Sunday, August 22, 2010
The desert in Karakalpakstan
Yes, I know, it gets boring: I was sick again, could not sleep, and couldn't handle the heat...
But at least some adventures to report. This weekend, we, that is, me and a few colleagues, rented a car, crossed the river and drove a few hours up north, to Karakalpakstan, famous for its deserts, its problematic irrigation agriculture, and its ancient mud fortresses.
We stayed overnight at Ayaz Kala, at a yurt camp (approved by Unesco) next to one of the mud fortresses, and were happy to find at least one ancient camel, and some rusty signs of recent Soviet life, deepening the sense of place. To remind us of globalization, empty Tuborg bottles, Marlboro cigarette butts, and a can of 'Bill Beef' were nonchalantly strewn across the desert and the remainders of the fortress.
The historical site was quite impressive, though hard to interpret. In fact, two forts adorn the site, Ayaz Kala I and II (the second one on the picture). It is clear that the dozens of forts in present- day Karakalpakstan were defending the troublesome northern border of ancient Khorezm. In the north were the nomads, and conquering one tribe just meant opening the door for the next one. The heydays of Ayaz Kala were apparently the 6th and 7th centuries AD, long before the glory period of Khorezm, the 13th century, when a power vacuum in Central Asia enabled the small oasis state to conquer most of it.
The name Karakalpakstan already indicates however, that the nomads could not be kept out forever. After some years under the Golden Horde and the Timurids, the nomadic Karakalpaks more or less quietly took control. After communism, some of them took up their nomadic lifestyle again.
[Friday evening, before this remarkable adventure, we watched Grumpy old men, projected on the garden wall. Ice fishing in Minnesota. The colleagues could not believe people drive on the ice, sit in little shacks, and just wait...]