D266. May 25. Welcome to Karakalpakstan !

What ? You don’t know what Karakalpakstan is ? Hum… It is an autonomous republic, within Uzbekistan, on its West part.

The Karakalpaks, who today number only about 400,000 of the republic’s 1.2 million population (it’s also home to about 400,000 Uzbeks and 300,000 Kazakhs), are a formerly nomadic and fishing people, first recorded in the 16th century. Today they are struggling to recapture a national identity after being collectivized or urbanized in Soviet times. The official language of the republic, is Turkic,  close to Kazakh and less so to Uzbek.

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Karakalpakstan was probably at its most prosperous in the 1960s and ’70s when the fruits of expanded irrigation from the Amu-Darya were being felt. But today the destruction of the Aral Sea has rendered Ka- rakalpakstan one of Uzbekistan’s most depressed regions. In the capital city, Nukus, I couldn’t even find a place to have dinner. I had waffles and Nesquik.

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Though, before discovering dying towns and blighted landscapes, I got to see Toprak-Kala, a first century BC fortress…

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No need to say that going through that hill, at noon, under 50 degrees, was kind of painful… But it was worth it. Beyond the ruins, this shamanic altar. And the sudden visit of a few Karakalpaks women, in shimmering dresses…

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Capture d’écran 2014-05-25 à 19.42.32Waiting under this shelter, a man. He tries to sell music instruments to the visitor. But there are probably not more than twenty visitors a day in this desert place. This looks like hell to me. The real one, with heat and stuff…