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About Karakalpakstan

Autonomous Republic of Karakalpakstan is located in the northwestern part of the Republic of Uzbekistan. It borders with the Republic of Kazakhstan in the north and east and in the south it shares the border with the Republic of Turkmenistan. The total area of the republic is 165,000 km2 which constitutes more than 40% of the area of Uzbekistan. The population of the country is about 1.5 million. Nukus is the capital of Karakalpakstan. A large part of the republic is taken by the mysterious Ustyurt plateau, Kyzylkum desert and steadily shrinking Aral Sea.

Karakalpakstan is located in the lower reaches of Amudarya River, in Khoresm oasis. It is one of the richest centers of ancient culture. The current territory of Karakalpakstan, as part of once powerful Khoresm civilization, experienced all its ups and downs. Its population saw the rise and decline of the country. Ancient caravan routes passed through the territory of Karakalpakstan, including the famous Silk Road that connected the East with the West. Ancient and medieval civilization gave rise to wonderful examples of original material and spiritual culture. Archeological sites that prove this can still be observed on the territory of our country. For centuries this area was a mystery for western travelers. In XIX, Herman Vamberi (1832-1913), a famous Hungarian turkologist and explorer, had to dress as a dervish and adopt Muslim religion to be able to study the lives of Asian people in the secluded Turkestan. He also visited Karakalpaks and wrote scientific papers on their origin and ethnography.

Now you don't have to dress in Eastern garments, like Vamberi, to be closer to us. We are open to you, if you are interested in our society and our country. Natural wealth and uniqueness of the country is represented by distinctive scenery, vast lower reaches of Amudarya River, variety of mammals, birds, reptiles, fish and flora. In 1930-ies Amet Shamuratov in his exciting story "My Encounters with a Tiger" told about his encounters with the tiger, the dominant species of local forests (tugai). Chingiz Aitmatov in his famous novel Scaffold wrote of numerous herds of saigas and gazelles dashing along Ustyurt plateau. Herds of wild boars, wild sheep, Bukhara deer and pheasants can still be seen in the impassable tugai forests, Kyzyl-Kum desert and in dense thickets of Badai-Tugai National reserve. Flocks of eagles, vultures, hawks and black kites soar in the endless skies. You deserve to see and admire all this beauty.

Karakalpaks belong to Central Asian race group. In XVI-XVIII centuries their way of life was semi-sedentary. Their main occupations were crop farming, cattle breeding and fishing. We would be happy to tell you the details about the history of the people and historical changes and development of Karakalpakstan as an independent Republic.

History of Karakalpaks is measured in centuries. More than a thousand historical monuments and shrines are located on the territory of the Republic and many of them have great historical and archeological value. Although Islam is the main religion of Karakalpaks, traditions and customs here are very diverse as they came from many other peoples that inhabited this area. Archeologists, ethnographers and scientists helped find and preserve a great number of archeological artifacts dating back to various epochs, starting from 2000 BC.

Research shows that the city of Nukus is currently located in the area once taken by ancient settlements some of which date back to IV-III centuries BC. There are many legends about the origin of the the placename Nukus and we will definitely tell them to you during your visit.

Today Nukus is a modern city with established infrastructure and the population of 300,000. In Nukus you can visit theatres, museums, sport centers, recreational facilities, restaurants, hotels, shops and markets. High technologies are present in all spheres, including high-speed internet, satellite TV, and several major cellular communication operators offering roaming services around the world Many visitors also note tranquility and sense of security that they feel in Nukus.

Find out more informaton about Karakalpakstan.

Legends and Myths

Great Silk Road passed through the territory of the Republic of Karakalpakistan. There are many historical monuments and archeological sites on the territory of the Republic, including the cities that were located along that route. Unfortunately, many of them are on the brink of disappearance.

Among those are the sites of ancient cities Devkesken-Vazir, Mizdakhan and Gayur-Kala, which tourists would enjoy visiting.

