Wednesday, August 2, 2017

The Karakalpakstan State Museum of Art named after I.V.Savitsky


Language Ecology: Understanding Central Asian Multilingualism.

Understanding Central Asian Multilingualism:

Central Asia and its major ethnolinguistic groups map go to Central Asian Languages

Source:  University of Texas

The region of Central Asia is highly multilingual: each of the republics of the region is named for a titular nationality, each in turn with its own language, Kazakh in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyz in Kyrgyzstan, Tajik in Tajikistan, Turkmen in Turkmenistan, and Uzbek in Uzbekistan. Speakers of these languages are found not only in their respective republics, but also in the neighbouring republics.  Kazakh, Kyrgyz, Turkmen Karakalpak and Uzbek are classified as members of the Turkic language family, while Tajik, an Iranian language, is considered to be a Central Asian variety of Persian. Each displays variation among regional dialects with transitional varieties that may share features with the above languages, leaving us with a complex Turkic and Iranian dialect continua with boundaries that may be fuzzier than the sharpness of political frontiers might suggest. This book explores several diachronic stages of Central Asia's language ecology focusing on multilingualism and languages of wider communication and the lenses of diglossia with or without bilingualism, ending with a sample of contemporary language ecology of Central Asia. It argues that an ecological approach to the question of language change in Central Asia gives a greater descriptive analysis, while a comparative diachronic and synchronic approach provides insight into the processes of change and sheds light on current language trends in the region.

Language Ecology: Understanding Central Asian Multilingualism. In E. S. Ahn & J. Smagulova (Eds.), Language Change in Central Asia (pp. 11-32). Berlin: DeGruyter Mouton.  Available from:


Monday, July 17, 2017

List of Birdlife sighted in Karakalpakstan

Go to bird list and has photos of over 260 different birds in karakalpakstan such as the endangered saker falcon (Falco cherrug) above. The saker are primarily desert and steppe falcons that prefer open country such as grasslands with few trees and cliffs. This species breeds from eastern Europe, and eastward across southern Russia, to as far as Manchuria. Northern populations are migratory. They winter in Ethiopia, as well as the Arabian peninsula and northern Pakistan. The largest decline of the Saker falcon in Asia is in Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan. 

Monday, May 8, 2017


Shashlik, or shashlyk, (Russian: шашлык) is a is a dish of shallow meat, usually lamb with a minimum of spices and is an essential street food in most of the countries of the former USSR. There are disputes about where the name shashlik comes from but most likely is that “Shash” in ancient Turkic means “piece”. And ”lik” means ”six”. As a result, shashlik - is six pieces of meat. Shish” in Turkic - means "peak", "bayonet", “lik” - "for" it also could just mean skewered meat. Shashlik (as opposed to other forms of shish Kabob) is usually presented in form of chunks of meat. There are many variants, in the shape, size and choice of meat portions.  The preparation is very important - the temperature of the coals, time marinating, and careful presentation of the meat.

Typically Shashlik is prepared using leg or side of lamb in a quantity that depends on how many people you’ll feed (recommendation use at least 500gm per adult).  Cut up the meat and the fat into bite-sized pieces.  Don’t forget the fat.  It’s delicious. Traditionally the meat and fat are marinated in mineral water (seltzer) add salt, pepper, coriander and chopped onion. It is important to turn the meat around every few hours to make sure it’s evenly marinated. Total marinating time varies but a minimum of 8 hours albeit 24 hours is better. The marinated meat is then strung on skewers (always six pieces) with tomato and/or onion and the last piece usually a piece of lard.
Postal stamp of Tajikistan "Oriental bazaar" displaying an old man grilling shashliks on a mangal.
A traditional grill called a mangal (mahn-gahl) is filled with burning coals which are .  Fry it over the hot coals, at first on the one side, then on another side to release the juice and a golden brown colour. For evenly frying the meat wave a hand fan from time to time to increase the heat. If the fat lard runs off and forms a flame, sprinkle coals with water mixed with white vinegar. Cook till it’s done. Before serving, put the shashlik into a lagan (large plate). Garnish with white onion rings. The Shashlik is sometimes also served with vegetables that have been cooked in a similar fashion on separate skewers. Another tradition is to take the finished meat and remove each chunk from its skewer by holding it between pieces of bread. The bread and the meat are put into a large bowl or pot and then covered, shaken and allowed to rest for a few minutes so the flavours and juices from the meat penetrate the bread.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Uzbekistan, UMMC sign memorandum to implement Tebinbulak titanium-magnetite project

