Mo‘ynoq is one of those cities in the world whose present situation and scenario paint a completely opposite picture of its past. Part of the Karakalpakstan Republic, it is a place that offers something really unique. While that uniqueness amazes few, but is heartbreak for the others.
Muynak is a village region located in the northwestern part of Uzbekistan and 220 Km from city of Nukus, capital of the semi-autonomous Karakalpakstan Republic. It once was a prosperous port town bordering with the shoreline of Aral Sea which was the fourth largest lake in the world.
It was an endorheic lake lying between Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. According to archaeologists, it is a relatively young water body which appeared somewhere about 10,000 years ago. It grew shallow twice during its lifetime, but each time got revived to its mark of 55 meters above sea level. From Amu Darya and Syr Darya, both flowing into Aral Sea, it received around 56 cubic kilometers of water every year. But all the fairytale glory gradually fell away after the Soviet Union undertook the Great Plan for the Transformation of Nature initiative which was focused on agriculture development and water projects. Because of this initiative, both Amu Darya and Syr Darya were diverted from their usual routes onto Aral Sea towards the cotton plantation fields and deserts. Even though the initiative succeeded on its ground and made Uzbekistan the sixth largest producer of cotton, but as a consequence this led to the reduction of Aral Sea 10% of its original size. In other words, Aral Sea was sacrificed for the “white gold” that has now become the backbone of Uzbek economy.
Today much of the Muynak is just a desert barren land which is home to only a few thousands residents at max. After the gradual decline of Aral Sea shoreline which has now receded100 -150 kilometers, much of the population left behind the city too in search of better jobs and opportunities. Those that still inhabit the region don’t enjoy a good life either as the land is not suitable for cultivation of any kind of crops, or the lake in its current form is too saline to support aquaculture. Furthermore, toxic particles that come from the agricultural chemical runoff float in the air of Muynak because of the dust storms. These are also a big concern which is known to have been causing chronic and acute illnesses among the residents.
During its golden era, it was one of the busiest harbors which accommodated more than hundred thousand residents, most of them involved in the fishing business. Fishing boats back then were a rage and were quite profitable. Thus they grew in number along with the fishing factories that processed the aquatic products. But all of the above is now a thing of the past. What you’ll now see is the rusting fleet of boats in the middle of desert, which is perhaps the main tourist attraction of this place.
Muynak has turned into a huge graveyard for ships that are nothing but rusting and waiting to be completely dismantled. You’ll get to see a fleet of ships lying next to each other.
This is a one of its kind museum that exhibits somewhere around two hundred exhibits that apprise the tragic story of bygone era that this region went through.
Lately, numerous initiatives and programs have been proposed, with interest from the likes of NATO and World Bank, in an attempt to save the dying Aral Sea and resurrect it to its former glory. Notwithstanding the situation, a tour to Muynak will definitely be an eye-opening one.