Sorry folks: This posting from the beginning of our time in Uzbekistan is published out of order, after some ‘later’ ones. We went on this taxi trip during a rest day at Kungrad.
Kungrad (also transliterated as Kongirot/Qo‘ng‘irot, all of which seem an improvement on an old name of Zheleznodorozhny) is not a major, or even minor, tourist town, but for a road traveller entering Uzbekistan from the west, it’s the first town of any size (see end of the last posting).
This western area of Uzbekistan is also known as Karakalpakstan, which in some senses can be regarded as a different country, with its own language, Karakalpakstani. We realised, too late to take much of a photo, it has its own hats, too – giant fuzzy wool ones, making the wearer resemble Michael Jackson circa 1975, if not usually so cute. As discussed in earlier postings from Georgia or Azerbaijan, in this part of the world there’s a complex overlap, or often difference, between the citizenship of the states, and the identity of individuals. There’s significantly more edge to being, for example, a Tajik in Uzbekistan (thus an Uzbekistani, but not an Uzbek), than being, say, a Scot in England, assuming you can work out who is such (Sorry Nicola). We were told by one local that Kyrgyz and Tajiks can be distinguished by nose size, and it is true that in the four ‘stans we visited, one can roughly distinguish different numerically dominant facial types. But just in case this doesn’t work, each ethnicity has its own hat as well.
Kungrad is about the nearest place on the main west-east road to the Aral Sea. The owner of the place where we stayed was happy to arrange a taxi excursion to Muynak, previously a significant port on the Aral Sea, now a desert town. To actually set toe in the remains of the sea involves a much longer road trip, substantially off road (If I remember correctly), we couldn’t face the hours in a car to see not much, so we settled for Muynak.
It’s rather a sad place, as you might expect. The town has helpfully lined up the abandoned hulks near the war memorial.
After Kungrad, we cycled on to Nukus, capital of Karakalpakstan. It has one tourist attraction – an outstanding modern art gallery. Where, naturally, we didn’t take pictures.