The first thing one can notice when reaching Muinak is the strong smell of iodine in the empty dry steppe. One feels as if the sea is near.
In the Soviet period, Uzbekistan became a center of cotton growing. To raise productivity, irrigation systems were established here, which took away water from the two local once-affluent rivers, Amu-Darya and Syr-Darya. This became the main cause of the natural disaster that followed.
This is the only hotel in Muinak. The custodian is an elderly woman, who has always lived in the town. There are paintings with marinas in the hotel hall. These marinas were painted by artists watching the sea from the hotel windows.
Before the sea shoreline changed, there was one of the largest Soviet fish tinning factories in Muinak, which sent fish tins to all the places of the USSR. Now one can freely walk around the factory area.
Most of its structures have been destroyed; only a mosaic depicting fishing has been preserved at the entrance.
After closure of the fish tinning factory, thousands of people began to leave the town. Now mostly Karakalpaks, the indigenous population, inhabit the town of Muinak. Just as 70 years ago, children go to school, but now they go to school past ruins. Schoolchildren all over Uzbekistan wear white uniforms.
We are driving the car on the sea bottom; the land is deserted both on the right and on the left. Vladimir is driving, a former pilot, who has lived all his life in Muinak. Vladimir remembers all the events, as though they happened only yesterday. “Do you see the steps? This is what has been left from a large resort. On the left there were structures of a children’s camp…”.
The surroundings of Muinak have been known for their salt lakes with healing properties. On our way, we stop near one of them.
This is a white lake, filled with salt and surrounded by a desert.
We drove the SUV for six hours until we reached the seashore. As we arrived, Vladimir treated us to baked wild boar meat: the former sea bottom has become a suitable habitat for wild animals. Local people hunt them. In the steppes, there are wild boars, hares, foxes and wolves. It is unsafe to sleep in a tent on the shore.
Because of the high salt content in the sea, there is practically no life in the sea now. The only species still living in the waters of the sea is the crustacean Artemia salina. It is caught on a massive scale and is widely used on medicine and in cosmetology. The red line on the shore is the Artemia eggs, a valuable export item.
As we reached the shore, we immediately wanted to take off our shoes and to walk barefoot on the sand. The “snowy” shore is covered with slat sediments. Its surface is so hard that our feet hurt.