Some of the most interesting attractions in Uzbekistan are quite remote and very few tourists ever make their way there. Of course, I’m referring to the scattered qalas of western Uzbekistan. A qala is roughly a fortress built of mud that served as an ancient citadel to warring warlords of the Silk Road. There are literally hundreds of ruins littering the Kyzyl Kum desert and the Karakalpak Republic. The most accessible fortresses are located near the town of Buston, in southeastern Karakalpakistan, about an hour north of Urgench.
Toproq Qala shows detailed rooms and buildings that were once inhabited by semi-nomadic warriors some 1500 years ago. Ayaz Qala, although more remote, offers an excellent view of the barren desert and on a clear day, other fortresses. Locals have made it a popular picnic spot, but the steep sides are difficult to climb if you’re not prepared. They were built of mud by hand and have withstood the desert climate for nearly two millennial. There are other qalas in the area, such as Guldursun and Kyzyl. Getting to them all in one day can be an exhausting but worthwhile experience.