Why Visit The Nuratau Mountains?

Looking to delve into the authentic culture and unspoiled natural beauty of Uzbekistan? The Nuratau Mountains are your ticket to an experience beyond the renowned tourist cities like Samarkand and Bukhara. Positioned conveniently en route to Samarkand, Bukhara, and Tashkent, the Nuratau-Kyzylkum region beckons with a 3-4 hour journey from each of these cities. Notably, the nearby Kyzylkum desert boasts popular yurt camps close to Lake Aydar, perfect to combine with a Nuratau guest house visit. This unique blend offers a fresh perspective, enriching your traditional Uzbekistan exploration.

Wildlife enthusiasts will revel in the diverse ecosystems, with a chance to spot the rare Severtzov’s Argali (Kyzylkum wild sheep) and a vibrant array of bird species in the Nuratau-Kyzylkum area and Lake Aydar wetlands. Immerse yourself in local life, residing in traditional houses crafted from local rocks and resting on tapchans in gardens. Unearth ancient watermills and traditional crafts, from spinning and weaving to crafting vibrant felt carpets. Witness sericulture, with silkworm rearing for sale and small-scale raw silk production in the spring.

Nuratau-Kyzylkum harmoniously accommodates Uzbek, Tajik, Kazakh, Russian, and other ethnicities, all renowned for their hospitality. Expect heartwarming invitations to share meals or tea with local families during your village strolls. Delight in local delicacies like fried lamb, plov, mutton soup, and refreshing sour milk drinks. Nature’s bounty offers mulberries, cherries, apricots, and more, directly from the tree. Bask in the sun-kissed flavours of locally cultivated tomatoes, peppers, herbs, and other produce. The region boasts international organic food certification, ensuring a sustainable and fresh culinary experience.

For a glimpse into local festivities, witness Kupkari, a spirited equestrian game with teams vying to secure and transport a goat to a target area. This traditional spectacle, popular among various regional communities, often takes centre stage at weddings, showcasing the rich tapestry of local customs.

Embark on adventures through the Nuratau Mountains, whether hiking, donkey riding, or horseback exploration. Tailor your experience with diverse day tours, each catering to varying levels of difficulty. Explore historical sites like ancient rock drawings, mosque ruins, and fortresses, while local guides regale you with captivating tales steeped in village history. When the grandeur of monumental mosques and mausoleums settles in your memory, retreat to the tranquillity of Nuratau Mountains’ homestays. Here, you can unwind and savour the essence of this remarkable journey.


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Activities in the Nuratau Mountains & Beyond

Explore the Nuratau Mountains & Kyzyl-Kum Desert: Embark on exhilarating ecotourism adventures – hike, ride horses & camels, stay with locals in homestays & yurts. Delve into their daily lives, traditions, and picturesque landscapes.


Embrace local life in cosy mountain homestays and engage with families, share stories, and even participate in cooking traditional meals. Witness daily activities and land practices up close. Explore the remote villages nestled in the Nuratau Mountains, where winding hiking trails lead to waterfalls, petroglyphs, ancient ruins, and panoramic views. Your stay directly supports community livelihoods, fostering sustainable growth.

The most comfortable, but not the cheapest, means of transport to the homestays in the Nuratau Mountains is a taxi. Negotiate the price with the driver before you leave and make sure he knows where you want to go. You can save costs by sharing the taxi on parts of the route with other passengers. If you request it in advance, we can also arrange private transport to our homestays.


From Tashkent to the Nuratau Mountain Villages and Back

From Tashkent Olmazor (old Sobir Rahimov) metro and bus station to Yangiqishloq (often called by its old name Forish) there is no direct public bus connection so we advise you to use one of the following options:

  1. A shared taxi/minibus from Tashkent to Jizzakh costs about 70.000 to 80.000 UZS/person. From the Olmachi bus/taxi rank in Jizzakh, at the main Samarkand-Tashkent highway, take a town shared taxi to the Gorod bus station in Jizzakh (price 5000 UZS/person) from where minibuses and shared taxis leave for Forish. At the Gorod bus/taxi rank take a minibus or a shared taxi to Yangiqishloq 20.000 to 25.000 UZS/person.
  2. The direct shared taxi from Tashkent to Yangiqishloq costs about 100.000 UZS/person (4 people sharing). There are only a few shared taxis to Yangiqishloq everyday so you should be in Olmozor bus station at 10 AM at the very latest. All Yangiqishloq drivers know our Tourist Information Centre so you will be brought straight to our office.