The site of Devkesken-Vazir is located on Ustyurt plateau near the border with the Republic of Turkmenistan. Local population calls the site Devkesken which translates as the fortress built by a demon. The history of the city dates back to VI-III century BC. Devkesken was studied for relatively short period and publications about it are very rare.

The city with a citadel and a castle is located at the end of a narrow steep slope of Ustyurt. It has an irregular rectangular shape stretched in the western direction. The walls are intact on three sides of the city. Total area of the city is about 17 ha.

Two mausoleums and a mosque are located within the city limits at the edge of Ustyurt plateau. The mosque has a rectangular shape with solid stone walls. Pillar-supported arched dome gallery goes inside along the walls. Mihrab niche is provided as usual in the southern wall and is facing Qibla. The passage is also located in the southern wall, closer to the western corner of the mosque.

Two mausoleums are located next to the mosque. The history of these two mausoleums is related to legendary names of Farkhad and Shirin. According to the legend, long time ago in the area of Daryalka and Sarykamysh (ancient streambeds of Amudarya River) there ruled a powerful shah named Ekhdem Shah. He had a beautiful daughter Shirin who fell in love with a stonecutter Farkhad who also loved her madly. Determined to prevent the marriage but not wishing to upset his beloved daughter with a direct refusal, Edhem Shah said that he would let her marry only such a person who could dig a moat in Ustyurt mountains and build a fortress. Although Farkhad was a skillful stonecutter, such Herculean task was beyond his abilities. However Shirin had a cunning plan Farkhad was working alone during the day, while at nighttime she had a thousand of her slaves continue his work.

After a while Edhem Shah was told that the fortress and the moat are ready. Amazed and angry shah said that something was wrong and the that the fortress and the moat were made by a Dev (i.e. evil spirit). Nevertheless he had to fulfill the promise he gave. Still determined not to let Shirin marry a commoner, the shah also resorted to trickery. He told a thousand slaves to make a the moat deeper in one place and in the morning he said: "You see, Farkhad didn't work today, it was a Dev who did it. Farkhad is a liar and I won't let you marry him!". Stricken by grief and sorrow Farkhad died. That explains the name of the fortress Devkesken means "Strangled by Dev". After Farkhad's death Shirin dies too. It was for them that the two mausoleums were built next to each other in the sourthern part of the city at the edge of Ustyurt plateau.

The site of ancient city Mizdahkan is a large area of various sites dating back to different ages. The area has a very complicated topography.

In 1966 an aerial survey was carried out over the entire Mizdahkan site. Based on materials obtained as a result of this survey, some of the areas were identified for the first time and general plan of the site was prepared. The entire complex of ancient sites is located on three small hills and in a vast area between them.

Ancient necropolis is located on one of the hills called the Eastern Hill. There are some sites of archeological interest on the surface of the northern part of the hill. Some archeological sites on the territory of the necropolis have already been studied. These include Mazlumkhan-Sulu mausoleum, Khalifa Erezhep, Shamun-Nadi and Jumart-Kassab mount. There are legends about each of these sites that have been passed on from generation to generation.

Kind-Hearted Butcher

In the eastern hill of Mizdahkan there is a mount called Jumart-Kassab (Jumart is a name and Kassab means "butcher") which was obviously used as a dakhma. There are many legends about it among the local population. According to one of them there is a mausoleum under that mount. The mausoleum was built for a butcher named Jumart who gave meat to the poor free of charge when there was famine or crop failure. For his kindness and compassion toward his fellow people he was sainted.

