Muynak is a very small town in Karakalpakstan, a sovereign republic within Uzbekistan. Its population is only thirteen thousand people. There are no architectural monuments in Muynak. There are no comfortable hotels, restaurants, alleys, parks, and ceremonial squares. It seems that tourists in Uzbekistan have absolutely nothing to do in this city. Getting here, you might think that the driver got lost in the endless desert, since from horizon to horizon there is nothing but sand and rare vegetation. The casual traveler is unaware that Muynak is a tragedy and grief of thousands of people, a place where the work of human hands turned into a catastrophe.
Muynak received the status of a city in the sixties of the last century, before that it had the status of a fishing village. It’s hard to believe now, but several decades ago Muynak was washed by the Aral Sea. Now the sea has retreated more than a hundred kilometers, the port is abandoned as unnecessary, and only the skeletons of ships rusting under the inexorable sun of the desert remind of the past. Real ships in the middle of the desert, adjacent to thorns mixed with sand remained in the place of the sea. These ships are popular with tourists from all over the world, and people take wonderful photos using the local landscape.
Everyone knows what tragedy happened in the Aral Sea basin. As a result of the shallowing of the rivers, the water stopped flowing into the sea, and the sea, in its turn, began to recede from the coast. The river water was increasingly used for agricultural purposes and rivers were lost in the sands. At that time, the country’s leadership had the opportunity to prevent an environmental disaster, but due to their short-sightedness, the situation only worsened. Thus, the whole sea was lost, an oasis in the desert.
As a fishing town, Muynak existed until the eighties of the XX century, then fishing fell into decay and only a cannery remained, which existed for some time. More than sixty thousand people were left without work and livelihood. People were forced to disperse across Uzbekistan in search of a better life and the city was empty. An abandoned city with no inhabitants with ships that will no longer float.
Now tourists in Muynak can visit the Aral Sea Museum. In addition to the history of the city and the chronicle of the ecological disaster, in the museum, you can admire the Aral Sea in the paintings of Uzbek, Karakalpak, and other artists. Museum workers will demonstrate the gradual transformation of the sea into a lifeless desert; the archives store films of the past, which can be shown to all curious.
Tourists who like trips to “wild places” are recommended to stop by the Aralkum desert, which is not far from Muynak. Aralkum is considered the youngest desert in the world; it began to form only in the second half of the 20th century. Aralkum, which translates as “Sand of the Aral Sea”, is sometimes called Akkum, which means “white sand”. The salt of the dry sea gives the soil whiteness. In the 21st century, Aralkum has become a venue for open-air concerts and modern music festivals, which attracts tourists from all over the world. It is noteworthy that when the sea retreated, the ruins of an ancient settlement dating back to the early Middle Ages were found in the new desert. This means that the Aral Sea had already receded for a long time and a city arose in its place. Such a find gives us hope that the Aral Sea will return again.
It is wrong to think that the Aral Sea has completely disappeared. It receded, became shallow, but still alive. Now for tourists visiting Uzbekistan, there is a great chance to set up a camp on the very coast of the Aral basin. The road promises to be long, but very interesting, and as a reward, the traveler will receive the sound of the surf, sea air, and wonderful sunsets. In addition, fishermen and ichthyologists come to the sea, as many species of fish have preserved their population, as well as various birds that nest near the coast. Many of the surviving species are listed in the Red Book and can be seen only here.
The outskirts of Muynak and the Aral Sea are favorite locations for wildlife video filming and post-apocalyptic photography. A ship graveyard, an abandoned port, and a “dead city” – a fishing village abandoned by the inhabitants are perfect for this.
Without exaggerating at all, it should be understood that there is a high probability that we have witnessed the death of the Aral Sea. And our descendants will no longer be able to see what the sea in the desert is.