You can also negotiate with the driver to drop you directly at the village of your destination.

If you plan to take Option 2, please let us know to reserve a seat for you in a shared taxi in advance.

In Yangiqishloq (Forish) village, please visit the Responsible Travel office to settle your bills. We can also assist you to negotiate a fair price for the taxi to the respective village.

The office is located along the main Amir Temur road in front of the Telecom building that has three telecommunication masts on its roof.

From Yangiqishloq to the villages you need to take a taxi. The price varies according to the distance (30km-60km one way) between 160.000 to 200.000 UZS per taxi. It is comparatively expensive, as the driver will most probably not find a passenger for the way back.


From Yangiqishloq to Tashkent

Minibuses and shared taxis leave from Yangiqishloq to Jizzakh (Gorod bus station) regularly. From there you have to take a town shared taxi (costs 5000 UZS/per person) to the Satnsiya or Olmachi bus station in Jizzakh where you can catch one of the minibuses or shared taxis to Tashkent (costs about 70.000 to 80.000 UZS/person).


From Samarkand to the Nuratau Mountain Villages

From Ulugbek bus station in Samarkand take the bus, a minibus or a taxi (shared taxi is cheaper) to Jizzakh’s Olmachi or Stansiya bus station. The costs vary between 40.000 to 50.000 UZS/person.

From the Olmachi bus station in Jizzakh, at the main Samarkand-Tashkent highway, take a town shared taxi to the Gorod bus station in Jizzakh (price 5000 UZS/person) from where minibuses and shared taxis leave for Forish. At the Gorod bus/taxi rank take a minibus or a shared taxi to Yangiqishloq 7.000 to 9.000 UBS/person.

In Yangiqishloq (Forish) village, please pop in at the Responsible Travel office to settle your bills. We can also assist you to negotiate a fair price for the taxi to the respective village. The office is located along the main Amir Temur road in front of the Telecom building that has three telecommunication masts on its roof.

From Yangiqishloq to the villages you need to take a taxi. The price varies according to the distance (30km-60km one way) between 160.000 to 200.000 UZS per taxi. It is comparatively expensive, as the driver will most probably not find a passenger for the way back.

Yurt Camping

A stay at the Sayyod yurt camp offers the opportunity to discover unique Uzbek dishes with hands-on cooking classes, embark on hiking trips to the Nuratau Mountains, visit nearby villages to get insight into the livelihood of villagers residing in the remote mountain areas, and take a day trip to Lake Aydarkul. You can simply stay at your yurt and relax by the on-site pool, or venture out to explore and return to your cosy yurt to rest in the afternoon.


Trek to waterfalls, petroglyphs, and ancient ruins, or relish breathtaking views during short hikes around the homestay. For avid hikers, our guided day and multi-day tours offer unparalleled experiences. Venture village-to-village accompanied by our knowledgeable mountain escort guides. For more information take a look at our Hiking Tours in the Nuratau Mountains.

Horse Riding

Gallop through valleys, uncover villages, and embrace rustic mountain life on horseback. Choose our village-to-village rides or craft your own trail across Nuratau’s splendour, Kyzyl-Kum’s vast plains, and Aydarkul Lake’s beauty. Expert guides recommend longer rides for an authentic journey.

Join us on an unforgettable journey into the heart of Uzbekistan’s natural wonders, guided by local expertise and an array of thrilling activities.

Seasons & Climate

The Nuratau-Kyzylkum area is a great destination year-round, offering a pleasant climate and beautiful landscapes. However, the best times to visit are spring and autumn when temperatures are moderate and the scenery is most appealing. From March to May, witness the contrast of green foothills against snow-capped peaks, along with the arrival of migratory birds. In autumn, the landscape changes as walnut, apricot, and mulberry trees take on a reddish-gold hue, providing a distinct yet equally captivating view. See the table below for estimated temperatures during each month of the year.