Uzbekistan and the Ural Mining and Metallurgy Company signed a memorandum on implementation of the project on developing titanium-magnetite ore Tebinbulak field in Karakalpakstan with the construction of a steelmaking plant for US$1.5 billion. The Tebinbulak field has an forecasted resource base of 3.5 bn t of ore similar to the deposits of Kachkanar in the Urals. The field is located near Nukus and was opened in 1937.
The document was signed at the Embassy of Uzbekistan in Moscow on 3 April 2017 within the state visit of the President of Uzbekistan Shavkat Mirziyoyev to Russia (4-5 April 2017).

The project on development of Tebinbulak field envisages the construction of a mining complex with a capacity of 14.7 million tonnes of ore a year with production of titanium and vanadium by 2021  Due to high investment expenses, the field has been slow to enter development. The field is being rehabilitated in order to create own resource base of Uzmetkombinat, which currently produces carbon steel flat and long products and also manufactures rolled copper and copper alloy products, as well as processing and recycling steel scrap. It is estimated that the field can provide long term raw materials for the future operation of the combine.


Thursday, April 6, 2017

Update : Takhiatash Thermal Power Plant Upgrade

The Takhiatash thermal power plant is to be upgraded to meet rising electricity demand in the western part Uzbekistan. The project will involve building two combined-cycle gas turbine units with a capacity of 230-280 MW, decommissioning old and inefficient power generation units, improving energy efficiency, and increasing power supply to the Karakalpakstan and Khorezm regions.

UzbekEnergo announced in December 2016 that the consortium including the South Korean Hyundai Engineering and Hyundai Engineering and Construction won the tender for the modernisation of Takhiatash Thermal Power Plant (TPP).

The consortium who won the international competition for the project "Construction of two 230-280 MW combined cycle power plants (CCPP) at at Takhiatash TPP" proposed a price of 457 million dollars and a 2.5 year build time. There were a total of 10 bidders from China, South Korea and Turkey. Hyundai winning the tender against strong competition from Turkey (Calik) and several China EPCs.

The project will cost a total of $ 678.2 million funded by a $ 300 million Asian Development Bank loan, US $ 230.7 million from the Fund for Reconstruction and Development of Uzbekistan and the rest from UzbekEnergo’s own funds.
The current capacity of Takhiatash GRES is 730 MW. The first unit was commissioned in 1956, the last (fifth) - in 1967. The power plant provides electricity to the north-west of Uzbekistan- the Republic of Karakalpakstan and Khorezm region.

The Takhiatash TPP is the main source of power supply in the Karakalpakstan and Khorezm regions. In 2012, power consumption in these regions was 2,293 mln. kilowatt-hours (kWh) with maximum load of 466 megawatts (MW). By 2020, the power consumption is expected to exceed 3,620 mln. kWh, with maximum load of 620 MW.

(ED: Note The term GRES (Russian: ГРЭС) refers to a condenser type electricity-only thermal power station introduced in the Soviet Union which still exist in Russia and other former Soviet republics. The Russian abbreviation ГРЭС stands for Государственная районная электростанция, or "state-owned district power plant" Over time the abbreviation has lost its literal meaning, and the term refers to a high-power (thousands of megawatt) thermal power station of condenser type. The term TEC or TETs (Russian: ТЭЦ, теплоэлектроцентраль) refers to combined heat and power plants).

Revisiting the Documentary film "the passion of Igor Savitsky".

Документальный фильм «Страсть Игоря Савицкого». Режиссер - Али Хамраев.

A documentary film "the passion of Igor Savitsky". Director - Ali Khamraev 1998, Ali Khamraev, Uzbekistan/Italy/France, 82 min. With Arielle Dombasle, Abdrashid Abdrakhmanov, Djavakhir Zakhirov.

The film "The Passion of Igor Savitsky" was released on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of his birth. Directed by  Ali Khamraev  the film to the legendary Igor Savitsky  a collector of art and great supporter of preserving the culture of the peoples of Uzbekistan and Karakalpakstan.

