To Aral Sea via Kyzyl-Kum desert

 

Country: Uzbekistan. View the route map »»
Tour duration: 15 days / 14 nights.
Best time to travel: March - May, September - October.
Tour itinerary, cities: Tashkent - Samarkand - Nurata - Yurt camp on the lake Aydarkul - Aydarkul lake - Bukhara -
Kyzyl-Kum desert - Mingbulak Depression - Ayaz-Kala Fortress - Khiva - Nukus - Barsakelmes Lake - Aral Sea - Muynak - Nukus - Tashkent.

We offer you the opportunity to set out on an exciting journey during which - besides classic excursions round the famous Oriental cities with rich historical legacies - you can visit the least explored corners of Uzbekistan. The beautiful landscapes of the hot Kyzyl Kum Desert and its flora and fauna, endless steppes and peculiar rocks, mysterious ancient Zoroastrian forts, dinosaur and tree fossils are just a small part you can see there. You can also visit lonely desert settlements to learn the locals’ customs and mode of life, and get to the shore of the shrinking Aral Sea after covering several hundred kilometers across the desert.

  • ITINERARY /
    SERVICES & COST

  • ITINERARY IN DETAIL

  • FAQ
  • USEFUL INFORMATION /
    ROUTE MAP
  • OPTIONAL EXCURSIONS &
    LEISURE ACTIVITIES

 

Itinerary
Day 1. Arrival in Tashkent.
Meeting at Tashkent airport. Transfer to hotel and check-in. Guided sightseeing tour around Tashkent: Khast-Imam Square, Barak-Khan Madrasah, Kafal-al-Shashi Mausoleum, Chor-Su Bazaar, Kukeldash Madrasah; after lunch: Museum of Applied Arts, Independence Square, Amir Timur Square. Overnight rest in hotel.
Day 2. Tashkent - Samarkand (330km).
Transfer to Samarkand. Arrival in Samarkand after lunchtime. Leisure time: Siab Bazaar recommended. Overnight at the hotel.
Day 3. Samarkand.
Breakfast at the hotel. Guided sightseeing tour around Samarkand: Registan square (Ulugbek madrassah, Sher-Dor madrassah, Tilla-Qori madrassah), Gur-e Amir mausoleum (Tamerlane’s sepulcher), Rukhabad mausoleum; after lunch: Bibi-Khanym mosque, Shah-i-Zinda necropolis, Ulugbek observatory. Overnight at the hotel.
Day 4. Samarkand - Nurata - Yurt camp at Aydarkul Lake (270km).
Breakfast in hotel. Transfer to yurt camp at Aydarkul Lake through town of Nurata. Excursion round Nurata, visiting Namazgoh Mosque and ruins of fortress of Alexander the Great. Lunch in traditional house in Nurata. Transfer to Aydar Yurt Camp. Rest and dinner. Night’s rest in yurt camp.
Day 5. Aydarkul Lake - Bukhara (300km).
Breakfast in yurt camp. Camel-back ride to lake. Rest, picnic at lake. Transfer to Bukhara. Spare time in Bukhara; strolling around night Bukhara. Night’s rest in hotel.
Day 6. Bukhara.
Breakfast in hotel. Guided sightseeing tour around: Chashma-Ayub Masoleum, Po-i-Kalyan Complex, Kalyan Minaret, Ulugbek Madrasah, Lab-i-Hauz Architectural Ensemble, Kukeldash Madrasah, Nadir Divanbegi Madrasah, Ismail Samani Mausoleum, and Ark Fortress. Night’s rest in hotel.
Day 7. Bukhara - Kyzyl-Kum Desert (390km).
Transfer: Bukhara - Village Shuruk - Kuldjuktau Mountains - Village Djangeldy - Village Uzunkuduk - desert sands - dry salt lake near Uchkuduk. Landscape: steppe, desert, mountains.
Breakfast in hotel. Beginning of jeep tour part in Kyzylkum Desert; ride through village Uzunkuduk, visiting its spring used by majority of local people; familiarizing with their mode of life. Lunch in desert. Proceeding north towards Uchkuduk. Arrival at campsite. Dinner. Night’s rest in tents.
Day 8. Kyzyl-Kum Desert - Mingbulak Depression (270km).
Transfer: Kyzyl-Kum Desert - Uchkuduk - Kulkuduk - Bukantau Mountains - Irlir Spring - Mingbulak Depression. Landscape: steppe, desert, mountains.
Breakfast in tent camp. Ride through Uchkuduk City, visiting Monument to Three Wells. Proceeding north towards Bukantau Mountains, visiting Irlir Spring (‘place of frogs’ in Kazakh). Observation of rock engravings (petroglyphs). Lunch. Proceeding to Mingbulak Depression. Hike around area. Dinner. Night’s rest in tents.
Day 9. Mingbulak Depression - Ayaz-Kala Fortress (260km).
Transfer: Mingbulak Depression - Djarakuduk - desert sands - Kyrk-Kyz-Kala Fortress - Ayaz-Kala Fortress. Landscape: steppe, desert, rocky hills.
Breakfast in tent camp. Proceeding to Djarakuduk - large palaeontological site near Djara Mound, which can be compared to ‘outdoor palaeontological museum’. Arrival in Djurakuduk; observation of petrified wood. Lunch. Proceeding to territory of ancient Khorezm area across Kyzyl-Kum Desert. Visiting Kyrk-Kyz-Kala Fortress. Proceeding to Ayaz-Kala Fortress; exploring its ruins. Dinner. Night’s rest in tents.
Day 10. Ayaz-Kala Fortress - Khiva (170km).
Transfer: Ayaz-Kala Fortress - Tuprak-Kala Fortress - Kyzyl-Kala Fortress - Sultan Uvais Bobo Complex - Khiva. Landscape: steppe, desert, rocky hills, rivers, canals.
Breakfast in tent camp. Proceeding to remains of Tuprak-Kala Fortress meaning ‘Clay Fortress’. Tuprak-Kala was capital of ancient Khorezm Kingdom in 1st c. Proceeding to Kyzyk-Kala Fortress. Proceeding to Sultan Uvais Bobo Complex. Lunch in traditional restaurant en route. Proceeding to Khiva; checking into hotel. Spare time; strolling around night Khiva. Dinner in restaurant. Night’s rest in hotel.
Day 11. Khiva.
Breakfast in hotel. Guided sightseeing tour around Khiva (Ichan-Kala ‘inner city’ historic old city): Pakhlavan Mahmoud Complex, Kunya-Ark Fortress, Kalta Minor Minaret, Islam Khoja Minaret and Madrasah, Tash Khauli-Khan Palace, Juma Mosque, Muhammad Amin-Khan Minaret and Madrasah, Avesta Museum. Overnight rest in hotel.
Day 12. Khiva - Nukus - Barsakelmes Salt Lake (480km).
Transfer: Khiva - Nukus - Mizdakhan Complex - Barsakelmes Lake. Landscape: steppe, desert.
Breakfast in hotel. Transfer to Nukus, capital of Autonomous Republic of Karakalpakstan. Excursion round Savitskiy Museum and museum of local lore, history and economy. Lunch in restaurant. Proceeding to and visiting Mizdakhan Complex. Proceeding to Barsakelmes Salt Lake, meaning ‘if you go there, you never return’, one of the main country’s salt sources. Arrival at camp site. Dinner. Night’s rest in tents.
Day 13. Barsakelmes Salt Lake - Aral Sea (290km).
Transfer: Barsakelmes Salt Lake - Village of Urga - Sudochye Lake - Aral Sea. Landscape: barchans; steppe, desert.
Breakfast in tent camp. Proceeding to Village of Urga, first Russian settlement in Khorezm and Aral Sea region, then to Sudochye Lake. Proceeding to Aral Sea, lunch en route. Arrival at camp site; descent to shoreline. Dinner. Night’s rest in tents.
Day 14. Aral Sea - Muynak - Nukus (450km). Night flight to Tashkent.
Transfer: Aral Sea - Muynak - Nukus. Landscape: steppe, desert, saline land, cliffs, bottom of gone-away sea.
Breakfast in tent camp. Proceeding to Muynak, visiting famous sea-craft cemetery. Lunch in traditional house. Transfer to Nukus airport. Air flight to Tashkent. Meeting at Tashkent airport and transfer to hotel. Feast dinner in restaurant. Night’s rest in hotel.
Day 15. Tashkent. End of program.
Breakfast in hotel. Transfer to airport. End of program; departure.

