Where in the World? Nukus and the Incredible Savitsky Museum
Uzbekistan is ever more popular with tourists thanks to its trio of majestic Silk Route cities, Samarkand, Bukhara, and Khiva. But what about the far west of the country? Mark Elliott heads to Nukus, the capital of Karakalpakstan.
All images by Mark Elliott
Though little known abroad, the western third of Uzbekistan forms the Autonomous Republic of Karakalpakstan. That’s the sparsely populated home to the Karakalpak people, who celebrate their own proud history and speak a Turkic language that often seems closer to Kazakh or Azerbaijani than to Uzbek. The region is vast, but even for those who can find it on a map, it’s most likely that they will associate the region with the ecological catastrophe of the Aral Sea, or perhaps last year’s brief flicker of popular unrest when Tashkent toyed with the idea of removing the republic’s autonomy. The idea was swiftly dropped when the strength of the opposition was understood.
So before visiting the capital, Nukus, I’ll confess that my image of the place was entirely incorrect. I guess I had imagined a dowdy, desolate little Soviet backwater of tumble-down apartments and a general air of depression amongst people breathing in salt-dust from the desiccated Aral seabed. What I found was a remarkably relaxed modern city. Far from being a small town, the population tops 300,000, and the city centre is home to some surprisingly suave cafes and restaurants—even if one of them has unadvisedly decided to name itself Cake Bumer.