In spring, the Nuratau-Kyzylkum region comes alive with almond, cherry, apple, and apricot trees in full bloom, adorning the meadows with a riot of colours. The air is crisp, carrying the scents of blooming flowers, while the melodies of birds fill the atmosphere. This time of year is popular for the traditional game of Kupkari, and May marks the commencement of silk production, a unique local activity. The moderate temperatures make spring an optimal season for engaging in various active tourism pursuits. Weather Conditions: During spring, temperatures range from 20 to 30°C. Regular, rejuvenating rains contribute to a sense of anticipation for a bountiful harvest and lush pastures. Spring typically receives around 35% of the total annual precipitation, with April receiving about 56mm and May about 25mm.

As summer arrives, the region becomes a realm of abundance. Gardens overflow with fruits like apricots, apples, mulberries, cherries, and grapes. In the mountains, serene garden spots offer cool respites by trickling streams, with the shade of walnut trees providing respite from the sun. Sipping on a refreshing ayran, you can observe the rhythm of daily village life. Weather Conditions: Throughout the summer months of June, July, and August, the average temperature hovers around 30°C, accompanied by a modest average monthly precipitation of 4mm. This climatic balance results in the delectable and succulent fruits the region is known for.

Autumn heralds the culmination of a year's toil with the eagerly awaited harvest. Referred to as the "Velvet Season," the landscape is adorned with the riches of almonds, walnuts, peaches, apples, and a myriad of other fruits. Hosil Bayrami, a festive public holiday, honours the harvest. This is also a time for weddings and Kupkari matches, showcasing the rich cultural heritage of the local populace. Visitors are welcome to partake in these age-old celebrations. Weather Conditions: The autumn months of September and October usher in temperatures ranging from 18 to 20°C, accompanied by an average monthly rainfall of 20mm. Roughly 20% of the annual precipitation falls during this period. The warmth often lingers well into December, offering a unique opportunity to explore the region's snowy mountain passes (refer to Table 1).

As winter descends, the land witnesses the emergence of secondary vegetation after the autumn rains. The overall climate remains relatively mild during this season. Winter unveils its own charm, inviting explorations through snow-covered mountain passes and an insight into the region's winter life. Bird enthusiasts will find winter particularly thrilling as geese, ducks, and waterfowl such as the Dalmatian pelican and the Red-breasted Goose flourish. However, it's important to note that while some homestays offer basic amenities during winter, comfort levels might not match those of warmer months. Others, equipped with hammams and heating facilities, extend hospitality year-round. Weather Conditions: Transitioning into winter, the weather in late December and January ushers in the initial signs of the season's embrace. Temperature swings during winter encompass a range of -20 to -22°C and +22 to +24°C. Precipitation levels elevate, averaging around 48mm per month.

People & Culture

The Nuratau-Kyzylkum area is culturally very diverse. It is home to Tajik, Kazakh, and Uzbek communities, who have maintained their strong cultural identities despite 70 years of Soviet rule. Lying on a northerly arm of the ancient Silk Road, which ran from the Fergana valley to Bukhara city via the fortress town of Nurata, the area is redolent with the past. Nomadic Turkic tribes have lived here even before the Great Silk Road was established. Later Tajik tribes settled in the mountain areas and set up fruit and nut gardens in the valleys close to the mountain rivers. The irrigation systems they established are still the basis of the green beauty of this centuries-old cultural landscape. Cattle, Karakul sheep and goat farming, horticulture as well as sericulture have been part of the livelihoods since ancient times. Additionally, trading caravans have passed through this area, which became an integral part of the Great Silk Road, for centuries.

During Soviet times livelihoods increasingly shifted towards employment in government enterprises. Without a doubt, the construction of road infrastructure and electrification improved the living conditions of the population. Simultaneously during this time many traditional natural resource management practices were lost and centuries-old institutions removed.

Since the collapse of the Soviet Union and the consequent loss of jobs and funding, the population has desperately been struggling with a dramatic increase in unemployment. As a result, the importance of agricultural subsistence activities has increased in order to sustain livelihoods. Inhabitants cut vulnerable wood resources due to the lack of reliable energy supply. Hunting and fishing supplement the food supply.

In order to improve the economic situation, local people with technical assistance from international NGOs initiated a community-based ecotourism project in this area. This alternative source of income shall contribute to increasing the people’s standards of living and serve as a motivation towards protecting the environment.