Additional Information

Hotels
We choose the most conveniently located and reputable hotels for our customers to stay at. The list of the hotels we offer is below. However, due to seasonal conditions and group size this list is subject to change.
Hotels 3-4* - very comfortable hotels providing excellent facilities and services; mainly located in or near city centers.

Accommodation during the tour programm:

City Hotels 3-4*
Tashkent Ramada 4* or similar
Samarkand Emir Han 4* or similar
Bukhara Asia Bukhara 3*+ or similar
Khiva Asia Khiva Hotel 3*+ or similar
Yurt camp Yurt camp at Aydarkul Lake or similar
Desert “RedFox Family” tents or similar

Transportation
Depending on the size of a group the following means of transportation are used during the tour:

Group From 1 to 6 and on the 15 tour days From 7 to 14 tour days
Group of 1-2 pers. "Daewoo Lacetti" "Toyota Hilux" - 1 car.
Group of 3-5 pers. "Hunday Grand Starex" "Toyota Hilux" - 2 cars.
Group of 6-8 pers. "Mitsubishi Rosa" "Toyota Hilux" - 3 cars.
Group of 9-11 pers. "Mitsubishi Rosa" "Toyota Hilux" - 4 cars.
Group of 12-14 pers. "Golden Dragon" "Toyota Hilux" - 5 cars.

 

ITINERARY IN DETAIL:

Day 1. Arrival in Tashkent.

Once you have stepped over the last ramp stair, you begin to enjoy the warmth and hospitality of the blessed Central Asian land. Met at the airport, you are driven to a cozy Tashkent, quickly and comfortably. Today you are seeing Tashkent, the capital of Uzbekistan. It is one of the oldest Central Asian city, and the 4th largest city in the CIS.
During the excursion round Tashkent you are visiting its main sights.
Independence Square. It is the heart of the modern-day Tashkent, the place mass outdoor festivities take place during the state holidays. Around the square runs a large arc of 16 white marble columns. A wide alley runs from the central arch of the colonnade to a granite monument: a bronze globe with a protruding outline of Uzbekistan’s territory on a pedestal, and a figure of a woman with a child in the arms at the foot of it - symbolizing the young independent Republic of Uzbekistan and its bright future.
Political Repression Victims Memorial Complex. It consists of a picturesque park and Political Repression Victims Commemoration Museum - unique the CIS. The museum displays various objects having to do with political repression and victimization of Uzbek people in different times in the past.
Courage Memorial. On April 26, 1966, at 5:24 a severe earthquake struck Tashkent. This date and time are shown on a black labradorite cube - the conceptual center of the memorial. The cube has a large crack symbolizing a break in the ground. The crack runs from the cube to the foot of a bronze sculpture that depicts a woman clasping a child to herself and a man trying to protect them with his body. The background shows relieves depicting scenes of the reconstruction of new Tashkent.
Applied Arts Museum. Its collection numbers 7000 items of traditional Uzbek arts and crafts made during the period from the first half of the 19th с to the modern times. In the museum you can see the best pieces of Uzbek crafts as to the provinces of the country: Chust knives, Rishtan ceramics, Margilan satins, Bukhara gold embroideries and many other splendid exhibits.
The Hast-Imam Square is Tashkent’s religious center, the location of Barak-Khan Madrasah (16th c), Tilla-Sheikh Mosque (19th c), Abu-Bakr Kaffal al-Shashi Mazar Mausoleum (16th c) and The Al-Bukhari Islamic Institute. These buildings are seen from a distance. Their grandeur creates a special aura in their part of the city.
They are especially impressive at night thanks to illuminations, looking like a mirage from an Oriental fairytale. The area around the ensemble is also beautiful: neat lawns, flower-beds, trees - and storks walking about in spring, summer and autumn, which makes the place so attractive.
Have you ever been to a real Oriental bazaar? Why not to visit Chor-Su Bazaar where under a huge dome you will find various sorts of rice, meats, dairy products, Asian sweets, spices, nuts, dried fruits and a lot more other merchandise the local enthusiastic sellers offer vying with each other…

Day 2. Tashkent - Samarkand (330km).