Love Legend

Long time ago Mazlumkhan, a beautiful daughter of the city ruler, lived in Mizdahkan. Many rich and noble men sought her love, but she fell in love with a poor man. Mazlumkhan was a princess and he was a labourer, so there was no way for them to be together. Mazlumkhan rejected all her suitors and the angry ruler decreed that his daughter will marry the person who could build a minaret to heaven overnight. Inspired by his love, the lovestruck labourer built such a minaret and in the morning came to the palace to claim his prize. But the ruler refused to let his daughter marry the poor labourer. Grief-stricken youth jumped from the minaret that he has built himself. Mazlumkhan-sulu jumped after him. Only in death could their souls be joined. They were buried together. On top of their grave a mausoleum was built. According to the legend the mausoleum was built from the bricks taken from the minaret that was destroyed by the order of the ruler.

There are several legends about Shamun Nabi. One of them goes like this: Way before Mohammed, Shamun Nabi was one of the religious preachers in Khoresm. Before his arrival the local population was not Muslim. When he came to this land he concealed his true intentions because missionaries Yakhiya and Zachariya who arrived here before him and acted openly were seized and thrown into a dungeon. Shamun Nabi started working as a street cleaner, then gradually he worked his way up to the treasurer of the state. He found out where Yakhiya and Zachariya were held and tried to release them saying that they are both prophets and could be useful to the ruler of Geur. The latter agreed to free them, but to prove that they are indeed prophets he requested them to raise the dead and return sight to his blind daughter. The prophets fulfilled his request and were set free. From that moment on Shamun Nabi was treated as a saint.

There is a legend about Calif Erezhep's building. He was teaching his subjects for 40 years, and when he died his spirit continued the work of saint Calif Erezhep. Once two travelers were arguing about the holiness of Calif Erezhep. When they came closer to his mazar, the heard a voice saying "Return the money you have borrowed". From then onward people believed in the holiness of Calif Erezhep.

The building is a beautiful architectural structure built from adobe and hard-burned bricks. The base of the structure included a reed layer which protected the structure from moisture and made the walls earthquake resistant. The structure dates back to early IX century AD.

The Legend of Guldursun Site

The grandiose ruins of Guldursun are steeped in legends and fairy tales. Not so long ago the people still believed that this place was cursed and that there was an underground passage hidden in the fortress which was guarded by a dragon and anyone who tried to find the immense treasures of Guldursun would die. (The legend is recorded by Karakalpak scholar U. Kozhurov).

According to a legend Gulistan (a rose garden) was a rich city with flourishing suburbs and many water sources. The city was ruled by an old padishah who had a beautiful daughter named Guldursun. A disaster befell this happy city: hordes of Kalmyks came from the desert, destroying everything on their way. Kalmyks destroyed the flourishing fields and blossoming gardens and surrounded the city. The townsfolk courageously defended their city and the enemy could not overcome their resistance. Several months have passed and invaders got help from famine, even more terrifying enemy of the townsfolk. The city's supplies came to an end. People were dying in the streets. Remaining defenders barely had strength to hold their weapons. Seeing this, the padishah summoned his noblemen and generals to a council.

One of them proposed to try their last chance of survival. This was a cunning plan. Surrounded people of Gulistan brought one of the best of surviving bulls to the palace and fed him with the last remaining wheat from the ruler's reserves and let the bull go behind the city wall. The besieged were not the only ones who suffered from famine, the invaders suffered from it too. Having destroyed everything around them during the lengthy siege Kalmyks ate everything that could be eaten and started thinking about raising the siege. Hungry Kalmyks caught and killed the bull and when they saw that its stomach was full of the best wheat, they were bewildered: "If they feed their cattle like that, they must have huge reserves!, shouted the warriors. - The siege is hopeless, the city is impregnable, we must leave before we all die from hunger".

Kalmyk generals agreed and the warriors started preparing for retreat. But Guldursun, padishah's daughter, had something else in mind. For many months, standing on the wall, she watched the leader of Kalmyks, a young and handsome son of Kalmyk's ruler. Her heart was burning with passion for the leader of the enemy of her people. She saw that the trick of the besieged worked and heard the groaning of camels being loaded in the enemy camp and watched numerous Kalmyk tents being folded. When she realized that they would be gone in several hours and the handsome prince will be gone forever, she committed the dishonourable act. She sent her trusted servant with a letter to the Kalmyk leader describing her passion for him and revealing the secret of the people of Gulistan. Wait another day, she wrote. And you will see the city surrender.

