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Nukus and the Vanishing Aral Sea

UZBEKISTAN | Thursday, 19 March 2015 | Views [972]

Beached fishing boat, Moynak

Beached fishing boat, Moynak

WHAT AT FIRST APPEARED TO BE ROTTEN WINTER SNOW is actually salt — NaCl, not SnOw.  We are in Nukus, 1150 km northeast of Tashkent and as good a place as any to begin our discovery of Uzbekistan.  While we were whinging about a second consecutive 4AM wake-up for an early flight, Norbek, who will be our driver and companion for the next week, had already driven ten hours from his home in Samarkand.


   Salt, not snow

Lonely Planet describes Nukus as hopeless and desolate, useful only as a base for a visit to the Aral Sea region.  Not true. Construction is rampant and Nukus is on the rebound.  And it hosts one of the most interesting — and certainly the most remote — art museums we have seen recently.


   Norbek says "Conserve Water!"

The Aral Sea was until recently the fourth largest body of fresh water in the world and Moynak, 200 km north of Nukus, was a major fishing port.  The USSR in its quest for world domination decided that Uzbekistan would be a wonderful place to grow cotton and the Aral Sea would be an inexhaustible source of water.  They were half right.  Uzbekistan became the leading producer of cotton, all for the Russian market.  But the Aral Sea began to run dry.  Within a generation it dried up to less than a third of its former self.  The fishing fleet of Moynak lies resting on the sand, 200 km from the lake shore.


    Savitsky Art Museum

The Savitsky Art Museum houses the second largest collection of Russian avant-garde art in the world.  Igor Savitsky, an artist himself, came to Nukus on an archeological mission and stayed.  He was followed by other Russian painters whose names are unfamiliar to us and whose styles didn’t follow the Party line.  The collection reflects the influence of such dissidents as Cezanne, Van Gogh, Picasso among others.  This is really good stuff but you will have to trust us.  A photo permit costs $35!





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