After breakfast in the hotel you are setting out on an exciting journey to Samarkand - one of the most well-known Central Asian cities you have most probably heard about. Once a main destination of the Great Silk Road, Samarkand - just like Bukhara and Khiva - still keeps the aura of the Asian Middle Ages. The level of tourism services in the city is modern and up-to-date; it incorporates rich local traditions and yet makes one’s visit comfortable. Once you have arrived in Samarkand and checked in, you still have enough time to see the bazaar, craftsmen’s workshops and souvenir outlets.

Day 3. Samarkand.

Samarkand is over 2750 years old. Thanks to its long and eventful history, the city is extraordinary and multifaceted. It has many times changed its name; it has been ruled by many dynasties. It has been destroyed and reconstructed over and over again, overcoming all the hardships. It became the famed Oriental capital of Tamerlane’s Empire and the center of medieval science where his grandson Ulugbek composed his astronomical tables…
First you are going to Registan in the center of the city - the most spectacular Central Asian square with fascinating architectural monuments. Registan was initially a craft and trade center where the six roads running from the city walls met. Thanks to the convenient location of the place, it later became the main square of the city. The buildings erected there in the times of the Timurid dynasty imparted the square the unique look we can still enjoy.
On the three sides of the square stand the grand buildings of Ulugbek Madrasah (1417-1420), Sher-Dor Madrasah (1619-1636) and Tilla-Kari Madrasah (1647-1660) (a madrasah is a Muslim college or university). All of them boast stunning mosaics and almost all the other types of Central Asian interior and exterior decoration at its best. Ulugbek, Tamerlane’s grandson, began the construction of the first madrasah in the square in 1417. After it was completed in 1420, the square became a center of science. Over 100 students began to live and study in this medieval Islamic university.
The other two madrasahs, built in the 17th c, are as well grand and splendidly decorated. Sher-Dor Madrasah (‘a madrasah with tigers’) takes after Ulughbek Madrasah in design, but its portal bears fabulous catlike animals with suns on their backs - a symbol of authority. Between the animals there is a large swastika and an Arabic inscription, which says ‘God is almighty’. Tilla-Kari Madrasah (‘a gilded madrasah’) on the northern side of the square has a mosque besides madrasah facilities. The gilded interior decoration inside the mosque of this edifice is what you should never miss. Then you are going to Gur-e Amir Mausoleum, the mausoleum of Tamerlane and the family crypt of the Timurid Dynasty. It contains the tombs of Tamerlane, his two sons, two grandsons, and his teacher. Gur-e Amir (’tomb of the king’) is the precursor of the famous Humayun"s Tomb in Delhi and Taj Mahal in Agra, built by Timur"s descendants, the ruling Mughal dynasty of North India. During the reign of Ulugbek they placed a solid block of dark green jade over the grave of Tamerlane. The inscription on it says that anyone who would disturb the ruler would suffer or die. And it turned out to be true! A few days after the crypt was opened by Soviet archeologists on June 19, 1941, Nazi Germany attacked the USSR. Tamerlane’s remains were reburied with full Islamic burial rites in November 1942, at the beginning of the Battle of Stalingrad… Near Guri Amir Mausoleum stands Ruhabad Mausoleum - a small mausoleum of the 14th с that is said to contain some of the hair of Muhammad the Prophet. Behind Guri Amir Mausoleum is another structure - Ak-Sarai Mausoleum of the 15th c.
Then you are visiting Bibi-Khanym Mosque (15th c) - one of the biggest mosques in the Islamic world. According to Ruy Gonzáles de Clavijo, a Spanish ambassador to Samarkand in Tamerlane’s times, the mosque was built by order of Tamerlane in honor of his senior wife’s mother by 200 best architects and 500 workers brought from all the corners of his empire, and 90 elephants. They also say that Bibi-Khanym, the favorite wife of Tamerlane, ordered to build the mosque by herself to please her husband after his victorious campaign in India.
The next point of interest is the surviving part of Ulugbek Observatory (15th c). It still has a section of the mural sextant, once the world’s largest, which Ulugbek, Tamerlane’s grandson, an astronomer, mathematician and patron of arts, used to compile his world-famous star catalogue, the best between those of Ptolemy and Brahe. Ulugbek’s discoveries greatly advanced knowledge in the field of astronomy and mathematics.
Shakh-i-Zinda Necropolis (12th - 15th c) you are going next is a complex of more than 20 mausoleums with 44 tombs; most of them are of Tamerlan’s relatives, military and clergy aristocracy. The main of them is the mausoleum of Kusam ibn Abbas, the cousin of Muhammad the Prophet. Shakh-i-Zinda means ‘living king’. According to a legend, Kusam ibn Abbas came to Samarkand with Arab conquerors to preach Islam. He was beheaded for faith in the city, but took his head and went down to a deep well where he remains alive.
Near Shakh-i-Zinda Necropolis stands Khazrat-Khyzr Mosque, one of oldest Samarkand’s architectural monuments. It was destroyed by Genghis Khan’s hordes and restored in the 19th c. From the hill the mosque stands on you can have an impressive view of Shakh-i-Zinda Necropolis, the city bazaar and distant mountains.

Day 4. Samarkand - Nurata - Yurt camp at Aydarkul Lake (270km).

In the morning you are going to a yurt camp in the Kyzyl-Kum Desert (kyzyl-kum means ‘read sands’). You can take the unique opportunity to try the life mode of nomadic people, staying in a yurt (a portable bent wood-framed dwelling structure covered by layers of fabric and sheep"s wool felt; traditionally used by Turkic nomads in the steppes of Central Asia). Do not be afraid it is not comfortable. The camp provides all the necessary conditions for easy holidaymaking and good rest in coziness. The feeling of staying in this oases in hot endless desert is unforgettable. On the way to the camp you are visiting the town of Nurata, located at a distance of 190 km from Samarkand, at the border of Nurata Mountains and the Kyzyl-Kum Desert. The town’s origin legend says that many years ago a group of people got lost in the desert, were extremely thirsty and desperate until they saw a ray… Nur means ‘ray’, ota is ‘father’. Alexander the Great built a fortress there in 327 BCE, thus founding the town. The remains of the fortress still survive… During the excursion about Nurata you are visiting Namazgoh Mosque and Juma Mosque, as well as the holy spring with holy fish. Nurata is still a Muslim pilgrimage place.
In the yurt camp you may want to ride camels. The day ends with a feast dinner to the songs of a local akyn singer.

Day 5. Yurt camp - Sarmysh Gorge - Bukhara (300km).

