Uzbekistan II: Aral Sea

The map above is not precise. Google Maps did not believe I passed the main road from Gurlen to Nukus ๐Ÿ˜‰

Nukus

The road to Nukus was very pleasant โ€“ I was returning to the East to the main road through the green fields. Somewhere on my way, I crossed Amu-Daria.

After a long day, I reached the city. Nukus is the capital of Karakalpakstan, the northwestern part of Uzbekistan. The region is famous for the Aral Sea, oil reserves and vast steppes.

I stopped in the backpacker’s hostel where soon more cyclists arrived. The biggest group was retired cyclists from Germany and the UK. They mostly used trains in deserts as cycling in the open area was too tiring. I saw the train going from Atyrau to Tashkent every day. The line was built over 150 years ago by Russians.

The hostel was located a few hundred meters from โ€œThe Louvre of Desertโ€. Itโ€™s the most famous Uzbek museum with paintings created under Soviet occupation (and censorship) โ€“ the topic very familiar to Polish citizens ๐Ÿ˜‰

When I went out to buy fruits, I met two boys who wanted to practice English. They explained to me, that they needed to pass an English test to get a scholarship to study in Korea. If they stayed in Uzbekistan, the perspective would not be good. The maximum government cap on salaries would limit their income to a few hundred dollars per month. Not mentioning that the would have a choice of only 3 car models sold in Uzbekistan ๐Ÿ˜‰

The air in Nukus smelled as at the sea. It was the middle of a desert so I was really surprised. The explanation is the Aral Sea bottom. After drying off, the wind has been blowing out all pesticides and salt from the bottom and spreading it over Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan. A lot of people in Nukus got cancer and other deadly illnesses.

Kungrad

It was only 100km from Nukus to Kungrad, a city from which I planned to take a taxi to visit the Aral Sea. Somewhere on the way, I met two boys who really wanted to race with me ๐Ÿ˜‰ Like in all Asia. However, my impression was that Uzbek people are more humble than other nations I met.

I stayed again in a small hostel in Kungrad, where I left my bike for the next day. I met a few Uzbek people preparing for a bus driver’s license. They did not speak English, I did not speak Russian, but vodka was enough to communicate ๐Ÿ˜‰

Aral Sea

My trip to Muynak, the former port at the Aral Sea, started with looking for a taxi in Kungrad. It is a very simple process. You go to the market and ask where taxis to Muynak depart. People show you the car, you enter, andโ€ฆ wait. The driver will not leave until there are 4 people inside. It costs ca $2 for 100km drive. After 1h of waiting, we were full and could start the crazy ride. The driver keeps the speed of 110kmh for the entire time (I checked on my GPS) โ€“ including corners. The road was of a poor condition so it was a really dangerous ride.

Finally, I landed at the port. 5th largest lake in the world. Currently a big hole in the ground. After building irrigation canals drying of Amu-Daria and Syr-Daria, the Soviets realized the mistake. But they decided, that the Aral Lake is the mistake of nature and they will correct it. The negatives of drying off the lake quickly outweighed benefits (huge agricultural losses in Kazachstan and Uzbekistan, destruction of the fishing industry, change of climate, diseases). As a result, the Soviets had a plan to correct their mistake by building other canals fromโ€ฆOb and Yenisei. So good the Soviet Union collapsed and this plan did not enter the implementation phase ๐Ÿ˜€

Destroying the natural flow of Amu-Daria and Syr-Daria has still devastating consequences on current Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kazachstan, Turkmenistan and Kyrgyzstan. Its deteriorating world.

One hydroelectric power station in Toktogul, Kirgizstan, providers water for both Kazakh and Uzbek farmers.

How powerful are rivers is illustrated by the situation in South-East Asia, where China completely controls the economies by dames on biggest rivers flowing from Tibet, through China to SE Asia.

Leaving behind this monument of human stupidity, I returned by taxi to Kungrad together with two German retired cyclists who I met earlier in Nukus (they were going to Nukus).

At the Ara Sea, I dirtied my lens and did not realise it. The next photos have reduced quality ๐Ÿ˜‰

To the border

After a short 40kms afternoon ride, I reached Zhaslyk. It is a small village with a huge factory producing sodium sulfate.

It has a hostel managed by a young man, who hosts people from Warmshowers for free. Unless they need registration, then they pay $10.

In the evening, we watched the first match of the 2018 World Cup (Russia โ€“ Saudi Arabia).

For the next two days, I followed the road through the desert to the border. Shortly after leaving the hostel, the road quality deteriorated. I also started noticing many oil wells. The front wind was still iritating, limiting my speed to 16kmh (its really super slow).

I stayed for the night in the only hostel / restaurant / petrol station on this 300km stretch where I met German motorcyclists (going the opposite way). The hostel had few livestock.

I have also met two guys from Kazakhstan driving a camper and a big car with big canisters. They said they came here for work. No idea what is their work. Maybe they provide water in case of shortage to those remote houses?

At the border, I stopped for a dinner in a restaurant run by the brother (I think) of the guy who runs the restaurant in Zhaslyk. It was funny because they charged me 15% extra on everything for the service. Including bottles of coca-cola. Sic! ๐Ÿ˜€

There was an electric outage at the border, so I had to wait for 2 hours. Uzbek soldiers discussed life priorities with me. โ€œLook. He is 23. He is married, he has 3 kids. And you? Cycling through Asia? Why?โ€ ๐Ÿ˜€ I did not argue. According to their values, they are right ๐Ÿ˜‰ And what happened after passing the border will be in the next episode.

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