Natural Environment of Nuratau-Kyzylkum Area

The Nuratau Mountains stretch over a distance of approximately 180 km in the east-west direction. The highest peak is 2169 metres above sea level. It is located north of Samarkand and south of Lake Aydar. The mountains are the last refuge of the highly endangered Severtzov’s wild sheep (Ovis Ammon Severtzovi). This fact indicates the international significance of this territory. The Nuratau Nature Reserve was created in the mid-1970s in order to protect Severtsov’s Argali.

The Reserve is located in the heart of the Nuratau Mountains and is inaccessible to visitors as it is a protected area. A Biosphere Reserve has been planned covering not only the Nuratau Mountains but also parts of the Kyzylkum semi-desert and the large Lake Aydar system. However, the Biosphere Reserve status has not been legalised yet. The area includes several landscape types such as rocky mountains, lush green fertile valleys, flat dry semi-desert, rolling desert dunes, and extensive wetlands, which are typical for Central Asia.

The Biosphere Reserve is a new category for protected areas in Uzbekistan. It is intended to combine wildlife conservation with sustainable rural development and the preservation of culture. Due to the geographic location and habitat variety, the Nuratau–Kyzylkum area has a high biodiversity, and each landscape type has its own specific beauty.

The deciduous forests of Nuratau valleys are lush green oases of big old fruit- and nut trees, cultivated for centuries by the local people. In the valleys, the most common trees are walnut, mulberry, apricot, cherry, plum, pear, apple, eastern plane, and white poplar. On the mountain slopes, other types of trees such as Zeravshan archas, pistachio trees, common buckthorns, maples, apple trees, hawthorns, and Caucasian hackberries are widespread. The Nuratau mountains are home to a variety of bird species such as the rare Lammergeier (Gypaetus barbatus), Eurasian Griffons (Gyps fulvus), Black Vultures (Aegypius monachus), Egyptian Vultures (Neophron percnopterus), Golden Eagles (Aquila chrysaetos), Saker falcons (Falco cherrug), Lesser Kestrels (Falco naumanni), Little Swifts (Apus affinus), Eurasian Crag-Martins (Ptyonoprogne rupestris), Rock Thrushs (Monticola saxatilis), Blue Rock Thrushs (Monticola solitarius), Chukars (Alectoris chukar) and different Wheatears. The mountain valleys attract Orioles (Oriolus oriolus), Common Nightingales (Luscinia megarhynchos), Asian Paradise Flycatchers (Terpsiphone paradisi), Turkestan Tits (Parus bocharensis), Grey-headed Goldfinches (Carduelis caniceps) and many others.

Stone martens (Martes foina) and porcupines (Hystrix indica) are typical mammals in this kind of ecosystem. Several types of bats live in caves and niches. As mentioned above, rocky mountain sides, and rocky slopes are feeding and resting places for the Severtzov’s wild sheep.


The Kyzylkum semi-desert, with its herbaceous vegetation, is an important breeding place for many species and a popular stop-over for migratory birds in spring and summer. Birds to be found in this habitat are Great Bustards (Otis tarda), Little Bustards (Otis tetrax), Houbara Bustards (Chlamydotis undulata), Black Vultures (Aegypius monachus) and Black-Bellied Sand Grouses (Pterocles Orientalis). Every spring, thousands of Demoiselle Cranes (Anthropoides Virgo) gather in the steppe. Rare types of reptiles such as Dessert Monitor (Varanus griseus), Central Asian Tortoises (Testudo Horsfield), Plate-tailed Geckos (Terratoscincus Scincus), and Asian Ablepharouses (Ablepharus pannonicus) can be found in the desert as well.


The Lakes Aydar and Tuzkan and their adjacent wetlands are habitat types that cover extensive areas of the region. They are important breeding, resting, and wintering areas for more than a hundred species of birds. Eleven of them are listed in the Red Data Book of the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN): Dalmatian Pelican (Pelecanus Crispus), Little Cormorant (Phalacrocoraх pygmaeus), Red-Breasted Goose (Rufibrenta ruficollis), Lesser White-fronted Goose (Anser erytropus), Ferruginous Duck (Aythya nyroca), Pallid Harrier (Circus macrourus), Imperial Eagle (Aquila heIiасa), Pallas ́ Sea– Eagle (Haliaetus leucoryphus), White-tailed Sea– Eagle (Haliaetus albicilla), Black Vulture (Aegypius monachus) and Sociable Plover (Chettusia gregaria).