After breakfast you are going to Aydarkul Lake. Riding camels is still an option today. A little later you will enjoy a lunch made from tasty just-caught fish. After lunch you are leaving for Bukhara - one of the seven holy cities of Islam. On the way to the city you are visiting Sarmysh Gorge with over 3,500 petroglyphs (rock engravings) of the Bronze Age. This destination is one of the world’s largest “rock picture galleries”. As you have arrived in Bukhara and checked in, you have some spare time to stroll about the city and feel its unique aura.

Day 6. Bukhara.

After breakfast you are going on an very informative guided excursion round Bukhara. First you are visiting Ismail Samani Mausoleum. This outstanding architectural monument, protected by UNESCO, was built between 892 and 943 as the resting-place of Ismail Samani - a powerful and influential emir of the Persian Samanid dynasty, which ruled in Central Asia and held the city in the 9th - 10th c. The monument marks a new era in the evolution of Central Asian architecture, which revived after the Arab conquest of the region. The architects continued to use the ancient tradition of baked brick construction, but to a much higher standard than it had been seen before. The construction and artistic details of the brickwork are still enormously impressive; they show the traditional style of pre-Islamic culture. The building survived thanks to the wit of the local people: threatened by Genghis Khan hordes, which destroyed everything on their way, they covered the mausoleum and many other buildings with earth, which saved them from destruction. The mausoleum of Pakistan"s founding father, Muhammad Ali Jinnah-Mazar-e-Quaid is modeled on Samanid Mausoleum in Bukhara.
Next sight is Chashma-Ayub Mausoleum, located near Ismail Samani Mausoleum. Chashma-Ayub means ‘Job’s sping’ in Persian. According to a legend, biblical Job (Ayub) once visited the place during a severe drought in the area and opened a spring with a blow of his staff. The water of the spring is still pure and is considered to be healing. The mausoleum was built during the reign of Tamerlane in the 15th с by master builders the ruler had brought from Khwarezm, and so the building features a Khwarezm-style conical dome, which was uncommon in Bukhara. Ark, the impressive Bukhara citadel of the 6th - 7th с you are seeing next, is the place the city grew from. It is hard to imagine that 100 years ago they still beheaded criminals on the square before the citadel by order of Bukhara Emir, and the dungeons of the citadel were full of inmates suffering from poisonous insects… Ark was built around the 5th c. In addition to being a military structure, Ark had what was essentially an early town. The citadel was also a residence of various royal courts. It was used as a fortress until it fell to Russia in 1920. Currently the ruins of Ark are a tourist attraction and house history museums.
Then you are going to see Po-i-Kalan Complex of the 12th - 16th c - an example of the typical Central Asian architectural layout, according to which edifices had to face each other and have a square or a street between them. The complex boasts the famous Kalyan Minaret - a circular-pillar brick tower, narrowing upwards, 45.6 meters in height. It is also known as Tower of Death, since for centuries criminals were executed by being tossed off the top of it. There are a lot of legends about this grand minaret, so it will be especially interesting to listen to the guide here. You are also visiting Ulugbek Madrasah. Ulugbek, Tamerlan’s grandson, was the famous mathematician and astronomer, ‘a scientist on the throne’. The madrasah was built by his order in 1417. Across from it stands Abdullaziz-Khan Madrasah. It has more decoration, probably because it was built later. Then comes Lab-i Hauz Complex (1568-1622). Lab-i Hauz means ‘by the pond’ in Persian. It is the name of the area surrounding one of the few remaining hauz ponds in Bukhara. Until the Soviet period there were many such ponds - the city"s main source of water. However, they were notorious for spreading disease and were buried in the 1920s and 1930s. Lyab-i Hauz pond survived because it is the centerpiece of a magnificent architectural complex. The complex consists of Kukeldash Madrasah (1568-1569), a khanaka monastery and hospice for Sufi travelers (1622) and Nadir Divan-Begi Madrasah (1622). The pond creates pleasant coolness in the area of the complex in hot summers, so it is worth staying in one of the teahouses around it to relax. You can also take a look at the statue of Hajji Nasreddin on his donkey there. Nasreddin is the legendary medieval Central Asian populist wise man, remembered for his funny stories and anecdotes.

Day 7. Bukhara - Uzunkuduk - Dry Salt Lake - Kyzyl-Kum Desert (390km).

Leaving Bukhara, you are setting out on the main desert part of the journey, visiting the village of Shuruk, Kuldjuktau Mountains, the village of Djangeldy, the village of Uzunkuduk, desert sands, and dry salt lake near the town of Uchkuduk. The breathtaking wild landscape you can enjoy on the way is steppe, desert, and mountains.
There are no regular rivers or streams in the area. For centuries people have been depending only on wells there. As you visit these places, you can imagine how hard it is. Anything and anybody living in the area is a striking example of adaptation and surviving potential. The desert landscape with its flora is quite impressive in its austerity: peculiar haloxylons, camel’s thorns and wormwood on the either side of the road, and of lose sand… In a few hours you reach the village of Uzunkuduk (‘long well’) where you can see and learn some of the life mode of the local nomads. You are having lunch at the spring of Uzunkuduk and proceed to the north, towards the very heart of the Kyzyl-Kum Desert. The last stop today is on the dry salt lake on the way.

Day 8. Kyzyl-Kum Desert - Uchkuduk - Bukantau Mountains - Irlir Spring - Mingbulak Depression (270km).
Transfer: Kyzyl-Kum Desert - Uchkuduk - Kulkuduk - mountains Bukantau - Irlir spring - Mingbulak depression.
Relief: dunes, prairie, mountains, desert.

