Toprak Qala, discovered by Tolstov in 1938, is a complex covering approximately 17 hectares, surrounded by rectangular walls up to eight meters high in some places. Approximately 100 rooms are preserved, which show the complexity of such structures. Recent excavation has unearthed the palace archive, a number of glass vessels, alabaster sculpture fragments as well as some murals.
Gul’dursun is a fortress predating Christianity that existed until the 13th century, located approximately 20 kms to the east of Biruni city. Originally discovered by the Soviet archaeologist Gulyamov in 1937, it was excavated by Tolstov and completed by Dospanov in the late 1980s and early 1990s. The structure takes the form of a 350x250 meter rectangle, within which a number of important discoveries have been made, including antique and medieval coins, Middle Age ceramics, and bronze articles.
Mizdakhan is a cemetery dating from the 4th century BC. Located on three hills about twenty kms to the west of Nukus (over the once mighty Amu Darya river now reduced to a large stream), the complex provides a good overview of the burial site. It includes the Mazlumkhan-sulu mausoleum, in which visitors can descend stairs to a beautiful cupola structure with bright blue tiles.
Those wishing to go out into the field are advised to explore the offerings of the museums in Nukus to understand more completely the history and background of Khorezm. In addition to the Savitsky Collection and the Local Studies museum, a small museum at the Academy of Sciences opened in late 2009, which is unique in exhibiting artifacts collected during the three major excavations of Khorezm. Since the Academy of Sciences is not regularly open to the public, those wishing to visit should contact Aral Tours to make an appointment.
The Tugai forests are the original vegetation of the river banks and their preservation is critical for the ecological and environmental well-being of the entire region. On the road southwards from Nukus to Biruni, a 6,500 hectare park has been established to protect one of the last relatively pristine stretches of Tugai forest along the eastern bank of the Amu Darya river. The reserve is a sanctuary for a variety of birds and small mammals as well as a herd of endangered Bukhara deer.
One of the most spectacular archaeological sites in Khorezm, Ayaz-kala comprises the remains of three fortresses constructed during the 5th-4th centuries BC that are clustered together on and around a prominent hill, with magnificent views of the surrounding countryside. Nearby, a gravel road from the main Urgench-Nukus highway leads to a small cluster of yurts, a tourist rest and recreation center overlooking a shallow but picturesque lake. Chil’pyk. A circular, high-walled enclosure on an isolated peak overlooking the Amu Darya river,
Chil’pyk is a dakhma or tower of silence which was used by people of the Zoroastrian faith for exposure of the dead. Bodies were laid out under the open sky and, after the bones were cleaned, families collected them and placed them in clay or stone ossuraries for burial―examples of which can be seen in the Nukus Museum. Chil’pyk can be seen clearly and is easily accessible from the main road about 40 kms south of Nukus.
Suggested Basic Itineraries
- Half-day visit to Mizdakh-khan―about 2 hours driving and one hour at the site.
- Full-day visit to Chil’pyk, Toprak-kala, Bustan and Ayaz-kala―about 4-5 hours driving and three hours visiting all the sites.
- Full day visit to Moynaq―about 6 hours driving and two hours at Moynaq.
- Full-day visit to Toprak-kala, Badai-Tugai Reserve, Chil’pyk and the Savitsky Collection in Nukus―about 4-5 hours driving and one hour at each location (30 minutes at Chil’pyk)