WHEN THE AIRPLANE BEGAN its descent to the little airport of Zarafshan, the city appeared among ochre-colored dunes with clusters of standard blocks of flats built in the 1970s. They did not differ from the ones that could be seen in the outskirts of Moscow, Volgograd, or Novosibirsk. There were no monuments, tourist attractions, restaurants, or old buildings in the city. It was—and still remains—a mirage town, a ghost town, built by prisoners on Communist Party orders. The distance from Zarafshan to Muruntau is around 37 kilometers (23 miles) southeast, and “Zarafshan” translates from Uzbek to mean “gold-bearing”. The sky was unusually clear almost year-round, and the sun was always bright. One could not hide from it. It was always there—above, ahead, to all sides, or behind.
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