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Discovery Uzbekistan Travel Guide #14/2010
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Lake Aydar Kul
They say Uzbekistan has something for every tourist, but a beach holiday? In a double-landlocked country? Look no further than Lake Aydar Kul, a 200 km2 saline lake that sits in the hollow of Arnasai on the south east end of the Kyzylkum desert. Sandy-bottomed and gently sloping, it is a perfect place for children and adults alike to sunbathe, swim and enjoy all the pleasures of the beach - as we found when we traveled there with 5 adults and 8 children of 11 and under.

I have to admit my expectations were not high as we started the drive out of Jizzak. The desert scenery was spectacular though: rocky mountains on one side and miles of sandy ground peppered with small bushes stretching as far as the eye could see on the other, but I could not imagine how any lake would survive in this arid landscape and surely anything that could would be silted and sludgy? Well, gradually on the furthest northern horizon, a bluish tinge began to emerge. At first it seemed like a trick of the hazy desert light, but it grew more and more pronounced and then the lake appeared, resplendently blue in that way you seem to find only in Central Asia. As we grew near, it glittered as the light hit it and a thousand diamonds danced on its surface. So much for silted and sludgy.

Our trip, organized from Tashkent, was to encompass the lake, two nights sleeping in yurts in a camel camp, and Nurata, the ancient town nearby. The first afternoon was spent cooling off in the lake after the 5 hour drive from Tashkent. The children splashed about happily for hours in the warm shallow water, building sandcastles or chasing the tiny fish with nets, while the more intrepid swam far out into the lake for some peace and quiet and spectacular views over the lake. We watched the local fishermen out in their boats then ate the freshly caught and barbequed sudac for lunch.

20 km away was the camel camp where we were to spend the night. This was nestled in amongst some low hills, a series of yurts and tapchans with camels grazing nearby. As darkness fell, we ate dinner under the stars (what stars!!), a fire was lit and a Kazakh singer struck up on his 3-stringed dutar. Haunting and earthy, the music matched the mood and environment and we grew dreamy before the fire as he sang of love and death and even his chai khana!

The yurt, a circular felt tent made from camel hair and the traditional home of the nomadic tribes, was surprisingly comfortable to sleep in and a hit with the children. We emerged well-rested and ready for the camel riding, another highlight. One, two or even three to a camel, we sat snugly wedged between the two humps, enjoying a brief taste of caravanserai life.

A sumptuous breakfast later we headed to Nurata. Once known as Nur, this ancient town was founded in 327 BC by Alexander the Great and held a strategic position on the frontier between cultivated lands and the steppe. The ancient remains of his military fortress rise up above the town and the water supply system he installed still operates today. Our visit was on a Sunday in September, a popular time for weddings. In the short time we were there at least 8 wedding parties processed around the central complex housing the XIV century Khasan-Nury mosque, the XVI century Namazgokh mosque, and the Chasðma spring, a rocky well pool filled with sacred fish which is a place of pilgrimage for locals. Then back to the Lake: the children were happy to revisit their old haunts and we stayed until evening watching the sun set in a blaze of vivid pinks over the desert scrub.

Only in existence since 1969, Lake Aydarkul was formed as a result of flood water that was diverted from the Syr Darya (Jaxartes) river into the existing salt-lake. In spring and summer the desert abounds in red tulips and white acacias. For bird lovers early spring is the time to visit for as the winter ice melts, it becomes a breeding site for flocks of wild ducks, geese, herons and even pelicans. Numerous tour groups organize trips to the Lake. Simply enter Lake Aydarkul or Aidarkul, Uzbekistan into your search engine and take your pick! It offers an idyllic and tranquil rest amid spectacular desert scenery for the foot weary Silk Road.

Discovery Uzbekistan #2

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