You resume heading for the heart of the desert. The desert is all around you: its dry air breath, sand swept over roads, haloxylon and tamarisk clusters… The landscape at sunset looks like the surface of Mars. In an hour or so you are getting to the city of Uchkuduk (‘three wells’), stopping to see the monument to the wells at the entrance and listen to the guide.
Then you are going north to the Bukantau Mountains - a unique mountain chain of about 200 km in length and 25 - 30 km in width. As long ago as the late Stone Age to the Bronze Age (4,500 - 4,000 BCE) prehistoric tribes populated the area. Archeologists have discovered a large collection of valuable artifacts there: stone tools, earthenware, samples of ores and slag, fragments of jewelry stones...
Later in ancient times the area belonged to the Massagetea tribes, that were first described by Herodotus. They could very well extract and treat gold and bronze, and presumably had their own written language. There are a lot of surviving petroglyphs (rock engravings) in the Bukuntau Mountians. Among them, besides animals and hunting scenes, there are some symbols resembling letters of an ancient alphabet. Some of the petroglyphs in the area resemble modern rockets, spaceships and UFO objects. The oldest petroglyphs date back to the early Bronze Age - 4,000 years ago. And you are certainly going to see these unique rock picture gallery.
The next point of today’s journey is Irlir Spring.The word ‘spring’ in the desert sounds more than usual. Though small, Irlir camp is one of the few oases in this desert. It is located at the foot of the Bukantau Mountains where in the shade of tall trees once a geological exploration team camped. The team is gone but their light structures are still there and maintained. Strange shining UFOs have been several times reported in the area. And maybe, you will be lucky to see one.
Irlir was the stop place of the Russian Tzarist Army during its Khorezm conquest campaign in the late 1800s.
In the afternoon you are going to another interesting and picturesque area - Mingbulak Depression. Once the bottom of the great prehistoric ocean, it is the very center of Central Asia and the lowest point of Uzbekistan - 12.8 below sea level. The depression is rich in fossils, including dinosaurs’. Your camp is pitched right there.

Day 9. Mingbulak Depression - Djarakuduk - Kyrk-Kyz-Kala Fortress - Ayaz-Kala Fortress (260km).
Transfer: Mingbulak Depression - Dzharakuduk - Sands - Kirk-Kiz Kala Fortress - Ayaz Kala Fortress.
On finishing exploring the desert today, you are setting out on meeting ancient Khorezm.
Relief: steppe, desert and rocky hills.

The first today’s destination is Djarakuduk Tract - a large palaeontological site near the Djarakuduk Mountain in Mingbulak Depression, “an outdoor palaeontological museum”. It is the bottom of the prehistoric ocean with dinosaur remains, skeleton fragments of prehistoric sea creatures and - what is especially impressive - “a wood” of petrified tree trunks. The desert keeps a lot of secrets and reveals them only for enthusiastic travelers.
The journey across the desert is going to be hard for the drivers. There are going to be short stops on the way to let you meet the local people living in their yurts among the sand dunes deep in the desert. After lunch in Djarakuduk you are going west, covering the final desert exploration part of the tour - across the roadless desert terrain. In a few hours you are entering the territory of ancient Khorezm and stop at Kyrk-Kyz-Kala Fortress. There is a legend saying that it is the place where found shelter the Amazons after having to leave their homeland. That is why this ancient fortress is called Kyrk-Kyz-Kala, which means ‘fortress of forty girls’. Scholars date the fortress as one of the earliest structures of ancient Khorezm.
Then you are going to Ayaz-Kala Fortress , dating back to the 4th с BCE. Once unassailable, it stands on the flat top of a 60-meter-high hill with steep sides facing north, west and east. The southern side entrance is protected with a complex labyrinth. The entrance has another interesting feature: its design makes it possible for the wind to blow litter and dust from the fortress. This is where its name comes - ‘a fortress on the wind’.

Day 10. Ayaz-Kala Fortress - Tuprak-Kala Fortress - Kyzyl-Kala Fortress - Sultan Uvais Bobo Complex - Khiva (170km).
Relief: prairie, desert, rocky hills, rivers and canals.

You are spending the day on seeing the major sights of ancient Khorezm compared to ancient Egypt by many scholars. The civilization of ancient Khorezm appeared in the fertile oasis of the lower reaches of the great Amudarya River in the middle of the 2nd millennium BCE. There are remains of about a thousand ancient Khorezmian fortresses and fortified towns around. Some of them - lying far from roads in hard-to-access areas - have not been explored well enough yet.
The first destination is the ancient settlement site Tuprak-Kala - an outstanding ancient Khorezmian architectural monument dating back to the 1st с. Tuprak-Kala was the capital of ancient Khorezm - a fortress town with palaces, homes and other structures. High Palace in the town was 40 meters in height and had about 150 halls and chambers decorated with rich frescoes and sculpture. The town also boasted three 30-meter-high towers with residential rooms in them, which is especially interesting and unusual. Archeologists discovered a lot of bright artifact evidence of highly developed culture in Tuprak-Kala: woolen and silk fabrics; skillfully made ceramics; coins; golden and glass jewelry, as well as items made from amber, shells and even corals. In the palace they discovered the priceless archive of the Khorezmian rulers in ancient Khorezmian language. The frescoes and sculpture in the town was the reason why Tuprak-Kala (‘adobe fortress’) was also called “a museum of ancient fine arts”.
The next sight you are seeing is Kyzyl-Kala Fortress (‘red fortress’). Though it is not large, it was an effective ancient Khorezmian border fortification in the 1st - 12 st c. There is a popular belief that Tuprak-Kala and Kyzyl-Kala are connected with an underground passage where ancestors’ souls protect the immeasurable wealth of the civilization.
The next sight is Sultan Uvais Bobo Complex dating back to the 17th - 19th c. A legend says that Sultan Uvais was one of the first followers of the Prophet Muhammad. He lived in the area, pastured sheep and, never seeing the prophet, had a telepathic connection with him. The followers of Sultan Uvais built a symbolical mausoleum to honor him. Later the mausoleum became a pilgrimage place. Scores of pilgrims who believe that Sultan Uvais lived and died for the sake of the faith in Khorezm still come to the mausoleum. During the rule of Allakulikhan in the 19th с a large mosque was built there. The Sultan Uvais Mountains north-west of Tuprak-Kala are considered sacred. In ancient times there was a shrine of the Zoroastrian water and fertility goddess Anahita on its slope. There is an old pond with the holy fish there. If a fish from the pond dies, it is buried like a human, wrapped up in white cloth and wept for.
After lunch in a traditional restaurant en route you are heading for Khiva.
Khiva is truly a unique historical and architectural reserve, ‘the museum under the open sky’. It has a lot to fascinate any tourist. Its historical part Ichan-Kala is not just a number of discrete surviving architectural monuments; it is a surviving traditional Oriental town - an artifact town. In 1997 Khiva celebrated its 2500th birthday. Ichan Kala in Khiva was the first site in Uzbekistan to be included in UNESCO World Heritage List in 1991. Most Khiva’s architectural monuments date back to the 18th - early 20th c, the period of the Khiva Khanate. However, archeological excavations in the town proved that there are cultural layers dating back to the 3rd с BCE.
After arriving in the city and checking into a hotel you may want to stroll around to feel the special Khiva’s aura. A little later you are having dinner in one of the best local restaurants.

