence. Even the last emir, Alim Khan, stopped here to catch his breath as he fled the Bolsheviks en route to Afghanistan in 1920. Today, however, all that remains is the stepped kurgan upon which the fortress once stood.
The two pilgrimage sites of Hazrati Akhtam Mara and Suleiman Ata ride the crest of the Shirabad ridge, which overshadows the town. Of greater historical and religious importance, however, is the Mausoleum of Khoja Abu Isa Mohammed Imam Termezi, one of the seven collectors of the Hadiths, or Traditions, situated some six kilometres (4 miles) out of town on the road to Denau. Originally from Merv, Isa divided his youth between Shirabad and the religious centre of Termez before embarking on a 30-year itinerant search for wisdom that would take him to Khorasan, Merv and Medina. He eventually returned to found a madrassah in Shirabad and to collate the many Hadiths that he had collected in the course of his wanderings. The Hadith is a varied collection of sayings attributed to the Prophet Mohammed s.a.w. which form the second holiest book of Islam, after the Koran.
The rather austere 20-metre (65-foot) long building consists of two prayer chambers and the tomb itself and is attended by a gracious and timeless imam.
Sufi Abu Abdullah Mohammed ibn Ali al Termezi, nicknamed ‘al Hakkim’ (the wise), was a ninth century Sufic, jurist, mystic and author who lived and received his pupils in Old Termez. After an education in Balkh and a hajj to Mecca at the tender age of 27, Termezi began to write his theories on the terminology for sainthood; the very titles which he himself would soon enjoy. Upon his death in 869 AD, he was buried where he had worked and in the ensuing centuries a mausoleum (10th century), mosque (12th century) and Timurid khanagha (15th century) grew up around his name. The impressive carved marble sunduk Bronze age rock carvings, Sarmyshtombstone chronicles the life of
the saint and was added to the complex in the early fifteenth century by Tamerlane’s son Shakh Rukh. The theft of the missing section of the tomb is attributed to British archeologists, accused of having seconded the marble back to the British Museum at the turn of the century. The building provided a point of focus for local philosophers and thinkers, a place where holy men could provide counsel, and broke with the khanagha’s more customary role of providing dervish living accommodation.
Between the mausoleum and the Oxus are the archaeological remains of the old port of Termez, which include the wharf, customs house and port hotel. West of the site is the large island that gave Termez so much of its strategic and commercial importance. Originally named after the Arab leader Uthman, who led his attack of the city from here. The island is also the exotic but forbidden location of the 12th century Zul Kifl Mausoleum.
North of Pap, Chust claims even earlier settlement, for Soviet archaeologists found here a series of crouching corpses dating back to 1000 ВС. The site itself reveals little to the non-specialist, but the town remains a lively one.
Chust is long-renowned for knife and skullcap production. Uzbek national knives, date back to the early Stone Age, since when their decorative and symbolic value has outweighed their military use. To watch the production process, visit the National Knife Factory at 46 Chusti str (tel. 36942 or 31025) where halls of young men smash and grind a wide variety of blades (tig)—carved or stamped and curling at the tip, the Chust trademark—and handles (haft), plated with horn or inlaid with mother-of-pearl.
The famous Chust tubeteika, prototype of most Uzbek skullcaps. The black tetrahedral shape bears a pattern of white embroidery resembling burning capsicums (kalampir, to protect men from evil) and almonds (bodom, symbolising life and fertility). Four arches tin orate each side of the cap-band, representing gates so strong no enemy could enter and kill the wearer.
In common tsarist style, the streets of the Russian town lead to the central park, founded in 1884 as the governor’s garden. Later renamed Pushkin Park and installed with requisite Lenin statue, it now enjoys Babur’s sponsorship and the uninterrupted patronage оf Uzbek patriarchs tea-drinking and chess-playing in the shady calm of heavy chinor trees. The Square to the northwest has dropped Lenin for Peace and a carved display of provincial monuments. Nearby at 25 ex-October Street, the Namangan Natural History Museum houses many archaeological discoveries. To the east is the pedestrian avenue Uychi, leading to the heart of the Uzbek town, the crowded bazaar. Beside stalls of meat, fruit and vegetables, craftsmen offer brightly painted wooden cradles, complete with convenience hole, while women sell embroidered skullcaps and woollen shawls.
Just east of the bazaar is the Mullah Kyrgyz madrassah, built in 1910 by a local cotton magnate. Having served time as a Soviet literature museum, it reopened in 1992 after Namangan residents donated funds for restoration of the fagade, domed corners, tiled portal and minarets. In recent years the madrassah was closed again, and revived as a museum. Five minutes south along a lane famous for metal workshops is the Khodjamni Kabri Mausoleum. Only men may request a look at this 18th-century imitation of earlier portal and dome tombs. The ornate carved terracotta fagade is a striking example of Ferghana decoration.
This green haven of trees and boating ponds lies east of Babur Square, In the park’s northeast corner rests the gently decaying splendour of the residence of Akhmed Beg Khodja. This capitalist factory owner fled the Bolsheviks to China, leaving his 1897 home to become a folk museum. Since independence its new role as office for Andijan Muslims does not prohibit visitors from wandering two storeys of living quarters and guest rooms. To the north is a brightly reconstructed mosque and madrassah complex, built on the site of the 1903 original. Elsewhere, the Bolalar Bogi (Children’s Garden) is a new fairground at the crossroads of Fitrat and Sharaf RashidovAndijan, Uzbekistan
Andijan’s chief religious complex was built near the bazaar at the end of the 19th century. Extensive restoration followed the 1902 earthquake in order for a Literature museum to be established. Vaulted halls span the corners of a monumental fagade almost 123 metres long. In the centre rises a traditional Ferghana portal crowned by ornamented minarets. From its roof, visitors (9am-4pm) can view the stalled Saudi plans, the inner courtyard, and the mosque’s minaret and vast summer iwan. The mosque is accessible via the side road past the madrassah and behind the adjacent regional museum of local studies.Andijan, Uzbekistan