Nurata, Uzbekistan

Nurata, Uzbekistan

Geographical coordinates: 40°33′54″N 65°41′06″E
Former names: Nur
Elevation: 490 m
Popular languages Uzbek, Tajik
Time zone: UTC+5
Population: 92 000 (2020) -
Nationals: Karakalpak, Uzbek, Russian, Tatar
Phone code: +998 79
Zip code: 2107XX
Automobile codes: 85

Nurata is a small town located in the central part of Uzbekistan, about 50 km north of the city of Navoi. Nurata is situated on the southeastern border of the Kyzylkum desert and is a stop along the road from Samarkand and Bukhara towards Lake Aidarkul and the Nuratau Mountains (named after the town).

Nurata translates from Uzbek as "Father's light," with "nur" meaning light or beam, and "ata" meaning father. In the distant past, the town was referred to as "Nur," a name derived from a legend that a meteorite fell here, illuminating the surrounding area with bright light.

The exact date of the city's foundation is unknown, but some researchers link it to the establishment of the Nur fortress in the 4th century BC, which was supposedly founded by Alexander the Great. However, it is possible that a settlement existed here before, as ancient petroglyphs were discovered nearby, and the Sarmyshsay Gorge, located 30 km south of the city, is home to thousands of petroglyphs.

There are very few historical landmarks in Nurata, and they are all concentrated in one place. On the southwestern outskirts of the city, the ruins of the Nur fortress rise on a hill, while at the foot of the hill, there are the Juma and Panchvakta mosques, built in the 16th century. Both mosques are part of the Chashma complex, where there is also a sacred spring: in the purest spring water, small minnows swim, which are also considered sacred. This complex is often visited by pilgrims from all over Uzbekistan.

The Nuratau Mountains

The Nuratau Mountains (or Nurata Range) are located east of the city of Nurata and stretch for 170 km in an easterly direction, almost to the city of Jizzakh. The highest point of the ridge is Mount Hayatbashi (2196 m). These low ancient mountains are composed of volcanic rocks, limestone, and sandstone. The northern slopes are steeper and more rocky, while the southern slopes are gentle and transition into valleys.

To preserve the unique flora and fauna of these mountains, the Nuratau Nature Reserve was established in 1975. Many of the reserve's animals are listed in the Red Book of Uzbekistan, including the Severtsov's argali (Kyzylkum argali), golden eagle, bearded vulture, and black vulture, among others. There are 805 species of plants recorded here, with 41 species of flora in the reserve area listed in the Red Book of Uzbekistan, and 32 species of plants that are endemic to the area, meaning they are not found anywhere else except in the Nuratau Mountains (such as mixed onion, Suvorov's onion, Korolkov's tulip, Turkmen tulip, Nuratau eremurus, and others).

The Nuratau Mountains have a favorable geographical location for tourism development. They are approximately 3-4 hours by car from major cities such as Samarkand, Bukhara, and Tashkent. Also, popular tourist "yurt camps" along Lake Aidarkul are located about an hour's drive from Nurata.

The Nuratau Mountains are ideal for contrasting tourism programs that include visits to popular tours in Bukhara and Samarkand, as well as experiencing rural life in mountain villages with mainly Tajik population. The Nuratau Mountains can also be considered as a destination for weekend trips from nearby cities. The Tajik rural community, living in traditional clay houses in the valleys of the Nuratau Mountains, offers good conditions for active recreation: guest houses can be found in the villages of Sentyab, Forish, Yangi Hayot, and others.

All tourists who have visited guest houses have good impressions of their time spent there. The unique way of life of the local population offers a unique opportunity to get acquainted with ancient crafts, simple everyday life and to feel like a part of the daily life of Tajik mountain people. In the guest houses of the Nuratau Mountains, tourists will have the opportunity not only to observe, but also to participate directly in spinning, weaving or producing colorful felt carpets. In spring and autumn, holidays become an integral part of rural life. Held for special occasions such as weddings or Navruz, they include many events, and the highlight of the program is the mesmerizing game of horsemen "kupkari" – the tournament attracts not only tourists, but also gathers spectators from all the surrounding areas.

However, the Nuratau Mountains are not just about ethnotourism, but also about active leisure. Thanks to their low altitude and relatively gentle slopes, the Nuratau Mountains offer a rich variety of hiking, horseback riding, and even donkey trekking routes. Various natural and cultural landmarks (ancient petroglyphs, ruins of fortresses, settlements, mosques, etc.), accompanied by stories about the historical significance of Nuratau, will not leave anyone indifferent.