Tuesday, March 7, 2017

The Magnificent Usyturt

The Ustyurt is a huge plateau within the Caspian watershed on the territory of Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and NW Turkmenistan, covering an area of about 200,000 sq. km. It extends from Mangyshlak and Kara Bogaz Gol Bay in the west to the Aral Sea and Amu Darya delta in the east. The plateau rises above the plain to 350 meters, cut off from the surrounding plains by steep inaccessible ledges of the escarpment. To access from Nukus you travel north to Kungrad and then north west above the desert plain there suddenly rise sheer cliffs up to 400 m high called ‘chinks’ a steep pass allows access up onto the plateau. Its seminomadic population raises sheep, goats, and camels. The name is sometimes spelled Ust Urt.    

The Ustyurt Plateau, with its magnificent cliffs, escarpment, scenic canyons and outlying mountains, presents a unique landscape and has an exceptionally rich biological diversity. It has clay-sagebrush and saltwort-sagebrush desert plants, and in its south-eastern part of is clay-and-rock-debris, with alkali spots. The nature of the Ustyurt is fantastic and unique. Many animals that live there are listed in the Red Book of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). It is especially beautiful in spring and autumn. Its summer temperature here is more than 50ºC, and often mirages appear in the scorching air. In in winter severe cold winter blows and it can reach 40ºC.  
For centuries, the Ustyurt Plateau has been a crossroads of civilizations (Scythians, Mongols and Kazakhs) and it has preserved traces of these many cultures.  Sensational historic discoveries have been made in recent years with more than 60 sites of the Neolithic period being found including the so-called Arana (Arrows), a complex configuration of hundred metres of stone fences which served for mass battue hunting of hoofed herd such as kulans, saiga antelopes and gazelles. 

The famous Silk Way passed through the plateau connecting Khiva with lower reaches of Emba and Volga. Along this trade route there was an ancient city called Shakhr-i-Vazir, Beleuli caravanserai, and Allan fortress. The ancient graveyards with the magnificent mausoleums called ‘mazars’ and other Islamic holy places are scattered across the plateau.

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