Igor Vitalievich Savitsky left Moscow as a young artist for the deserts of Central Asia in the early post war years.  The film following the path of Igor Vitalievich filming in Moscow, Tashkent and Nukus, and in the different regions of Karakalpakstan. Everywhere the filmmakers went, local residents gladly shared their memories of this amazing man. They interviewed many who remembered him including the son of the legendary artist Alexander Nikolaevich Volkov - Alexander Volkov, the President of the Pushkin Museum. А.С. A.S.. Pushkin - Irina Antonova, Savitsky successor - Marinika Babanazarova, Alvina Shpade - colleague and colleague of Igor Savitsky, the sculptor - Zholdasbek Kuttymuratov and many others who all share their memories and tell the story of the formation of Igor Savitsky as a collector and creator of the unique museum named after him in Nukus. The film presents a list of artists works saved by Igor Vitalievich: Nikolai Karakhan, Mikhail Kurzin, Alexander Nikolaev (Usto Mumin), Tansykbaev Ural, Mazel Ruvim, Benkov Pavel, Ufimtsev Viktor, Borovaya Nadezhda and many others. 

Igor Savitsky's fascination with the search for ancient treasures and his love of the avant-garde has resulted in the creation of one of the most unique art museums in the world, well worth visiting for anyone who is visiting  western Uzbekistan.  Nukus is only  a few hours drive north of Urgench, and for those who are staying in Khiva the museum can easily be visited on a day trip. For those that have more time there are a number of excellent hotels in Nukus allowing them to experience the unique culture and sights of Karakalpakstan.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Chorsu Bazar

Tashkent's Chorsu bazaar is Central Asia`s most famous market, topped by a giant turquoise dome, located between the modern and the old city and situated Medieval Kulkedash madrassah and Tashkent’s principal Juma (Friday) mosque. It is a wonderful place to discover local life, its amazing to stroll about the bazaars, either bargaining with the shopkeepers, or sitting on the thresholds and looking at the labours of the artisans, or watching the trade that is going on.  Its also a great place to sit in a choy-khanna or ‘tea house’ where you can stop to have a hot tea and shashlik kebabs. 

Under the huge turquoise cupola you will see continuous stalls where stallholders sell their goods. The atmosphere of the whole bazaar is covered by aromas and flavours herbs and spices which are arranged in brightly coloured mounds as are nuts, seeds and sweets, also stack of varieties of bread and other sweetmeats.

Visitors will also be amazed by the abundance and variety of its fresh fruits and vegetables. During the summer season there are mountains of tasty watermelons and melons, scores of potatoes, onions, pumpkins, tomatoes, chilies, pomegranates, persimmons and many other vegetables and whatever fruits are in season. Another specialty of the market is salted sun-dried cheese is made from boiled milk known as Kurt. 

Beside the bazar there is also a row of workshops under small domes. Inside, craftsmen make and sell their works: jewellery and gold embroidery; sanduk - dowry chests with metal decorations; beshik - painted cradles; embroidered suzanes - thin tapestries and jiyak - lace for trimming the lower edges of women's wide trousers; chapan - men's and yashmak - women's quilted cloaks; and pichok - knives in leather or brass sheaths; wicker baskets and trays and a variety of traditional musical instruments. There are also workshops of tinsmiths and blacksmiths, carpenters and wood-carvers.

There are also row after row of stalls selling all kinds of clothing and shoes modern lots of good quality men and women's fashions and traditional items such as tyuboteyka, the traditional Uzbek men’s cap and chyrpy's  cloaks. As well you will also find in the grounds of the bazar lots of handmade kurpacha-colourful mattresses and a huge assortment of carpets / rugs and other items from all over and you can't help remembering that you are in the very heart of the Silk Road.  Sources: Various (Ed)

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Melliferous flora of Karakalpakstan

Melliferous flora produce substances that can be collected by bees and turned into honey.
Prunus persicaplants
Whilst many plants are melliferous, but only certain ones can be harvested by honey bees, those with the physiognomy (body size, shape, length of proboscis etc.) In Karakalpakstan some 206 species of wild vascular plants, which belonged to 134 genera of 46 families have been identified as having commercial value for beekeeping. Among those identified some 196 species are also considered to have medicinal properties. Flowering of wild melliferous plants in Karakalpakstan starts from March some of the most common found include Populus nigraL., Roemeria refracta DC, Populus ariana Dode, Ferula foetida (Bunge) Regel, Ammodendron conollyi Bunge, Capparis herbacea Willd, Karelinia caspia (Pall.) Less, Halimodendron halodendron (Pall.) Voss, Fumaria vaillantii Loisel, Elaeagnus turcomanica N. Kozl, Elaeagnus oxycarpa Schlecht. Alhagi  pseudalhagi (Bieb.) Fisch, Glycyrrhiza glabra L, Medicago sativa L.and Althaea armeniaca. After June, the bees start to collect honey from cultivated mellliferous species, such aswith cotton (Gossypium hirsutum L.), clover (Trifolium arvense L.), apricot (A. vulgaris Lam.), jiyda (Elaeagnus angustifolia L.), and peach [Prunus persica (L.) Batsch].   

