"I’m going for a swim," says Pelle Bendz, a 52-year-old Swede, as he rummages in the jeep for his bathing trunks. The other tourists look at him, bewildered. What’s left of the Aral Sea is reputed to be a toxic stew, contaminated by pesticides and other chemicals. But the weather’s hot and Bendz insists his travel agency told him “swimming” was part of the package.
In Nukus, the sleepy regional capital of western Uzbekistan’s Karakalpakstan region, local tour operators say the number of sightseers is growing each year. Many come to this remote part of the Central Asian country to see the famous Savitsky art collection. There are excursions to ancient fortresses and historic Khiva, once an important stop on the Silk Road. But the Aral Sea – one of the world’s most infamous, man-made ecological disasters – is probably the top attraction.
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Adriane Lochner is a Bishkek-based writer.