Day 11. Khiva.

According to a legend, Khiva grew from the settlement that was built around the well dug by order of Sim, biblical Noah’s son. Kheyvak, the name of the well, was what the name Khiva came from. This well is still in Ichan-Kala, and you can see it!
Khiva was the last capital of Khorezm, after Old Urgench, and another culturally and economically important center on the Silk Roads to the Mediterranean and Iran then. In the 16th c Khiva became the capital of the Khiva Khanate and one of the most important Islamic centers. From 1873 to 1919 the Khiva Khanate was a quasi-independent protectorate of the Russian Empire and later became part of the USSR as Khorezm People’s Soviet Republic, for a time, and then a part of the Uzbek Soviet Socialist Republic.
Ichan Kala is encircled by brick crenellated walls whose foundations are believed to have been laid in the 10th c. The walls themselves date back to the late 17th c. Behind them there are over 50 architectural monuments and 250 old houses; most of them date back to the 18th - 19th c. When you are in Ichan-Kala, you will be given a lot of interesting information on what you are seeing around. The large blue tower in the central Ichan-Kala square, for example, is an unfinished minaret. The khan who was building it died, and the succeeding khan did not complete it because he thought that the minaret would overlook his harem and the muezzin would be able to see his wives. Ichan-Kala’s Juma Mosque, which was built in the 10th c and rebuilt in 1788 - 1789, is famed for its hypostyle hall, which still has 112 wooden pillars of the previous 10th-century structure. Among the buildings stand out Kunya-Ark Fortress, and the complex of Pakhlavan Mahmud, the famous Khiva’s poet and powerful knight who became a local saint after death. It is also Tash-Khauli Palace and Muhammad Amin-Khan Madrasah. Muhammad Amin-Khan Madrasah housing a hotel, a currency exchange office, a travel agency, an air ticket office and a café today. You may want to get to the top of Akshish-Bobo Fortress to have an amazing view of the whole Ichan-Kala, or just walk about the city, contemplating…
We recommend that you also visit Khiva’s bazaar where they sell traditional Khiva’s carpets, suzane tapestries, robes, embroidered scull-caps and an abundance of smaller souvenirs. After dinner in a restaurant you are going back to your hotel room. Tomorrow is never going to be less exciting.

Day 12. Khiva - Nukus - Barsakelmes Salt Lake (480km).
Transfer: Khiva - Nukus - complex Mizdahkan - Lake Barsakelmes.
Relief: dunes, prairie, desert.

You are setting out on a long journey to Ustyurt Plateau through the city of Nukus, the capital of the Karakalpakstan Autonomous Republic. While in the city you are visiting The I.V. Savitskiy State Art Museum. The museum is famous for its collection of modern Russian and Uzbek art of 1918-1935 all over the world. Stalin tried his best to eliminate all non-Soviet art of this period, and sent most of the artists to the Gulag. But Igor Savitsky, the prominent Soviet artist, ‘Central Asian Tretiakov’, and his collection of Russian avant-garde paintings in Nukus survived because of the city"s remoteness. Now it is the world’s second largest collection of Russian avant-garde paintings. During 1957-1966, Igor Savitskiy also assembled an extensive collection of Karakalpak jewelry, carpets, coins, clothing and other artifacts. He convinced the authorities of the need for a museum, and, following its establishment, was appointed its curator in 1966. After his death in 1984 Igor Savitskiy was called ‘a savior of beauty’. Francois Mitterand and Albert Gore called his museum ‘one of the best in the world’.
After visiting the museum and having lunch you are going to Mizdakhan Complexwhich appeared about two millennia ago. Mizdakkhan is a large and quite unusual necropolis with graves and mausoleums of different times and religions (from Zoroastrian to Islamic). Among them there are some sacred ones having their own legends and popular beliefs. Before the necropolis appeared a Zoroastrian town named Gyaur-Kala (‘fortress of the unfaithful’) had been there, dating back to the 4th с BCE. Some of the adobe walls of the town still survive… They say that if you build a 7-stone pyramid in Mizdakhan, your most coveted wish will come true. And it is also the place where you can learn the location of Adam’s grave! The final destination of today’s journey is Barsakelmes Salt Lake, which literally means in Kazakh ‘if you go there, you will never return’. The “lake” is a huge flat area of natural white salt in the south-east part of Ustyurt Plateu. This extremely impressive place is Uzbekistan’s main source of salt.

Day 13. Barsakelmes Salt Lake - Village of Urga - Sudochye Lake - Aral Sea (290km).
Transfer: Lake Barsakelmes - pos. Urga - Lake Sudoche - Aral Sea.
Relief: dunes, prairie, desert.

Today you are getting to the furthest point of the tour - the shore of the shrinking Aral Sea. On the way there you are visiting a few interesting places.
The first stop is the deserted Village of Urga. In the 1950s it was an ordinary functioning fishery village on the shore of Sudochye Lake, with population of a few hundred. It was one of the first Russian settlements in Khorezm. The last resident left the village in 1971…
Lake Sudochye (Lake Sudovshin), once located in the delta of the Amudarya River, was the largest lake in Uzbekistan. Then it got shallow and split into a few smaller lakes… The origin of the names Sudochye (Russian) and Sudovshin (Uzbek) is different, though they sound similarly. The Russian one originated from the Russian word sudak (‘pike perch’), while the Uzbek was formed from the Uzbek words suv (‘water’) and shin (‘true’).
Absence of roads during this part of the journey is compensated for by the beautiful scenery of the opening shore and waters of what is left of the Aral Sea in the distance.
The Aral Sea, suffering from one the world’s worst ecological disasters, is quite young. According to one of the hypotheses it formed about 10 thousand years ago. It had grown shallow twice during its life, but each time its waters rose to the mark of 55 m above sea level. In the 1960s the inflow of the rivers Syr-Darya and Amu-Darya, which fed the sea, decreased: their waters were sent to irrigation canals to support cotton growing in other parts of the country. By the 1990s the inflow to the sea had decreased tenfold, and the sea had split up into two parts: the large one with the Amu-Darya flowing into it, and the small one fed with the Syr-Darya. By 2007 the sea"s surface area had further shrunk to 10% of its original size. Ecologists say that the sea will have completely dried up by 2015 unless some emergency measures are taken.
After seeing the lake standing right on its present-day shore and having dinner you are spending the night in a tent camp pitched beforehand.