The bee has been intricately woven into many cultures. Honey and honey based-products have a long tradition as a food source in Central Asia, with the hive and the honey produced by bees having fascinated and nourished the populations for millennia. Once domesticated, honey bees were actively farmed for their honey and moved around the population, in time their pollination services became recognised and held in equal importance to their honey.

The breed of honey bee in Uzbekistan is Apis mellifera carpathica. One of the important biological features of carpathian bees is their peaceful behaviour. This bee is winter hardy, which allows them to successfully come back from a long dormant periods.

In Central Asia since ancient times honey has been considered as God's gift and used as a prophylactic food for treating many diseases. There are more than 150 traditional remedy's using honey, either in its pure form or mixed with various food ingredients (e.g., beet, pumpkin) which had strong medicinal and disease-preventive properties, especially those related to the respiratory system. Honey is known to be rich in both enzymatic and nonenzymatic antioxidants, including glucose oxidase, catalase, ascorbic acids, flavonoids, phenolic acids, carotenoid derivatives, organic acids, maillard reaction products, amino acids, and proteins. Through the use of enzymes, bees are able to convert the complex sugar in nectar into more simple sugars. 

Honey from melliferous flora has good antibacterial and preserving properties (up to 3 months at room temperature) and has long been used for improving human nutrition and boosting immunity. It contains many biologically active substances, as it is collected from many different species of plants. A more saturated honey it has good healing properties and is an important component of many drugs, dietary products, or cosmetics. Pure honey is used to treat coughs and colds. Furthermore, honey is used to prepare an ointment with other plant materials, which can be applied on various wounds as it has good antiseptic properties and prevents the growth of germs and bacteria. In addition, a mixture of honey, butter, and milk was used in the traditional treatment of tuberculosis and other respiratory diseases.
Photo: Karakalpakstan has very favourable conditions for beekeeping  
In Karakalpakstan the production of honey from cultivated species such as cotton is most promising as it occupies a majority of the planted area. Currently the honey obtained from cotton flowers (Gossypium arboreum and Gossypium herbaceum) constitutes more than 50% of the total regional output. Honey from cotton is creamy with light amber colour and has a mild, pleasant, flowery taste, without excessive acidity. Karakalpakstan as in other parts of Uzbekistan there is an urgent need to preserve the melliferous flora that can sustain bee colonies via the continued conservation and preservation of the natural environment and biodiversity of flora. This will allow for the improvement and expansion of the industry and be able to continue to produce many tons of high-quality, environmentally friendly honey.       

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Best Bread in the World

Traditional Uzbek bread, called generically non or patyr, is baked in the form of circular flat loaves (lepyoshka in Russian) with a thin decorated depression at the center and a thicker rim all around. Nons are brought to the table with the decorated side up, then torn into irregular chunks which are stacked on the bread plate. Obi non is the staple bread of Uzbek cuisine. Obi nons are mentioned in one of the oldest written works, the Epic of Gilgamesh. Obi nons are baked in clay ovens called tandir. "One having eaten in the morning a slice of obi non with raisins, fried peas or Circassian walnut will not be thinking about food for a long time", a quote from Ibn Sina (Avicenna).

In different areas of Uzbekistan, obi non is baked in different ways. Every region has different varieties of non
  • In Samarkand, small thick obi nons, the shirma nons are the most popular.
  • Bukhara obi non sprinkled with sesame or nigella, making a delicate aroma.
  • Tashkent lochira, plate-formed obi non, baked from short pastry (milk, butter, and sugar). Jirish non is specially prepared bread from flour mixed with wheat.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Sudochie Lakes in Karakalpakstan on the list of Ramsar reservoirs.

Lake Sudochie located in the Muynak district of the Kungrad region of the Autonomous Republic Karakalpakstan, 220 km NW from the town of Nukus.

