The Nuratau Mountains. An old chap protected wildlife sanctuary.

Here, the time slows down the ragged jogging, 
And do they know who live in the world, 
How does snow lightened by sun smell like, 
What breathes wind clinging the pass. 

V.L. Belilovsky 

If this place was not on the Earth, it would be better to dream up such one... 

To the east of the city of Jizzakh till the city of Navoi in western, in the direction of north-west of Samarkand, on the border with the Kyzyl-Kum desert, more than 170 kilometers stretches a mountain range - the mountains of Nuratau. 

This massif combined three ranges: Karatau – in the south, Aktau – in the center and Nuratau – in the north. Nuratau much bigger and longer than its brothers and the highest point - is the top Hayatbashi (2169 meters) is situated there. Actually the Nuratau mountains and the region itself were named after that range.

Near Jizzakh Nuratau is crossed by the river of Sanzar – which is a beautiful mountain stream and form the most picturesque valley, which got the name and popularly known as the “Gate of Tamerlane”. 

In the west range steadily decrease and gradually passes into the plain, at the same time the southern rocky slopes form the right bank of the river Zarafshan. To the north of Samarkand range is spread, almost parallel to the man-made lake of Aydarkul

The heart of the mountain range is Nuratau Reserve established in 1975, which was created specifically for the restoration of the population almost exterminated Severtsov’s sheep (argali) and protection of rare species of walnut. 

Today the collection of protected flora includes about 600 species, many of which cannot be found anywhere else in the world. The reserve is very rich and famous for its feathery - 179 species, which is mostly notable in spring and autumn when the air is just filled with their polyphony. That is not surprise because it is here the main migratory routes of birds from Africa to Europe. 

Numerous representatives of fauna are common in the mountains and foothills: jackals, wolves, wild boars, foxes, rabbits, several species of bats. Reptiles in contrast, are broad and diverse, including many species of snakes, lizards, turtles, toads and frogs. There are also species listed in the Red Book (the gray lizard, striated wolf teeth and Central Asian cobra). 

Today the reserve represents wild life of forest garden which appeared without human intervention (main trees: ancient apple, walnut, jiddah, hawthorn), beautiful in its wild, unspoiled beauty. 

Nomadic Turkic peoples came here before the heyday of the Silk Road. Later, this region was settled and populated by ethnic Tadjiks, who make up the bulk of the population till this day. These are their highland villages of houses which were built of rock, sometimes resembling a fortress, very interesting for tourists coming here. All of these are their way of life and lifestyles that are saved from the ancient times - undoubtedly can be called the wealth of this region.

For the tourists reception guesthouses were created in the villages of Hayat, Uhum, Asraf and Madzherum of Farish district in Jizzakh region and in the countryside of Sentyab. Houses were built in traditional style and equipped with the necessary conditions for living. For the most complete immersion in the environment, visitors are invited to try themselves in the folk crafts like: spinning, manufacturing of felt carpets, musical instruments and distinctive folk crafts. 

A few days spent away from civilization, the simple lessons of rural labor, hiking and horseback riding through the mountains, chatting with artless and generous people, healthy food and good sleep, that is what we exactly need – people of gassy cities. That is it what can return strength and confidence, will make believe again in humans kindness and decency, meanwhile the desire to come back here again and again will settle down in the grateful heart for a long time. 

What one can see. 

1. Eastern Biota (Madzherum village) - a centuries-old tree is from a giant family of Archa. The girth of the trunk – 24 meters, girth of the central branch-12 meters. There are at least 5 people can be placed in the existing hollow. Some believe that it was planted by Alexander the Great on the grave of one of the military chiefs. According to the legends of the local population, the tree is endowed with miraculous powers, to fulfill dreams come true. One needs to bypass around the tree and tie on the branches of colored scrap to make a wish to come true. Almost there is a hundred percent in help for childless women in the request for child's birth (that is belief). 

2. Destroyed Mosque (Madzherum village) - is close to miraculous tree. The date of construction is- end of XIX - early XX century. Also considered a miraculous place, the locals still bring offerings here. 

3. Fortress Madzherum Kala (Madzherum village) - a small ruined castle, situated a hundred meters above the village. According to unconfirmed reports fortress for many centuries was the center of an ancient village and served as a refuge from the nomads. Dug topsoil exposes pottery, bones, and utensils. At a depth of 3 meters, age of the findings dated to III-IV centuries, and above IX-XII centuries AD. 

4. Mosque (Uhum village) - end of the XIX century. Destroyed during the Soviet era, it is gradually being restored at the insistence of the elders in the 90’s of the last century. It is working nowadays. 

5. Mosque (Hayat village) - the ancient destroyed mosque at the border of the reserve it is located on the ruins of an abandoned village. 

6. Petroglyphs (tracts of Saedan, Novi Daroz, Pichak, Fargu) - the ancient cave paintings depicting scenes of hunting. Not investigated totally. 