Day 14. Aral Sea - Muynak - Nukus. Night Flight to Tashkent.
Relief: prairie, desert, salt marshes, chinks, the bottom of the sea.

Saying goodbye to once the much larger sea, you are going back to Nukus, visiting the former port city Muynak on the way. In Muynak you will best of all realize how sad the Aral Sea disaster turned out to be. Home to only a few thousand residents at most, Muynak's population has been declining precipitously since the 1980s due to the recession of the Aral Sea. Once a bustling fishing community and Uzbekistan's only port city with tens of thousands of residents, Muynak is now a shadow of its former self, dozens of miles from the rapidly receding shoreline of the Aral Sea. Muynak's major "tourist attractions" are the incongruous armada of rusting hulks that made up the proud fishing fleet during the Soviet era. They call it ‘a cemetery of ships’… Scientists say it is impossible to save the Aral Sea. Even with all the waters of the Amudarya and Syradarya, without taking any for irrigation, the initial volume of waters of the sea might return only in 200 years. Today the former bottom of the sea is called Aral-Kum (Aral sands’).
As you arrive in Nukus in the evening, you are going to the airport for the night flight back to Tashkent where you check into a hotel a few hours later. Tashkent always welcomes tired travelers warmly. Back in the city, you will certainly feel it like being a warm home base.

Day 15. Tashkent. Departure.

The day is free from any schedule. You may want to visit Japanese Garden in the center or another beautiful park, go to one of the bazaars or souvenir shops or just stroll about watching the buildings and people before you go to the airport to fly back home.

 

Frequently Asked Questions


1

What nationals need visas to enter Uzbekistan?
Citizens of any countries other than Uzbekistan and the CIS countries enjoying visa-free regime agreements with Uzbekistan need visas to enter Uzbekistan or travel through its territory. These people can obtain Uzbekistan entry visas through a Visa Invitation Letter (Visa Support) from their host parties (host tour operators). Citizens of Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Malaysia, Spain, Switzerland and the UK can apply for Uzbek visas to embassies or consulates of Uzbekistan without getting Visa Invitation Letter, independently. Please read here for more information.

2

Is it necessary to get a stay permit (temporary registration of stay) while visiting Uzbekistan?
Any foreigner to Uzbekistan is to get a stay permit within 3 working days (consecutive or not) during his / her visit to the country. If he / she stays at an Uzbekistan hotel or a guesthouse, such a stay permit for the period of stay at it is granted automatically. (Inquire whether the hotel / guesthouse you want to stay at provides such a permit unless your accommodation is organized by a host tour operator. Also make sure you are given your stay permit certificate with the seal of your hotel / guesthouse when you check out.) If you stay at other lodging facilities during your visit, you will have to get your stay permit from a local visits registration police department.

3

What is Uzbekistan’s currency? Where can I exchange money?
The national currency of Uzbekistan is the som (UZS). There are 100, 200, 500, 1,000 and 5,000-som banknotes and 25, 50, 100 and 500-som coins used currently. The banknotes are similar in size but vary in color; they depict Uzbekistan’s cultural and heritage sites.
You can exchange money at Uzbekistan’s National Bank outlets, most of the hotels and official currency exchange offices commonly located near bazaars and at shopping centers. You will need your passport and stay permit to exchange money through them.
There is also a black market of currency exchange in Uzbekistan. Although its rates are higher, we do not recommend that you exchange money through its dealers (commonly individual money changers in the street, usually near bazaars). There is a risk of falling prey to cheaters or be arrested red-handed if you go for their services.
Note that the most common foreign currency in Uzbekistan is US dollars. The US banknotes you exchange in the country should be in good condition - without defects, bad folds, worn areas and scribbles - or it will be hard to exchange them.

4

Can I use credit cards in Uzbekistan?
You can use Visa and MasterCard cards mainly in Tashkent and at fewer locations in Samarkand and Bukhara for cash withdrawals through ATMs (cash machines) in their large hotels or banks. You can also make payments with these cards at some hotels, restaurants and stores in Tashkent. However, technical failures of the card handling equipment may occur, so it is advisable to always have enough cash on you.

5

What is the difference between GMT and Uzbekistan time?
It is GMT plus 5 hours in Uzbekistan.

6

Can foreigners to Uzbekistan use the services of a local mobile network operator during their stays in the country? s
Yes, they can if they have a stay permit to show.

7

Can I bring alcoholic beverages into Uzbekistan?
A person is permitted to bring a maximum of 2 liters of alcoholic drink(s) into the country.

8

What maximum amount of cash can I bring into Uzbekistan?
There is no limit on the amount of cash in a currency that is foreign to Uzbekistan a person can bring into the country. If you bring in over 5,000 USD (or the equivalent in other currencies), you will be given a ТС-28 certificate. If you bring in over 10,000 USD, you will have to pay a 1% duty on this sum.

9

What maximum amount of cash can I take out of Uzbekistan?
The amount of cash (in a currency foreign to Uzbekistan) you can take out of the country must not exceed the sum you brought in as per your arrival customs declaration. Taking out the amount exceeding the sum you brought in is possible if permitted by Uzbekistan’s Central Bank or another Uzbekistan’s authorized bank. Note that taking out Uzbekistan soms is not permitted unless they are several souvenir coins or banknotes.

10

Can I use a photo / video camera at the tourist sites?
Photographing and videoing at the tourist sites is allowed unless a site has a prohibition sign. They charge fees for using cameras at most tourist attractions though. Photographing and videoing is prohibited in Tashkent metro, at the airports and railway stations. Using a camera at the functioning mosques is possible if allowed by the worshippers there.

11

What kind of clothes should I wear in Uzbekistan? Are there any clothing requirements for women in the country?
Clothes made of cotton and other natural textiles will be the best choice in warm and hot weather. Both men and women will feel best in T-shirts and shorts. Your footwear must be comfortable, light and strong, since you will have to walk a lot. Have sunglasses, a light headwear and sunblock lotion.
If you travel early in spring (March to the beginning of April) or at the end of autumn (October to November), it is advisable to take a windbreaker, a sweater or a similar garment. In winter the temperature may fall to minus 10°С or so, so a raincoat, a warm coat and headwear will be necessary.
There are no strict limits on women’s clothing in the country. However, you should be considerate towards the local traditions, culture and religion. While visiting religious places women should wear loose garments covering most of their arms and legs, and of course the cleavage. Headscarves will also be advisable to put on. Note that you will have to take off your shoes while entering some of the sacred places.