The Sudochie wetlands consists of a large number of small and four large reservoirs (Akushpa, Karateren, Begdulla-Aydyn and Bolshoe Sudochie) and adjoining areas. In total some 20,000ha. It is one of the most ecologically intact zones of the Amudariya river delta and is a key location for the preservation and maintenance of the biodiversity of the region. The lakes support many breeding waterbird species including rare and disappearing species, all using the Western-Asian migratory route. The Central Asian flyway is a stopover location for waterbirds from the north of Europe and Asia, Western Siberia and Kazakhstan on their migration to wintering areas on the southern Caspian Sea, and onto Africa and the Indian subcontinent. This spring migration begins in the middle of March and ends in the middle of May.

Through the efforts of the society for the protection of birds of Uzbekistan the Sudochye lakes has been nominated and accepted for Ramsar status (see below). To date Ornithologists have counted about two hundred and thirty species of birds on the lakes. With more than 80 species of birds nesting there. These include the pelicans, flamingos,  cormorants, egrets, spoonbills, swans, ducks, gulls and curlews,

Eleven birds on the lake are listed in the Red lists of the International Union for conservation of nature. In 2014 a large colony of nesting red book species of pink flamingos nested in the lake with more than a thousand adult birds. (This year they are back again in large numbers). Also such rare species on the lakes include the Dalmatian Pelican and the white-headed duck. They also noticed (presumed as extinct) the slender-billed curlew. These species alone making this one of the most important Ramsar sites in Central Asia.

The inclusion of these wetlands in the Ramsar List has enhance biosecurity measures in the delta. Ramsar the International Convention On Wetlands of global Importance was accepted on February 2, 1971 in the Iranian city of Ramsar, given the global importance to aquatic and wetland areas. The convention has been ratified by 160 countries around the world to date. About two thousand lakes with total area of 1.836 million square kilometers are now included in the Ramsar List. Uzbekistan joined the Ramsar Convention in 2001. The total area of wetlands in the country is about one million hectares and numbers over 500 lakes. Migrations of many species of waterfowl pass through Uzbekistan, and so it is particularly important to protect these critical habitats, through the preservation of its wetlands.


Central Asia–Center gas pipeline system

Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Russia
General direction
Dauletabad gas field and Okarem, Turkmenistan
Passes through
Shatlyk gas field, Khiva, Kungrad, Cheleken, Beyneu
Alexandrov Gay, Border of Kazakhstan/Russian Federation
Runs alongside
Amu Darya
General information
natural gas
2,000 km 
The Central Asia – Center gas pipeline system was the first truly ‘transcontinental gas trunk line system’ in the former Soviet Union connecting the gas fields of Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan to industrially advanced regions of central Russia. The  construction and operation of this system  required advanced solutions for long-distance gas transmission in harsh natural and climatic conditions. It was the first system to use large 1,200 to 1,400 millimetre pipes that afterwards were widely accepted as standards for gas trunk line construction in Russia. Today the pipeline system is controlled by Gazprom and consists of a system of natural gas pipelines run from Turkmenistan via Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan to Russia. The eastern branch includes the Central Asia - Centre (CAC) 1, 2, 4 and 5 pipelines, which start from the south-eastern gas fields of Turkmenistan. The western branch consists of the CAC-3 pipeline and a project to build a new parallel Caspian pipeline. The western branch runs from the Caspian Sea coast of Turkmenistan to north. The branches meet in western Kazakhstan. From there the pipelines run to north where they are connected to the Russian natural gas pipeline system.

History - The system was built between 1960 and 1988. Construction began after discovery of Turkmenistan's Dzharkak field in the Amu Darya Basin, and the first section of the pipeline was completed in 1960. CAC-1 and 2 were commissioned in 1969 and CAC-4 was commissioned in 1973. In 1976, two parallel lines were laid between Shatlyk compressor station and Khiva. CAC-5 was commissioned in 1985 and in 1986-88 the Dauletabad–Khiva line was connected. The western branch CAC-3 was constructed in 1972-1975.

