Introduction

The enigmatic ruins of over a dozen walled towns, palaces and forts, some well over 2000 years old, stand half-forgotten in the semi-desert east and north of Urgench in southern Karakalpakstan. They are the remains of a chain of fortified settlements that once formed the boundary between the cultivated delta and the steppe nomads. With help from Unesco, local tourism officials have dubbed this area the ‘Golden Ring of Ancient Khorezm’. The area’s traditional name is Elliq-Qala (Fifty Fortresses).

For fans of ancient history, amateur archaeologists and anyone with an inner Indiana Jones lurking inside them, this is an area not to be missed. Outdoor and nature enthusiasts will also find things to keep them busy, from scrambling among the qala (fort) ruins, to camel trekking near Ayaz-Qala. Birders will want to take their binoculars to the Badai-Tugai Nature Reserve.