The Nuratau-Kyzylkum area also accommodates a wide range of mammals. Approximately 40% of the mammal species registered in Uzbekistan live here. Wolves (Canis lupus), Jackals (Canis aureus), Foxes (Vulpes vulpes and Vulpes corsak), Muskrats (Ondatra zibethicus), and Central Asian Wild Boar (Sus scrofa) are just a few.

Nuratau Mountain Villages

The Nuratau Mountains are home to many ancient villages and the settlements. There are three main ethnic groups: Uzbeks, Tajiks and Kazakhs that populate the Nuratau Mountains and Kyzyl-Kum steppe. Being the biggest community in the area, Uzbeks arrived in the area in the 13th century from the north of present-day Kazakhstan. The second biggest ethnic group, the Tajiks have a more ancient settlement history dating back to the time of Alexander the Great’s reign in Central Asia. The smallest ethnic group, the Kazaks before settling at the beginning of the 20th century, were living nomadically in the yurts and moving permanently from place to place in the Kyzyl-Kum desert.

For many centuries, some of the caravan routes between Bukhara and (Choch) Tashkent passed the Nuratau region. The trade route was used until the 19th century. During the long, hard, and dangerous trips, fortresses, and wells situated in the Nuratau Mountain valleys and the Kyzylkum plains were used as stop-over points by the traders. The present development of ecotourism is concentrated in villages of Eski Forish, Asraf, Uhum, Hayat, Majerum and Sentob inhabited by ethnic Tajik people.

Eski Forish Village

Eski Forish village has 1110 inhabitants. The village has a health post with a nurse and the secondary school. In the village, there are three small shops and a few home vendors, where basic groceries, as well as biscuits, sweets, mineral water, beer, wine, and cigarettes, can be obtained. All the houses in the village are connected to the electricity network.

The name Eski Forish means old Forish. Eski Forish is called Porasht in the Tajik language. The word Porasht has its roots in the Sogdian language and means “place surrounding a fortress”. The ancient village of Porasht was situated higher up in the valley. The ruins of houses, mosques, and ancient mills can still be seen. The old village was abandoned in the 17th century.

In the 16th century, the surroundings of present-day Eski Forish were covered by reeds. Passing the area, the Khan of Bukhara, Sheybonid Abdullah, was attracted by the place and chose to rest here with his troops and finally established a village (1558-1598). The local people, who lived higher up in the valley (Qishloqi), moved down to the new settlement and mixed with the new settlers from Bukhara (Qorovulbegi).

In the vicinity of the village, there are two ancient lookout points (Abdullakhan and Sultontepa ) from where approaching enemies could be spotted.

The ruins of three old mosques (Mullodehkon, Arabboy, and Merganboy) have been found in the Eski Forish area. Not far from the village, there is an ancient petroglyph site.

Asraf Village

Asraf is a very small village located between Eski Forish and Uhum. There are 18 families living in the village at the present. It has its own small elementary school. After fourth-grade children have to go to school in the village of Uhum.

Asraf is located very close to the Nuratau Nature Reserve, which unfortunately is not accessible to the public, but there are good hiking paths at the edges of the reserve. In the village, there are two rivers the Arsaf and the Xushrud, which are fed by two springs the Chashmai Azizmurod and the Chashmai Abdulloi Naymon.

Like all the villages of the Nuratau mountain range, Asraf has a long history. Ancient rock paintings in the mountains prove that people have lived here for more than two thousand years. Elements of the Sogd language can still be found in the Tajik spoken today. These witnesses say that in the 4th century BC, Sogds, who originated from the Zarafshan and Istrafshan valleys, settled in the Nuratau Mountains to escape from the troops of Alexander the Great. Until today many of the customs practised here are more closely related to the ones in the Zarafshan area than the ones of the Samarkand and Bukhara Tajiks.

The customs of people in Asraf used to differ slightly from neighbouring villages. During weddings, for example, various activities like Kupkari were organised. Until the 1960s, the wedding celebration lasted 6-10 days.