Technical features - Almost all Uzbek and Turkmen natural gas is delivered through the CAC pipeline system, mainly through the eastern branch due to location of production sites and poor technical condition of the western branch. CAC-1, 2, 4 and 5 pipelines are supplied from gas fields in the South-East of Turkmenistan, mainly from the Dauletabad gas field. The eastern branch starts from the Dauletabad field and continues through the Shatlyk gas field east of Tejen to Khiva, Uzbekistan. From there the pipeline system transports gas north-west along Amu Darya to the Kungrad compressor station in Uzbekistan. From Kungrad, most of the gas is carried via Kazakhstan to the Alexandrov Gay gas metering station in Russia. At Alexandrov Gay CAC pipelines meet with Soyuz and Orenburg–Novopskov pipelines. From there two lines run northwest to Moscow, and two others proceed across the Volga river to the North Caucasus-Moscow transmission system. The diameter of most pipelines varies from 1,020 to 1,420 millimeters. Current capacity of the system is 44 billion cubic meters (bcm) per year. An agreement is in place to increase capacity to 55 bcm per year by 2010 and through modernization there is potential to increase capacity to 90 bcm per year. The western branch originates at Okarem near the Turkmenistan–Iran border and runs north. It is supplied by gas from fields scattered along the Caspian coast between Okarem and Balkanabat. It continues via Uzen in Kazakhstan to the Beyneu compressor station, where it meets the eastern branch of the CAC. South of Hazar, the western system consists of 710 millimeters diameter pipeline, and between Hazar and Beyneau 1,220 millimeters diameter pipeline.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017


Altopiano di Ustyurt

L'altopiano di Ustyurt (Үстірт, Üstyrt in kazako, Ustyurt platosi in uzbeko, Үстирт, U'stirt in karakalpako, Üstyurtest in turkmeno, плато Устюрт, płato Ustiur in russo) è un altopiano desertico del Kazakistan, dell'Uzbekistan e del Turkmenistan limitato a ovest dal mar Caspio e dal Kara-Bogaz-Gol, a est dal lago d'Aral e dal delta dell'Amu Darya.

Immagine satellitare dell'altopiano di Ustyurt (in evidenza) tra il mar Caspio (a ovest) e il lago d'Aral (a est).

L'Ustyurt è un vasto altopiano di 200.000 km² che si innalza in maniera regolare ma impercettibile dalla falesia sud-orientale del mar Caspio fino alle antiche sponde occidentali del lago d'Aral dove raggiunge una ripida sporgenza, il Chink (che significa «scarpata»), con una modesta altitudine di 250 metri. Non è qui tuttavia che si situa il suo punto culminante di 365 metri (su un'altitudine media di 150 metri), ma nella sua parte sud-occidentale. La superficie dell'altopiano è una lastra di calcare leggermente ondulata e occupata da numerosi bacini endoreici poco profondi, come quello di Barsa-Kelmes a sud-est del lago d'Aral, di origine sia carsica che eolica. Suoli argillosi salati ricoprono il fondo di queste depressioni, in cui cresce qualche pianta e un po' d'erba dopo le rare piogge.

L'altopiano è stato pesantemente eroso durante i periodi più umidi della sua storia geologica, quando si sono formati inghiottitoi, doline e campi solcati. Il clima arido che vi regna da migliaia di anni ha contribuito a fare di questa struttura fisica una hammada dove la vegetazione è quasi assente e dove dominano le vaste distese di pietre spigolose. Le dune sono inesistenti. Nel sottosuolo, la rete carsica è ancora attiva; vi sono degli inghiottitoi di 90 metri di profondità e anche dei laghi sotterranei, alimentati dalle rare precipitazioni, nei quali vive una fauna cavernicola poco studiata.


La rete idrografica è particolarmente carente, essendo rappresentata solamente da alcuni corsi d'acqua temporanei che si perdono rapidamente nel terreno. Gli unici torrenti o fiumi degni di nota scorrono ai piedi dell'altopiano di Ustyurt, come l'Emba, che corre lungo i suoi confini settentrionali prima di gettarsi nel mar Caspio. La ricchezza idrologica dell'altopiano proviene dalle falde acquifere delle quali è satura la maggior parte delle rocce sotterranee e che sono ben conosciute a causa delle numerose ricerche effettuate dai geologi e dai geofisici nell'ambito dell'esplorazione mineraria e petrolifera. Le acque sotterranee che presentano il maggior interesse si trovano nelle arenarie del Cretaceo superiore nel sud-est dell'altopiano; esse sono quasi tutte del tipo clorurato calcico. A causa delle faglie, una parte di queste acque può risalire sotto forma artesiana e formare delle sorgenti salate in superficie. Queste ultime possono alimentare degli stagni salmastri che beneficiano anche dell'apporto delle piogge invernali che lisciviano i terreni più superficiali. Le rare falde superficiali esistenti sono state sistematicamente individuate e utilizzate per l'irrigazione, permettendo di migliorare leggermente la qualità dei pascoli temporanei dell'altopiano, ma attualmente sono tutte prosciugate.


