Desert Flower

Ravaged by desertification and poverty, the Central Asian city of Nukus is hardly on the tourist trail. Most people have never even heard of it or of Karakalpakstan, the autonomous republic of which Nukus is the capital. Reaching the city involves a knuckle-whitening, three-hour flight in a Soviet-era aircraft — or a 40-hour drive across the steppes — from the Uzbek capital of Tashkent. But when you finally arrive at Nukus, there are two surreal sights to behold. The first is the dried-up bed of the Aral Sea — once the world's fourth-largest lake, but now a hellishly arid landscape of...

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