Nukus is the strangest town I have ever been to! My hotel, Jipek Joli ( Silk Road)was right in the ” centre”! The street was full of apartment buildings and shops, BUT ……..they were ALL EMPTY!The whole ” centre” of town looked, well, just “nuked”!
The good news was that the hotel was right next to the biggest and best art gallery in Uzbekistan. Nukus is in the former republic of Karakalpakstan. The desert area with the famous Aral Sea. Of which I will write more in a minute. The Savitsky art gallery is a very pleasant surprise to find in such a desolate place. There is, of course a story attached to it. Let me put the info of the Lonely Planet in my own words. The Savitsky owns more than 90.000 artefacts and pieces of art- including more than 15.000 paintings- which are not all displayed , by the way. Most of the paintings came here during the Soviet times by the artist Igor Savitski, who wanted to preserve the avant garde art scene. The Russians were known to destroy any kind of art works they didn’t like!
I, for one, am glad he choose to preserve some of the most amazing works in the history of Uzbekistani Art. Nukus is literally the last place one would look for such a collection, and the Russians didn’t bother either. In the mean time dear Savitsky ( I wish his name was Smith!) saved a whole generation of contemporary art. One can also visit the store rooms, if one pays for it.
When I arrived it was in the high thirties. Luckily I didn’t have to walk too far. After my first three overwhelming hours in the museum, I was in need of a beverage. Across the road was a coffee shop, which was the only shop which had something in it! The coffee was delicious, and the enormous piece of cake serviced as dinner! All this for a A$1,50! My last piece of cake I promise! No more! Did I mention I get chocolate cake for breakfast every morning?? What a country! Shame that due to my knee and then my ankle, I can not walk the way I am used to and want! Also I might have mentioned the uneven footpaths and roads, that make a good strong walk rather impossible.
So what I am trying to say in a round abound way, is that this chocolate cake goes straight to my broad and cushioned hips!
The second day in Nukus, looked like the Armageddon had arrived. Dust storm, with very salty tasting fine dust, howled through the empty streets. I went back to the museum and spend another four hours, just wandering and enjoying. I was in heaven. Great art, solo, and after telling the staff to take their loud mobile calls outside, in silence! I wandered, sat, dreamt and was in a state of pure Bliss! The entry to the museum was not cheap. A$10 and if I wanted to take photos I had to pay another A$ 35!! This to me was not necessary, thinking I will buy some post cards of my favourite art, or a catalogue! The catalogue however was also the same price as the photo permit, and in the whole shop I managed to buy two postcards! This area could be improved strongly!
As I walked back into the horrific Armageddon atmosphere, I decided to return to the hostel. When I arrived back I realised that there was a museum just next door. It was a small museum, celebrating the life of the first woman, who performed on stage! Ayimxan Shamuratov, was a lovely woman, who was married to a play writer, Amet. They had seven children together. When her husband didn’t return from the Second World War, she had to make a living and she took to the stage. She saved up her money to support the Soviet war efforts, and managed to save enough for a war plane! Why any woman would support a war effort is beyond me, but it takes all sorts, I am sure! The museum was minuscule, walking in these horrid conditions impossible, so back to my room, to read, draw and watch kittens on you tube! Bliss in other words!
On my last day in Nukus, I had planned to visit the four musea mentioned on my maps app! Well, for some reason or other, I ended up at the presidential palace! Before I could knock on the door to see if he was at home, this soldier in a state of panic came running up! Thank god, no guns! Apparently one cannot , and must not knock on the White House doors! I wonder if one could do this in Washington DC? G’day Don, saw the lights on thought I hop in for a beer! Hm! The mind boggles!
After three hours of walking I gave up, found the directions to the archeological museum. According to my gadget, I was there!! The staff, Russian only, called the professor who spoke English! As he lived just around the corner, he came over, took me to the one room of restored artefacts, and explained all. The set up is paid for by the Sydney University on the initiative of an Australian professor! I was grateful for the opportunity to see it all, but to call this one room a museum, is way over the top! Nukus is one of the strangest places I have ever been to! I don’t think I will be back in a hurry!