I step off the rickety Tupolev onto the tarmac at Nukus on a jaggedly clear morning, a slight bite of winter in the air, shadows still long on the ground. This is what it used to be like -- a long walk to an airport terminal, clutching coats and bags, sweet-smelling jet fuel weaving downwind as someone kicks chocks into place.
Policemen on duty, half menacing and half hospitable, pick me out of the otherwise-local crowd to enter passport and visa numbers in grimy books.
Waiting for bags, I chat with Gulbahar, a small dark-haired Qaraqalpaq girl. She is an English major, keen to practice, ahead of a career as a translator or tourguide. I am headed to the Aral area; she gives me her cell phone number in case I get stuck. "I cannot come with money, but I can translate."
It takes 4 hours to drive through the desolation of the Land of the Black Qalpaq wearers, to Moynaq, where even 30 years ago used to be the Aral Sea.
Also, here's is the first part of interesting documentary about the people in the Aral area. (All 5 parts here.)