TWC'S Odyssey
Tan Wee Cheng's Travels in the Central Asian Republics of Kazakstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan

21 Jul   Nukus & Moynaq 
Republic of Karakalpakstran

Yulia, her Kazak student, Saichar, and a Karakalpak driver picked me up at the hotel.  We then went to Uzbekistan Airways' downtown office to buy the air ticket to Tashkent (US$89, but payable in soms at official rate).  One queue led to another.  It took one hour to buy the ticket !  It was only after this that we set off for Moynaq.  Note: Tickets are taken up rather quickly.  One has to book in advance to avoid unpopular timings such as 5 am or 11 pm.

It took us about 3 hours to reach Moynaq.  Crossed another pontoon bridge outside Nukus.  I had expected to see miles of salted sand and rocks.  Instead there was a fair bit of wild vegetation on what was previously the sea.  The graveyard of ships - the most "popular" attraction of Karakalpakstan - was a sad and desolate place.  I was told that the Aral Sea's shrinking seemed to have reversed slightly in recent years.  In fact, they said that the fishing industry is not totally dead.  There are still 120 fishermen.  Let's hope this is a turning point.  Even then, most people do not see substantial improvement for the foreseeable future.

Graveyard of ships at Moynaq, the former fishing port of the Aral Sea. Miniature sheet on the "Save the Aral Sea" campaign Me in front of the symbol of Moynaq - the fish logo stays despite the dried up Moynaq harbour.
Me on the ship, Karakalpakia.  A movie made by a famous Polish director was once made on this fishing boat. Saichar, Yulia and I Mural in the Local Studies Museum of Moynaq.  Cultural scene, flag and arms of Karakalpakstan, plus map of Uzbekistan (Karakalpakstan is the yellow part of the Uzbek map).

On the way back to Nukus, we visited the huge Mizdakhan Necropolis.  Mizdakhan was an ancient trading centre for a long time until it was destroyed by Timur.  Today, one finds thousands of tombs, mausoleums, shrines, qalas (castles) etc all over this hill.  Some of them, like the beautifully restored Mazlum Khan Slu, were shrouded in colourful local legends.  I have heard at least two versions of the legend.  The first was that this mausoleum was built for Mazlum Khan, a princess who died for her love for the prince of a rival principality.  Another said that she fell to her death while having a rendezvous with a workman of the family mausoleum.  In any case, we entered this mausoleum with the help of some cemetery construction workers.  It was serene and beautiful inside, with geometric patterns and carvings.  Apparently it has been a place of local veneration and so the Soviet Government left it to the elements.  It was only restored upon independence.  From this point, we could see the barren hills of Turkmenistan and remains of nearby qalas on the horizons.

Yulia's brother, Sasha, is a member of an aspiring pop band called TauruSnakes, and she invited me to visit the group on their nightly practice,  held at the home of Idris Kamalov. This group comprised a number of nationalities - Karakalpak, Ukrainian, Russian, Uzbek and Korean. [Idris's father, Yusup Kamalov, is the leader of the environmental group "Aral Sea and Amu Darya Protection Union", and both Idris and Yusup were mentioned in Whittell's "Extreme Continental: Blowing Hot and Cold Through Central Asia".  In fact, Idris' musical talents and good English were highlighted in the book.]  TauruSnakes composes its own music which sounded like heavy music stuff with lyrics in English, Karakalpak, Russian or any of the region's diverse languages.  The perseverance and commitment of the group were inspiring too - they have been practicing nightly for the past two years, and hope to cut an album in Tashkent. I had never imagined that a pop group of such bright young people would arise from the deserts of Central Asia.   Although I am not exactly a fan of heavy music and did not like the pollution created by these chain-smoking youth, I was touched by their hospitality.  I was also asked about life in Singapore, with unusual questions such as the average age Singapore teenagers begin to have sex, cost of a brothel visit and status of homosexuals in Singapore - not that I am familiar with these topics.  It was a most enjoyable session, which ended at 2:30 am, with vodka toasts which ranged from routine ones like "Good Health" and "Good Luck" to near-absurd ones like "May there never be war between Karakalpakstan and Singapore".

Moynaq's Graveyard of ships - scenes of desolation The WWII monument on a former sea-side cliff on the outskirt of Moynaq.  Note the painted-over Uzbek flag. View from the Mizdakhan Necropolis: Fortress, fields and sand
Me with the TauruSnakes group Here the music goes: Kim (ethnic Korean) and Idris (ethnic Karakalpak) Members of TauruSnakes - the one facing is Sasha.

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