Monday, March 15, 2010

The Ancient Khoresm Fortresses of Karakalpakstan

Less than 1hr from Nukus is Mizdakhan. It is three kilometres from the former capital of Karakalpakistan - City of Khodjeyli - and 19 km west of today's capital Nukus. Once the largest city in Khorezm requires 2-3 hours in total (from Nukus); to visit including the Mazlumkhan Sulu Mausoleum and Gyaur-Kala.

Mizdakhan

Today Mizdakhan is a cemetery dating from the 4th century BC. Located on three hills about twenty kms to the west of Nukus (overlooking the once mighty Amu Darya river now reduced to a large stream), the complex provides a good overview of the burial site. It includes the Mazlumkhan-sulu mausoleum, in which visitors can descend stairs to a beautiful cupola structure with bright blue tiles.

"Maslum Khan Sulu Mausoleum"



The beautifully restored Maslum Khan Sulu is shrouded in a colourful local legend. The mausoleum the legend goes was built for a young princess Mazlim Khan, who died for her love for the prince of a rival principality. You can enter the mausoleum which has been restored to its former beauty after independence. It is serene and beautiful inside, with geometric patterns and carvings. It has been a place of local veneration for centuries.

Other day trips from Nukus

Max 2-3 hrs from Nukus or 1-2 hrs from Khiva/Urgench permits you to view some other fascinating archeological sites.

Toprak Qala, fortress of I-IV centuries A.D


Toprak Qala located near Buston was discovered by Soviet archaeologist Tolstov in 1938, is a complex covering approximately 17 hectares, surrounded by rectangular walls up to eight meters high in some places. The largest tower in the middle of the southern wall near the entrance to the Toprak Kala is over 60m high. Approximately 100 rooms are preserved, which show its complexity. Recent excavation has unearthed the palace archive, a number of glass vessels, alabaster sculpture fragments as well as some fantastic murals on the interior walls.

Gul’dursun

Gul’dursun is a fortress predating Christianity that existed until the 13th century, located approximately 20 kms to the east of Biruni. Originally discovered by the Soviet archaeologist Gulyamov in 1937, it was excavated by Tolstov and work completed by Dospanov in the late 1980s and early 1990s. The structure takes the form of a 350x250 meter rectangle, within which a number of important discoveries have been made, including antique and medieval coins, Middle Age ceramics, and bronze articles.

Ayaz-kala


One of the most spectacular archaeological sites in Khorezm, Ayaz-kala comprises the remains of three fortresses constructed during the 5th-4th centuries BC that are clustered together on and around a prominent hill, with magnificent views of the surrounding countryside. Nearby, a gravel road from the main Urgench-Nukus highway leads to a small cluster of yurts, a tourist rest and recreation center overlooking a shallow but picturesque lake. Chil’pyk. A circular, high-walled enclosure on an isolated peak overlooking the Amu Darya river,

Chil’pyk

A religious building of II-IV, IX-XI centuries A.D. Originally a Zoroastrian dakhma and later used by local people as a beacon. A dakhma or tower of silence was used by people of the Zoroastrian faith for exposure of the dead. Bodies were laid out under the open sky and, after the bones were cleaned, families collected them and placed them in clay or stone ossuraries for burial. Chil’pyk can be seen clearly and is easily accessible from the main road about 40 kms south of Nukus.

Other recommended places to visit -

Badai-Tugai Reserve

The Tugai forests are the original vegetation of the river banks and their preservation is critical for the ecological and environmental well-being of the entire region. On the road southwards from Nukus to Beruni, a 6,500 hectare park has been established to protect one of the last relatively pristine stretches of Tugai forest along the eastern bank of the Amu Darya river. The reserve is a sanctuary for a variety of birds and small mammals as well as a herd of endangered Bukhara deer.

Moynaq


Another day trip north from Nukus (6-7 hrs is needed) is a visit to the old Aral Sea Port at Moynaq, including its museum and the ship cemetery (210 km north of Nukus) - as late as the 1960s, Moynaq was a significant fishing port and seaside resort on the Aral Sea, but is now more than 150 kilometres from its receding shore.


Suggested Basic Itineraries
From Nukus:

* Half-day visit to Mizdakh-khan―about 2 hours driving and one hour at the site.
* Full-day visit to Chil’pyk, Toprak-kala, Bustan and Ayaz-kala―about 4-5 hours driving and three hours visiting all the sites.
* Full day visit to Moynaq―about 6 hours driving and two hours at Moynaq.

From Urgench:

* Full-day visit to Toprak-kala, Badai-Tugai Reserve, Chil’pyk and the Savitsky Collection in Nukus about 4-5 hours driving and one-one and a half hours at each location (30 minutes at Chil’pyk)