Il bordo orientale dell'altopiano di Ustyurt domina l'antico fondale del lago d'Aral.
La geologia dell'altopiano di Ustyurt si fonde spesso con quella della depressione aralo-caspica. La storia dell'altopiano di Ustyurt è antica e risale all'epoca in cui il vasto oceano della Tetide separava il blocco arabo-indo-africano dalle placche antiche, formate da blocchi disuniti, situate a nord di questo antico oceano, celanti al loro interno rocce dell'Archeano (fine del Paleozoico). Uno spesso strato di sedimenti si depositò a partire dalla fine del Paleozoico, durante tutto il Mesozoico, e nel Terziario, fino a quando la Tetide scomparve schiacciata dall'avanzata del blocco arabo-indo-africano. Se la deriva dei continenti verso il nord portò alla formazione delle grandi catene himalayane, lo zoccolo antico non subì alcuna frattura nelle regioni occupate dall'attuale altopiano di Ustyurt. Gli strati sedimentari (calcari di età miocenica) sono rimasti più o meno orizzontali e hanno semplicemente seguito questo zoccolo nei suoi movimenti verticali, che hanno portato alla formazione delle vaste piattaforme corrispondenti a un altopiano sub-orizzontale come l'Ustyurt e alle grandi pianure che formano il grosso dei rilievi dei deserti del Karakum e del Kyzylkum.

Dopo l'Oligocene, un vasto mare, chiamato Sarmato o anche Sarmatico, che si estendeva sul mar Mediterraneo, il mar Nero e il mar Caspio allora riuniti, ricopriva la depressione dell'Asia centrale e depositò sedimenti vari (detti sarmatici). Questi ultimi sono costituiti da argille, sabbie, arenarie, conglomerati e calcari. Essi contengono tracce di evaporiti, testimoni del clima arido che regnava già sulla regione. Dei movimenti verticali, lungo le antiche linee di faglia, influenzarono i confini orientali dell'altopiano di Ustyurt e formarono la scarpata chiamata Chink che ne segna il bordo. Il mare scomparve nel corso del Miocene, poi riapparve durante il Pliocene, ma con una superficie più piccola, anche se era ancora collegato al mar Nero da uno stretto poco profondo. Un braccio di mare, che collegava il mar Caspio all'attuale lago d'Aral, occupava allora la depressione scavata a sud dell'altopiano di Ustyurt da un antico corso d'acqua, il paleo-Oxus, ancora presente nel Quaternario. Quest'ultimo periodo geologico è stato segnato dalle grandi glaciazioni. L'alternanza di periodi freddi (e asciutti tranne che in primavera) e temperati (aridi in pianura e sui bassi altopiani) ebbe poca influenza sull'altopiano di Ustyurt, a eccezione delle avanzate del Caspio che lasciarono dei sedimenti marini intercalati ai depositi fluviali delle epoche di regressione del mare.

Fauna e flora

La saiga, antilope emblematica dell'altopiano di Ustyurt.
L'altopiano di Ustyurt ospita una flora e una fauna ben adattate a un ambiente particolare e difficile. Tra le specie animali più caratteristiche di questo ambiente, troviamo l'urial (Ovis orientalis arkal), un muflone che vive negli ambienti steppici dell'Asia centrale, la gazzella subgutturosa (Gazella subgutturosa) e soprattutto la saiga (Saiga tatarica tatarica), l'unica antilope eurasiatica, caratterizzata dal muso terminante con una piccola proboscide carnosa e dagli occhi sporgenti. Animale simbolo dell'altopiano, quest'ultima è stata inserita nella lista rossa delle specie in pericolo dell'Unione internazionale per la conservazione della natura. Il numero di queste antilopi è drammaticamente diminuito nel corso degli ultimi vent'anni, passando da un milione di esemplari agli inizi degli anni '90 ai circa 40.000 attuali, dei quali 10.000 stanziati sull'altopiano di Ustyurt. Malgrado delle strette misure di conservazione e la creazione di aree protette in Uzbekistan, Kazakistan e Turkmenistan, il numero di saighe è continuato a diminuire a causa di un intenso bracconaggio. La sua carne è infatti molto ricercata, ma sono soprattutto le sue corna, utilizzate dalla medicina tradizionale cinese come un'alternativa al corno di rinoceronte e vendute a un prezzo molto elevato, l'origine dei numerosi abbattimenti. La Cina si è da allora impegnata a ingaggiare una lotta contro la vendita illegale di queste corna, poiché, se non verranno prese apposite misure, la saiga è condannata a scomparire nel giro dei prossimi cinque-sette anni.


