Ambassador Visits Ancient Fortress and Holy Springs on Trip to Nurata and Lake Aiderkul

U.S. Ambassador Richard Norland (right)Taking advantage of the opportunity to travel across the great steppes of Central Asia, U.S. Ambassador Richard Norland and his wife, Mary Hartnett, recently drove to the ancient holy town of Nurata.

The road from Jizzakh to Nurata traversed the spectacular open plains for hundreds of kilometers, with a dramatic escarpment of mountains lining one side and endless steppe on the other.  In the small town of Jangikishlak, an enterprising restaurant owner had placed an old car

A bright orange car attracts visitors to a restaurant in the village of Jangikishlak
A bright orange car attracts visitors to a restaurant in the village of Jangikishlak.

painted orange on top of a high pole outside his restaurant, attracting visitors from all around.

Nurata is a town of about 25,000 people situated in Navoi Region near where the western edge of the Gissaro Alai mountains tapers away into the expanse of the Kyzyl Kum desert. The town features two ancient mosques at the foot of a citadel built by Alexander the Great during his siege of Samarkand in the 4th Century B.C.

Part of the holy complex involves a remarkable phenomenon: An underground spring feeds a small well and larger pond in which thousands of fish (marinka) swim.  The water is considered holy, and so are the fish, so they are untouched – indeed, they can be found swimming throughout the town’s above-ground water distribution system linked to this holy spring.

“The site is one that no American visitor will ever forget,” Norland said.

About 50 kilometers from Nurata is the enormous Aiderkul Lake, whose

Thousands of fish swim in the spring-fed well and pond of the Chashma (Tajik for “spring”) holy complex in Nurata. The water and fish are considered sacred.

Thousands of fish swim in the spring-fed well and pond of the Chashma (Tajik for “spring”) holy complex in Nurata. The water and fish are considered sacred.

clean water and empty, sandy beaches remind an American of the South Carolina coastline. The lake was formed in the 1960s from overflow from the Syr Darya River and has become an important ecological site for migratory birds and wildlife.

Ambassador Norland stayed overnight in a yurt camp near the shore of Aiderkul and had the chance to explore the area on foot.

“The chance to spend the night in the yurt camp located near the village of Dongelek offered wonderful insights into the traditions of the nomadic people of that region,” Norland said.

Since his arrival in Uzbekistan in 2008, Ambassador Norland has visited all 14 administrative regions of Uzbekistan. His travels in Uzbekistan have ranged from archeological sites near Termez to the Uzbek mountain enclave of Shakhimardan and across the desert regions of Karakalpakstan.

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