This is interesting: 

1. If one is lucky, there is an opportunity to see how small herds of Severtsov’s relic sheep feed on the slopes of the protected mountains early in the morning or watch them in captivity, make an excursion to the aviary with the views of Nurata reserve. 

2. In springs and autumns one can be a witness or take part in folk festivals belonging to Navruz, harvest or wedding. Typically, these events are accompanied by equestrian contest called "kup-kari" or in Russian – “skinning the goat”. The meaning of the competition - is taking away the goat carcass and being the first to deliver it to the finish. The game is very catchy and gambling, despite the rather strict rules. The prize at the stake which are exhibited: camels, oxen, goats, carpets, appliances, and sometimes cars.

3. None of the villages you can avoid familiarity with native guard dogs. These are huge dogs (70-80cm at the withers), a type of SAO - an integral part of the life of the highlanders. Unlike conventional SAO, aboriginal dogs are not shepherds; their work is fully intended to protect houses and farms. Breeding selection is carried out by the people themselves, through ruthless destruction of individual dogs which have lost the necessary hereditary qualities. The dogs are conditionally loyal to strangers and unconditionally loyal to their masters and the conservation areas. Buying an adult dog is almost impossible – it is a family member, but in the spring, one can expect to acquire a very decent puppy, although the best in the litter will not be shown, they are expensive gifts to relatives. 

Severtsov’s Sheep (argali) 

Severtsov’s (Kyzylkum) sheep – are dwindling all the time, it is in the Red Book of Uzbekistan and the World Red List of subspecies. Today’s habitat is just west of the Nuratau ridge and remnants of Aktau. On the other territories species have not been preserved. 

Place of living are middle and upper floors of the Mountains (1000 2000 above the sea level). During winters descend to the valley. 

Lifestyle. Seasonal migrations of herds happen in search of pastures with herbaceous vegetation. 

Amount. Till today the amount remained is about 2500 heads, 1500 of them in Nuratau reserve. 

To save the subspecies and restore the population size in Nuratau an attempt to preserve Severtsov’s sheep in the way of artificial breeding was made. Today there are 13 goals of these subspecies living in the enclosure conditions. 

The Gates of Tamerlane 

In Jizzakh region of Uzbekistan near the village of Bakhmal in a picturesque area of Sanzar river separates the two ridges - Malguzar (spur of the Turkestan range) and range of Koytash (continu of the Nuratau ridge in the south-east). Appeared narrow corridor that starts with two huge shale boulders and stretches for several kilometers is called the Gates of Tamerlane. It seems that the mountains specially moved aside, passing over the river and the two roads, metalled road and railway, running in parallel. In ancient times it was the only way from Samarkand to the wild nomadic valleys of Kazakhstan. There were two more other names of the gorge: Ilyan-Uta (snake) and the Iron Gates, but the name of Tamerlane Gates was stuck, although Tamerlane himself has very indirect attitude to them.

On the right rock forming the gates there were two Persian inscriptions carved. The first tells about the campaign of Ulugh-bek-Gurugana which had been undertaken by him to “the country of Jets and the Mongols”, and the safe return of the governor. 

The second inscription appeared much later and tells about the brutal massacre of “Abdullah Khan, the son of Iskandar Khan, leader of the troops of 30 thousand soldiers and army of Dervish Khan and Baba Khan and the rest of the sons”, and the bloody denouement of events. 

The river of Zarafshan (Golden). 

Zarafshan – is the ancient tributary of Amu Darya originates in Zarafshan range, filling up with melt waters of Zarafshan glacier. It flows through Tajikistan and Uzbekistan territories. It also creates a unique oasis in the north-western Uzbekistan, in the valley of which the city of Samarkand lies. Passing through dry lands of Kattakurgan and Navoi it turns to the south-west of the country, carrying its water through the cities of Bukhara and Karakul. Finishing its way in the desert short of the ancient estuary of the Amu Darya. 

For better use of Zarafshan waters, there were created waterworks in the entire length of the flow. The largest of them are - the May Day Dam (middle reaches), a few through-passages of the main canals and large reservoirs: Kattakurgan with the volume of 700 million cubic meters and Kuyumazar with the volume of 270 million cubic meters. 

Gold-bearing river was called by the ancient legend which tells that in ancient times there was a great drought in Samarkand and the river was gone. The ruler of the ancient city was displeased and went to the wise man – who was the hermit to ask him advice. The sage advised the king to send the children of two Samarkand widows - three sons and three daughters to fight the dark forces which stole the water. Girls were supposed to bring a pigeon, which would bring the news of events. Meanwhile the wise man ordered Samarkand residents to believe in the best and prepare for the holiday on the river bank. 

As soon as the last dove flew with long-awaited news, the festival began, and 5000 dzhigits (heroes) with sacrificial sheep went into the river bed. The water struck, sweeping in the empty watercourse with noise and roar, leaving fine sand grains and whole nuggets on the skins of sheep. Soon after that the shore was the whole of gold pile. Since Zarafshan river is an auriferous river. 

Legend is a legend, but Zarafshan really carries its waters through the territories which are rich deposits of gold, many of which are now being developed.