12

What languages do people in Uzbekistan speak?
The official language is Uzbek; it is spoken by a majority of the population. Russian is spoken by the country’s largest Slavic minority and is still used widely in business and as a lingua franca, especially in Tashkent and other major cities. Tajik is widespread in Samarkand and Bukhara for their large Tajik ethnic minorities. Karakalpak is spoken in the Autonomous Republic of Karakalpakstan where it is an official language besides Uzbek. English is popular as a foreign language to study but there is little chance of coming across a good English speaker in the street. However, in the historic cities of Bukhara and Samarkand many young souvenir sellers dealing with foreigners speak elementary English.

13

What kind of clothes should be worn in a desert?
In order to avoid exposing your body to direct sunlight, your clothes must cover most of its area. In the daytime you should wear long trousers and long-sleeved shirt. Your clothes should not be too tight to provide ventilation of your body and prevent overheating. You must always have your headdress on. A panama or any other wide-brimmed hat would be the best choice, while the neck should be covered with a neckerchief.

14

What is the air temperature in a desert in the daytime and at night?
Air temperature from March to May:
- during the day from +10°C to +40°С;
- during the night from +9°С to +26°C.

Air temperature from August to October:
- during the daytime from + 8°C to + 35°C;
- during the nighttime from +6°C to +22°C.

15

Is there drinking water in a desert? Can we avoid problems with drinking water?
We shall not have any problems with water because during the whole tour we shall be accompanied by a special support car carrying all necessary things, with fresh water in special barrels and bottles among them, which you will be provided with every day.

16

Shall we feel comfortable sleeping in tents? Should we take any other equipment with us?
We shall provide you with tents for 5 persons, for the accommodation of 2 persons in each, so that you will feel comfortable and have enough free space. Wind- and waterproof, the tents are suitable for any weather conditions, while air beds and warm sleeping bags with individual inserts (it may be relatively cool at night) will make your life yet more pleasant and comfortable.

17

Is there any danger of snakes, insects or other uninvited guests getting into the tents at night?
Yes, there is, if you leave your tent open or if you bring any of the abovementioned creatures in your rucksack, which remained open on the sand for some time before. Therefore, we always remind tourists to keep their tents shut and avoid leaving their rucksacks on the ground! Before entering a tent, you should inspect your clothes, boots and rucksack for undesirable creatures.

18

How will the meals be organised during the tour?
A professional cook with a vast experience in cooking in the field will be responsible for feeding the travellers. Hot meals offered three times a day during the trip will be diverse and delicious: various salads, fish, meat and chicken dishes, as well as the dishes of European and local kitchens. Fresh fruit and vegetables, juices, tea, coffee, sweets, nuts and dry fruit are foodstuffs you can find on any oriental dastarkhan (table), including the ones organised every day during the tour. All the food products will be fresh and of high quality, as they will be transported in special refrigerators. The tourists will have their meals in a dining room organised in a large Red Fox - Team Fox 2 tunnel tent, which has enough space for 26-28 persons seated comfortably in large folding chairs at practical tables.

19

In which way will the camp be set up? Shall we have to take part in the process? How will the toilet be organised at the camp?
The programme will be planned in such a way that by the time you arrive at a camp in the evening, our staff will have put up all the tents, so that you need not participate in any way in the setting up of the camp.
Special field toilets will be organised in each of our camp.

20

What kind of clothes should we take with us?

a spare pair of footwear (trainers, boots plus something you will be walking in town)
warm clothes (a parka or warm jacket, a sweater)
windproof clothes
a rainproof cloak or jacket
a spare set of clothes
headdresses (a warm hat and a broad-brimmed hat or a similar headdress protecting from the sun)
a pair of sunglasses
a sunscreen
a personal aid kit
anything you think you will need during the tour.

 

Optional Excursions & Leisure Activities


You can go to the unique Khovrenko Winery in Samarkand set up by the Russian entrepreneur D. M. Filatov in 1868. The winery was later managed by Professor M. A. Khovrenko, a gifted viniculturist, who could maintain the production of the widely popular wines created by his predecessor and develop new ones. You can sample over 10 best Uzbek wines and visit the local museum on the premises. The excursion costs 20 USD per pax.
Dinners at the local Central Asian traditional style art restaurants can be a wonderful addition to the tour. The restaurants feature exquisite Central Asian interiors, wonderful cuisines and gripping shows.
Take a trip to Bukhara’s gold embroidery factory where over 100 girls and women create beautiful works using antique technologies. You can buy their embroideries and watch the production process there. The excursion costs 10 USD per pax.
Enjoy old Bukhara’s bathhouse Hammam Bozori Kord, which dates from the 17th century and still provides traditional Central Asian bath and healing services. A bath session with a massage costs 50 USD per pax.
Go to Nugay Caravanserai in Bukhara to sample and buy exclusive local red and white wines, as well as listen to experienced winemakers telling about winemaking process and wine tasting expertise. The excursion costs 15 USD per pax.
Take a look at the old-style paper mill and workshop where, using a centuries-old technology, they make antique Samarkand mulberry paper (nicknamed Sultan’s Paper in Tamerlane’s times). The site located in the village Koni Gil near Samarkand was built as a result of a heritage craft revival project supported by UNESCO, Japanese International Cooperation Agency, and Aid to Artisans (an international development non-profit based in Washington, DC, USA). Welcoming guests, there are also other handicraftsmen in the village: ceramists, embroiderers, silk weavers, jewelers, wood and stone engravers, miniature painters, makers of national musical instruments and toys. The excursion costs 10 USD par pax.
Visit the Jewish quarter and synagogue in it in Bukhara. The synagogue has an interesting history. Attached to it is the secondary school №36 where Hebrew and Judaism are taught with the permission of the local authorities.

Photos of the tour:

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Our video gallery:

Lively Kyzylkum desert
Lively Kyzylkum desert
Barsa Kelmes lake in Uzbekistan
Barsa Kelmes lake in Uzbekistan
Abandoned Fishermen’s Village of Urga
Abandoned Fishermen’s Village of Urga
Lake Aydar
Lake Aydar

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