Some miles south of Nurata, where the road to that city leaves the main Bukhara-Samarkand road to head north across the desert, is the town of Karmana, notable for a number of ancient buildings. Two of these in fact lie some 16 miles east of the town, either side of the main road. On its north side is the impressive portal of the Rabt-i-Malik, all that remains of a one-time royal caravanserai, where noble travellers would once have rested during their journeys across the steppe. Almost opposite on the south side of the road a restored dome covers the well where the camels would have found refreshment (photos 2 & 3),. Now instead of caravans of camels, cars and trucks roar past these ancient relics, creating a microcosm of Uzbekistan’s “past meets present” character.
In Karmana itself is the Kasim Sheikh Khanagha, a former dervish hostel now used as the town’s mosque. And in a small park near the bazaar is the Mir Said Bakhrom Mausoleum, built in the 11th century. Its ornamental brickwork, with inscriptions from the Koran set in it (photos 4 & 5), reminded me of the Ishmael Samani Mausoleum in Bukhara, though this one is older and less elaborate than that more famous example.
- Historical Travel
Despite being only 7 km from the nearby village of Yangigazgan, our desert camp felt very much “Off the beaten path” and never more so than first thing in the morning …
I slept well at the desert camp at first, until the cool wind coming through the lattice frame of our yurt at about 4.30 woke me. I opened my eyes to see a thin but incredibly bright crescent moon hovering above the nearby sand dune. After dozing fitfully for some time I decided, about an hour later, to give up and get up. Slipping into my shorts and reaching for my camera, I left my still-sleeping yurt-mates and stepped outside. I didn’t know what time the sun would rise but I figured it would be great to try to capture it on camera and much better than lying on the slightly hard ground trying unsuccessfully to sleep.
I had rather more of a wait than I had expected, but it was a lovely sensation, for a short while at least, to be the only person up in the camp. Gradually though a few others woke up and joined me outside, but still not so many that when the time for the sunrise came we couldn’t almost have a sand dune each to watch it from! Certainly I was alone on mine when the sun first climbed above the more distant dunes.
Soon after this I headed back down into the camp where more people were by now up and about. In fact my one tiny criticism of the camp would be that, with breakfast not served until 8.00, and so many of us up before 7.00, they didn’t think to provide a pot of tea at that time. Nevertheless, this was a wonderful time to be in the desert, with sun growing in strength and warmth every minute and the dunes glowing in the early morning light. And when breakfast was served it was very good: bread, pancakes, cheese, meat, jam and hard-boiled eggs, washed down with either green tea or decent (though instant) coffee. After this, and a short walk on the dunes with Chris [who had slept through the sunrise ;( ] it was time to leave the camp for the next visitors and head back to Yangigazgan.
On the morning after our night in the camp we headed to Lake Aidarkul, which seems to be standard practice on all these tours. Opinions in our group about this were rather mixed, with some of us enjoying the interlude in the intensive sightseeing, and others regretting that it gave us less time in Samarkand. I think it depended on whether you found something there to appeal to you. If like me and a few others you were keen to swim it was great, and if like Chris you fancied a walk and a chance to see the desert scenery from somewhere other than out of the bus window, it was also good.
But this isn’t really a place to come to simply relax – there is no shade, and although an awning was set up for us to sit under, it was rather small, so those who wanted peace and quiet to read, write up their journal or just unwind would have found the chatter of the others distracting. I however really enjoyed my swim – see my Sports tip for more about it if you fancy doing the same yourself. Our visit concluded with a picnic lunch that had been provided by the Kazaks at the yurt camp – salads, cold potatoes, bread, watermelon, with bottled water and green tea to drink.
The Lake itself is man-made – a result of water supply projects in the area in the early 1970s (resulting in the Sirdarya river overflowing from the Chardarinskaya Reservoir). It is over 200 km long and in some places as much as 15 km wide – enough that you can’t see the far side. The bay where we swam was fairly uninteresting to look at, apart from the pretty green rushes captured in Chris’s photo (no. 3), but elsewhere I’ve read that it attracts a lot of birds such as cormorants, pelicans and herons – I would have liked to have visited that part. It’s also well-stocked with fish, and indeed fishing is the main industry in this region, apart maybe from tourism as more and more travellers choose to spend a night (or more) in one of these yurt camps as part of their Uzbekistan experience.
Looking for petroglyphs
Uzbekistan’s most famous site for ancient petroglyphs is the Sarmysh Gorge, but we weren’t able to visit there unfortunately. However we did stop to see a small group of petroglyphs in the rocks right by the road that runs from Karmana to Nurata, near its highest point Black Crow Pass. A short scramble up the rocks brought us to several showing the ancient markings, reasonably well-preserved considering their proximity to the road.
You probably need a guide to point these out as I guess you wouldn't find them without knowing where to look. And that's a good thing, as they are so close to the road that if more people knew where to stop they could quickly be damaged, either intentionally or by accident.
- Historical Travel
Heading north into the Kyzyl Kum desert from Nurata we came to this village, which would be unremarkable and unvisited by tourists were it not for its role as a departure point for the bus ride to the nearby yurt camp. I was pleased we came here though, for the brief glimpse it afforded us of genuine Uzbek village life.
The village is a soviet-built one so the houses are functional concrete blocks, but as everywhere on our travels we were welcomed with friendly smiles that were much more photogenic than any building. I spent quite a few minutes photographing the children, naturally, and I think they were pleased to be given a couple of the postcards from home that we’d brought with us in return. I also enjoyed seeing other aspects of life here – the women spinning in the shade of the trees (photo 3) and others with the far hotter job of firing bricks in a clay oven (photo 4).
Sarmish-say is a river gorge on the south slope of the Karatau mountain ridge belonging to the Zarafshan mountain range. It is situated about 30 km northeast of the city of Navoi, which is about 170 km southwest of Samarkand.
Took a trip after getting info on the following site http://www.advantour.com/uzbekistan/sarmish-say.htm
GPS coordinates: Latitude: 40° 18' 36.47 N, Longitude: 65° 37' 19.96 E