What is this thing that looks like a clay pancake lying on a sand and rocky hill and sounds like “she’ll pick”? Who is “she” and what is she going to pick? Well, Shylpyk-kala a.k.a. Shylpyk or Chilpiq is an architectural monument of ancient Khorezm, a Zoroastrian dakhma, to be more exact. 

According to Encyclopedia Britannica, dakhma, translated from Avestan as tower of silence, is a “Parsi funerary tower erected on a hill for the disposal of the dead according to the Zoroastrian rite. Such towers are about 25 feet (8 m) high, built of brick or stone, and contain gratings on which the corpses are exposed. After vultures have picked the bones clean, they fall into a pit below, thereby fulfilling the injunction that a corpse must not suffer contact with either fire or earth.

Shylpyk is not far from Urgench-Nukus highway and like many others I occasionally used to pass by the place. This time, however, I was going to Nukus with a firm intention to visit the monument and have a chill peek of what’s inside.

The dakhma is impressive. Towering above the surrounding loneliness Shylpyk – like sealed Karakalpak Fuji-san – stands there proudly in the sands. Amu-Darya flows nearby. So beautiful and fresh, embraced by green fields and orchards – a real oasis in the dry and dull desert.

However, that year there was not that much water in Amu-Darya. Less water means less rice, so the prices for rice at bazaars immediately go up. Rice is the core ingredient of pilaf, and pilaf is the core ingredient of normal life in Uzbekistan. That is why everyone is concerned when rice is expensive; this is more important than the economic crisis in Europe, tornados in the U.S., falling airplanes and football championships altogether.

But let’s get back to Shylpyk. It was quite interesting to explore the dakhma corroded by water and time. Yet, some disappointments were ahead as well. First of all, I was expecting to see the ancient runic inscriptions, but instead found not very ancient non-runic carved autographs like “John was here”. Secondly, the surface of the monument is covered with broken glass. It looks like someone’s regularly celebrating or performing some rituals here – and breaking empty bottles “for luck” must be an essential part of this. The tradition also seems to prescribe making a wish and tying a band of cloth on a tripod which marks the highest point in the area.

Noteworthy, when we were approaching Shylpyk, a mid-aged police officer was taking off in a private-owned car. This is a bit odd for this time of the day (6 AM) considering that there are no police stations or departments nearby. Maybe he was visiting to stash some money (sadly, we didn’t find any) or pray to his police gods and tie a cloth band?.. One thing is for sure: we found no fresh bodies at Shylpyk.

By the way, the time to visit the place was ideal. An hour later it gets way too hot; the sun literally burns down any craving for cultural enrichment.

But what does shylpyk actually mean? You will not find it in Uzbek, Karakalpak or Turkmen dictionaries. It is because the name of the monument is of Kazakh origin: shylpyk means dirt or clay, and kala means town. Most probably, this is not the original name of the structure: it comes from a Turkic language, while the dakhma was built many centuries before the Turkic reign was established in the region.

To conclude, if you ever find yourself in this region, I would recommend visiting the place. Those up to thrilling romance may want to visit it during the nighttime.

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