Tuesday, March 7, 2017

The Magnificent Usyturt

The Ustyurt is a huge plateau within the Caspian watershed on the territory of Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and NW Turkmenistan, covering an area of about 200,000 sq. km. It extends from Mangyshlak and Kara Bogaz Gol Bay in the west to the Aral Sea and Amu Darya delta in the east. The plateau rises above the plain to 350 meters, cut off from the surrounding plains by steep inaccessible ledges of the escarpment. To access from Nukus you travel north to Kungrad and then north west above the desert plain there suddenly rise sheer cliffs up to 400 m high called ‘chinks’ a steep pass allows access up onto the plateau. Its seminomadic population raises sheep, goats, and camels. The name is sometimes spelled Ust Urt.    

The Ustyurt Plateau, with its magnificent cliffs, escarpment, scenic canyons and outlying mountains, presents a unique landscape and has an exceptionally rich biological diversity. It has clay-sagebrush and saltwort-sagebrush desert plants, and in its south-eastern part of is clay-and-rock-debris, with alkali spots. The nature of the Ustyurt is fantastic and unique. Many animals that live there are listed in the Red Book of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). It is especially beautiful in spring and autumn. Its summer temperature here is more than 50ºC, and often mirages appear in the scorching air. In in winter severe cold winter blows and it can reach 40ºC.  
For centuries, the Ustyurt Plateau has been a crossroads of civilizations (Scythians, Mongols and Kazakhs) and it has preserved traces of these many cultures.  Sensational historic discoveries have been made in recent years with more than 60 sites of the Neolithic period being found including the so-called Arana (Arrows), a complex configuration of hundred metres of stone fences which served for mass battue hunting of hoofed herd such as kulans, saiga antelopes and gazelles. 

The famous Silk Way passed through the plateau connecting Khiva with lower reaches of Emba and Volga. Along this trade route there was an ancient city called Shakhr-i-Vazir, Beleuli caravanserai, and Allan fortress. The ancient graveyards with the magnificent mausoleums called ‘mazars’ and other Islamic holy places are scattered across the plateau.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Desert Saxaul

Photo: Black Saxaul (Haloxylon ammodendron)
Saxaul is found over a huge area (approx. 450,000 sq. km) of semi-arid and arid ecosystems within Central Asia. These so called cold winter deserts range through Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan and into Xinjiang, northwest China & Mongolia. Saxual is ranges in size from 2-8 m tall (in rare cases up to 10-12 m tall). It has a brown trunk 4-10 cm (up to 25cm) in diameter. Its wood is heavy and coarse and the bark is spongy and water-soaked. The branches of the young trees are vivid green (new growth) and hanging and turn brown, grey, or white as the tree matures. Branches formed in the current year are green whereas older branches are brown, or grey to white, the leaves of the plant are reduced to very small cusp-like scales, so that it appears nearly leafless. The inflorescences consist of short lateral shoots borne on stems of the previous year and flowers are bisexual or male, very small, als being longer or shorter than the bracteoles. The leaves are reduced to very small, pointed scales so that the plant appears nearly leafless. The flowers are small and yellow.  Flowers appear from March to April. In its fruit, the perianth segments develop, spreading pale brown or white wings diameter of about 8 mm (the seeds about 1.5 mm). Fruits appearing from October to November. Saxaul burns well and in some places it is the only kind of fuel wood that can be utilised for heating and cooking. It is also an important source of water in the arid regions in which it grows. Its thick bark acts as a water storage organ and drinking water can be obtained by pressing quantities of bark. Its wood is also durable and heavy and is used for building shelters.

A large number of birds including the Saxaul sparrow (Passer ammodendri) live in the ecosystem. They are at 14–16 cm long and weight 25–32 grams making them among the larger sparrow species.  A bird of the deserts, it favours areas with shrubs like the saxaul located near rivers and oases. Though it has lost parts of its range due to the expansion of agriculture, to date it is not seriously threatened by human activities.
Photo: Saxaul sparrow (Passer ammodendriSource:Haloxylon