Kalmyks unloaded their camels and numerous campfires burned in the night again. At dawn, when people of Gulistan saw that the enemy surrounded the city in even tighter ring and that their trick did not work, they lost their hope and the starving city surrendered to the conqueror. The city was pillaged and burnt, some people were killed and some were taken to slavery. Treacherous Guldursun was led to the prince. He looked at her and said: "If dishonourable passion for the enemy made her betray her people and her father, what would she do to me, if somebody else later arouses her passion? Tie her to the tails of wild stallions, so that she never betrays anyone else". And the stallions tore Guldursuns body into small parts and scattered them across the fields. The damned blood of the traitor made this place barren and people started calling it Guldursun, instead of Gulistan.

This tragic story has a grain of historical truth. In the legends of Central Asian people Kalmyks, fearsome conquerors of XVII-XVII centuries that plundered through Kazakhstan and northern part of Central Asia, often represent even more ferocious conquerors of XIII century, the Mongols of Genghis Khan. It was in the period of Mongol invasion that the city and fields of Guldursun were destroyed. Nowadays, Guldursun is blossoming again.

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Culture and Traditions

National Karakalpak holidays are listed below: NAURYZ celebration of a new year and spring March 21; Kurban-Khait 2 months after uraza (fasting), Uraza-Khait, celebration of breaking of the fast. Besik-Toi or Sashyu-Toi is the celebration of a birth of a child.

The most picturesque holiday is Uileniu-Toi (wedding). The most interesting part of the wedding is Bet-Ashar, the showing of bride's face. According to tradition, bride's sisters-in-law, accompanied by a specially invited singer, hold the shawl covered bride from both sides and make her bow to her new relatives. One of the most ancient traditions dating back to time immemorial is kidnapping a girl for the purpose of marrying her. This custom is prosecuted by law, though.

In the fall, horse races, equestrian games, cock fights, and national wrestling competitions are organized to celebrate cotton harvesting.

Karakalpak epos was created during the matriarchate. Alpamys, Koblan, Sharyar are among the most famous epic poems. You can see that the character of Gulaim, the heroine of The Forty Girls epic, who was the leader of 40 Amazon warriors, is based on the legendary Tomiris, the queen of Saks and Massagets that inhabited Asia in the ancient time. Tomiris was famous for defeating Cyrus the Great who attacked her lands.

Culture of any people is a unique phenomenon. In the past, Karakalpaks, the Turkic speaking people, that represent the main population of Karakalpakistan, led a semi-nomadic life. Their history has more secrets and mysteries, than answers and discoveries. This is very appealing for those interested in Eastern exotics. The unique ancient culture of Karakalpakstan needs support and world-wide publicity. For these purposes, Ayimkhan Shamuratova Foundation was created in the Republic in 1994. Ayimkhan Shamuratova was awarded with the prestigious title of "People's Actress of the USSR". Children of the actress used their own funds to open the Museum of the Shamuratovs in 1998, which became very popular over a short period of time. Various educational hobby groups held at the museum are attended by children and adults.

One of the examples used by ethnographers to demonstrate the way of life of nomadic people is a yurt, a tent used by ancient Karakalpaks as a dwelling. It is a round folding house with frame made from wooded wedges covered by a felt blanket (in winter) and surrounded by walls made of reed. It's interior and exterior are decorated with multi-coloured hand-made carpet belts. If you wish to feel the spirit of those ancient times, you can always visit Jipek Joli café. The café is part of the museum exhibit and is located in the center of the model Karakalpak Village.

Did you know that..

Karakalpakstans flood-plain forests were once home to the unique Turan Tiger, the last of which was extinguished in 1978.

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