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The Kyzyl Kum desert

Now only desert surrounds us: sucked up by the sand, the last trickle of the Zeravshan, father of Samarkand and Bokhara, disappears fifteen miles before reaching the Amu Daria, the great Oxus that issues from the Pamirs.

The desert encroaches at the rate of a little more than half a mile a century. The water recedes not only because new ariks are added to the system, but because the western winds pile up large symmetrical crescent-shaped sand-dunes, the 'bark-hans.'

Attempts are being made to acclimatize special forms of vegetation in order to check this encroachment, which in places proceeds at the rate of fifty to sixty yards a year.

The irrigatory system has not only to water the fields, but, even more important, to wash out and carry away the salts that impregnate the ground. Then the earth is rendered fertile by the loess dust conveyed by the wind.

"Turkestan Solo" by Ella Maillart

The Kyzyl Kum, also called Qyzylqum, is the 16th largest desert in the world. Its name means Red Sand in Turkic languages. It is located in Central Asia in the doab between the rivers Amu Darya and Syr Darya, and is divided between Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and (partly) Turkmenistan. It covers about 298,000 km2 (115,000 sq mi).

The territory consists mainly of an extensive plain at an altitude up to 300 m above sea level, with a number of depressions and highlands (Sultanuizdag, Bukantau). Most of the area is covered with sand-dunes (barchans); in the North-West large areas are covered with takirs (clay coatings); there are also some oases. There are agricultural settlements along the rivers and in the oases. Temperatures can be very high during the summer months, from mid-May to mid-September. Kerki, one extreme inland city located on the banks of the Amu Darya River, recorded 51.7 °C in July 1983.


Desert fauna include the Russian tortoise (Testudo horsfieldii) and a large lizard known as the Transcaspian or Desert Monitor (Varanus griseus), which can reach lengths of 1.6 m. The Saiga Antelope (Saiga tatarica) also occasionally migrates through the northern part of the desert.

There is a Kyzyl Kum nature reserve in Bukhara Province, founded in 1971. The area of the reserve amounts to 101,000 km2 and it is located on flood-land (tugai) drained by the Amu-Darya close to the settlement Dargan Ata. Fauna include: the Bukhara Deer (a local species of Cervus elaphus), Wild Boar (Sus scrofa), Common Pheasant (Phasianus colchicus), Golden Eagle (Aquila chrysaetus) etc.

Another reserve (or eco-centre), "Djeyran", is located 40 km to the south of Bukhara. The total area of this reserve is 51,450 km2. It is a breeding centre for rare animals such as: the Goitered or Persian Gazelle Gazelle (Djeyran, Gazella subgutturosa), Przewalski's Horse (Equus przewalskii), the Koulan (Onager, Equus hemionus) and Houbara Bustard (Chlamydotis undulata). The reserve was founded in 1977 on the enclosed area in 5,131 ha.