The Muynak Regional Studies Museum of the Republic of Karakalpakstan can be called one of the most unique museums in Uzbekistan. This museum, modest by metropolitan standards, with less than two hundred exhibits, tells the visitors a tragic story of the bygone era, when things were humming in this region and the Aral Sea was so large and affluent that it was called as sea.
The museum of the Aral Sea has collected paintings of Soviet artists, old photographs, specimens of flora and fauna, canned goods, produced by the local cannery, household items and articles of arts and crafts of the peoples who lived on the Aral Sea shores, and other artifacts to form a single picture of the past and present of the Aral Sea as a whole.
The Muynak Museum was founded in 1984 in the Uchsai home of culture in Muynak district. In 1998 its exhibition was moved into the regional home of culture, and in 2013 the reconstructed museum was opened with a solemn ceremony. A special place in the museum's collection is given to the pictures of the Karakalpak artists Faim Madgazin and Rafael Matevosian who depicted the Aral Sea in the period from 1950 to 1980 on their canvases, eloquently titled “The Sea is Gone “, “Ships in the Sands” , “Aground”, “Hope” and other no less interesting documentary chronicles of the Aral Sea, demonstrated to every interested visitor.
Coming to Moynaq is, perhaps, what you'd term disaster tourism': there are parallels to be drawn with the Polygon or Chernobyl. You come to see where the sea used to be, and the suffering it has left behind.
Poignant reminders of Moynaq’s tragedy are everywhere: the sign at the entrance to the town has a fish on it; a fishing boat stands as a kind of monument on a makeshift pedestal near Government House. The local museum in the city hall has some interesting photos and paintings of the area prospering before the disaster.
The beached ships are a five-minute walk from the Oybek Hotel, across the main road and beyond the collection of homes. Once difficult to find, most ships have now been moved to a centralised location beneath the Aral Sea memorial, which occupies a bluff that was once the Aral Sea’s bank. There were at one stage many more, but most have now been sold off for their scrap value in a desperate bid to compensate for the loss of income from fishing.
From the memorial you can spot a lake southeast of town, created in an attempt to restore the formerly mild local climate. It didn’t quite work, but it’s at least given the locals a source of recreation. The lake was filled to the brim in 2009, as a dam in Tajikistan came close to bursting, prompting a massive release of water, some of which made it all the way to Moynaq via canals linked to the Amu-Darya. The Amu-Darya itself peters out in the desert southeast of Moynaq.
The Moynaq Museum on the main road has photographs of the town in its heyday, as well as fishing nets and cans of long out-of-date fish. Admission, should you choose to enter, is US$1.