A Stan Within a Stan

Nukus Travel Blog

 › entry 13 of 19 › view all entries

  I declare that I am the first person to take this itinerary: Tivat, Montenegro -> Moscow, Russia -> Tashkent, Uzbekistan -> Nukus, Uzbekistan.  Montenegro Airlines -> Aeroflot -> Uzbekistan Airways.

   Because my flight to Tashkent was scheduled to arrive at an absurdly inconvenient 3:30am, I decided to book an additional flight back west to Nukus, the capital of the autonomous Republica of Karakalpakstan.  My flight from Tivat was delayed only an hour despite the absolute deluge that came down on Tivat.  Pete and I got soaked as we watched the moat surrounding old town Kotor rise while waiting for our ride to Tivat.  I flew into Domodedovo airport, which is about 50 miles from Sheremetyevo, the airport from which I was supposed to leave.  I took the "express" train to the the metro and took the metro to the other express train to Sheremetyevo.  This took 3 1/2 hours, and I barely made my flight to Tashkent.  Even though terminals "D" and "F" are maybe 500 meters apart, they are not connected.  This left me at the mercy of the taxi mafia, whom I had to pay $15 for the pleasure of a 5 minute ride.  I swear that some mafia kingpin must have paid the developers to make Sheremetyevo as inconvenient as possible.

    I arrived in Tashkent not too tired.  I left the international terminal and changed some money at a slightly better rate than the official rate outside.  The largest Uzbek Som bill is 1000, which is equivalent to 60 cents.  I changed $100 and received 170 bills held together with a rubber band.  I got onto to my flight to Nukus and immediately fell asleep.  I woke up to watch our descent to an indiscriminate swath of desert.  I walked off the plan and noticed that it was actually a cold morning.  A flat bed truck took our luggage and dozens of bags of something else to a pointless 5-foot long conveyor belt.  A taxi took me to the famous Savitsky museum.

   One of the museum tour guides kindly arranged a homestay for me so that I would not have to overpay for a lousy hotel room.  The Savitsky museum is an absurd sight unto itself.  In the supposed center of the capital of Karakalpakstan, the museum is surrounded on 3 sides by a half mile of concrete paths, grass, and a concrete paths overgrown with grass.  There is also a creaky ferris wheel next to the museum, a bouncy castle, and caterpillar rollercoaster.  Ludmila walked me to her apartment and showed me my more than acceptable room. 

  I walked back to the museum to get the tour and walked down the "only" (citation = Ludmila) good road by the White House where the Karakalpak president works.  Hardly anyone else was walking on the sidewalks, and the huge parking lots next Soviet-style apartment buildings were nearly empty.  Not a SINGLE person was walking in the park next to the White House.  My three hours tour was tiring enough that I stopped for tea in the middle.  Igor Savitsky was an archaeologist-turned-artist who left his cushy apartment in Moscow for a crappy one in the middle of nowhere - aka, Nukus.  He originally went to Uzbekistan for excavations, but soon began collecting art from Soviet non-conformist artists with aid from the local government.  Most of the work on display comes from artists who refused to create the official Socialist Realist artworks demanded by the government.  Some of these artists were exiled to rural backwaters, others converted to Islam and were ignored, and still others were imprisoned indefinitely.  Savitsky was able to collect and display work from these artists thanks to the hopeless isolation of Nukus. 

   I briefly searched for a travel agency to help me find a driver for the fortresses around Nukus.  No fewer than 5 Nukus citizens had a conference to help me find the agency.  Apparently there have been recent road name changes (why?) which made the effort futile.  I thanked everyone involved and ran away to this internet cafe.

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photo by: Vlindeke