Uhum Village

Uhum village has two schools and a new technical college built-in 2009. There are several small shops where basic groceries as well as biscuits, sweets, mineral water, beer, wine, and cigarettes can be obtained. On Sunday, a village bazaar is held, where vendors from the region offer their products. Uhum has a health post with a doctor and a nurse. There are seven cemeteries in Uhum, some of them are ancient. In the village, there are five electric and three water-driven mills for grinding grain. Uhum has a hairdresser near the bus station. In the Uhum valley, there is no mobile phone reception. All the houses in Uhum are connected to an electricity network.

Uhum is one of the biggest villages in the Nuratau Mountains. The valley stretches out for 15 km. The name Uhum originates from the Sogdian word Axm, which means « fearless warrior».

On the way to Uhum, you pass two small settlements: Sirtikon, which means “near the mine” and Mula, which means “remote place”. These villages have only developed recently. However, in Sirtikon, remnants of an old copper mine, dating back to Mongolian times have been found. Entering Uhum village you can see the remains of a stone wall, called “Shaxi Ali”, which defended the village from attacks of the nomads from the Kyzylkum steppe. The exact date when it was built is not known.

In the village Uhum there are five ancient mosques and seven old cemeteries (Chilgazato, Guji G’ozi, Xazrati Bibi, Shoxidon, Azizon, Xisorato, Xazrati Eshonbobo). Other interesting historical sites are the ruins of the ancient Xonkeldi fortress in Uhum and the ruins of Korg’on fortress in Upper Uhum and a small petroglyphs site.

Uhum was one of the villages of the Bukhara Emirate. When the Russian Empire conquered Bukhara, Uhum was overpowered by the troops of the Russian commander Abramov in December 1867.

It has never been easy to survive on the sparse resources of Uhum valley. Hence, the resident population used to subdue the neighbouring villages in order to increase their livestock and acquire other goods.

Uhum used to be a larger village in the past. In the 1950th the Soviet Government moved 608 families to other regions (Jizzakh, Kazakhstan, Sirdarya) where labourers were needed in the cotton fields. This is why you will see a lot of abandoned houses in Uhum.

Hayat Village

Hayat has 650 inhabitants. The village has an elementary school. A new technical college was built down in the valley in Uhum in 2009. There is a shop where basic groceries as well as biscuits, sweets, mineral water, beer, wine, and cigarettes can be obtained. The village has its own cemetery. In the village, there are mills for grinding grain.

There are several legends about how the village came into being. According to one of them, there was a long-lasting drought in the area. In search of water, a farmer came to the valley and saw fog and clouds, and concluded that there must be water in the area. He told other villagers and they decided that this must be a good place to settle. Hence, they moved there and named the village Hayat, which means life. Another legend says that during a severe drought, all springs and wells in the neighbouring villages dried up, but the spring in Hayat still produced water. That is why people called it the spring of life (hayat).

In Hayat village, there was a fortress called Shaxi Korgon that was located on a hill making it difficult for enemies to conquer. 10-15 people could defend it against 500 enemies. The ruins of the fortress can be visited.

In the 1950s the Soviet Government moved sixty families from Hayat to the cotton-growing areas. That is why you see many abandoned houses in the village.

Sentob Village

Sentob village has two secondary schools and a health post with a doctor and a nurse. There are five small shops where basic groceries as well as biscuits, sweets, mineral water, soft drinks, beer, wine, and cigarettes can be obtained. Near the minibus stop, there is a hairdresser. There are three watermills and one electric mill for grinding grain. Only in some parts of the village, there is cellphone reception. All the houses in Sentob are connected to the electricity network.
Like other villages of the Nuratau mountain range, Sentob has a long history.

Sentob is the biggest and most ancient among other villages of the Nuratau Mountain range. There are many legends about the origin of the name of the village. One day, when a caravan passed the village, the soldiers asked a local shepherd about the name of the place. The shepherd answered “Sen top”, which means “guess yourself” in Uzbek. Since then people have called the village Sentob or Sentob. Another legend says that the original name of the village was “Simtob”, which means “shining like silver” in the local language. The water of the springs and rivers in the village looks like silver when it reflects in the sun.

As with the other villages, the 1950s Soviet Government forced local people to cotton grooving areas which is why you will see many abandoned houses in the village.

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