The Stan within a Stan, Karakalpakstan is an autonomous republic within Uzbekistan and covers the whole northwestern end of the country, making up about a third of the country’s total area. Karakalpakstan corresponds roughly to the ancient territory of Khorezm, which was a large oasis area on the Amu Darya River delta whose history dates back to 3000 BCE. It is hard to believe that this arid region was once densely populated, fertile marshlands inhabitated by the Saka, the Achaeminids, the Parthians and the Sassanids. As the Amur Darya shifted its course and began to drain into the Aral sea the desertification of the area started and the cities were left stranded in a sea of sand.
For fans of old castles this is an area not to be missed as there are about 20 (quite a few have probably not been discovered yet) of them dotted around the landscape, some of them being more than 2000 years old. My partner and I visited 3 of them on a day tour from Khiva with Responsible Travel. We had hired a guide and a driver for $160, which is probably not the cheapest option available, but we thoroughly enjoyed our trip. They picked us up at our B&B in Khiva, fed and watered us on the way, threw some melons and an old Russian jet into the bargain, guided us through the castles and then dropped us back at the B&B. No complaints on our part.
Toprak Kala Fortress
The history of this large settlement dates back to the 1st century BCE and it reached its zenith under Kushan rule around the 3rd century CE until they were superceded by the Kath in 305 CE. The later collapse of Kushan and White Hephalite rule left the region open to devastating Turkic raids, which destroyed the irrigation canlas and led to the depopulation of the town in the sixth century CE.
Kyzil Kala Fortress
Kyzil Kala, the “Red Fortress” stands a mere 3 kilometers northwest of Toprak-Kala and its origins date back to the 1st century CE although it was subsequently rebuild in the 12th and 13 century prior to the Mongol conquests. Due to is closeness to Toprak Kala it is often assumed that Kyzil Kala was part of Toprak-Kala’s defensive system and served as a garrison post for the main fortress.
Ayaz Kala Fortress
yaz Kala was probably build in the second century CE by the Kushan Empire and is speculated to have been built as part of a chain of border fortresses guarding the borders of the Kyzylkum Desert. The Ayaz-Kala complex actually consists of three different fortified complexes. On the cliff-plateau are the remnants of Ayaz 1with semi-circular towers, arched galleries in the wall and the remains of a watchtower. Next to the cliff-plateau, the Ayaz 2 ruins sits on top of a rock while was a giant fortress, built on the plain, with a large courtyard surrounded by strong walls that comprised at least 40 houses. As Ayaz 3 was build on the plain it was the most accessible of the three Kalas. On two trips to Uzebkistan (my first one in 2001) I have never been shown Ayaz 3.