Chilpik Dakhma

Chilpik Dakhma - Zoroastrian
"Tower of Silence"

Chilpik dakhma, also known as a Tower of Silence is a round raised structure founded by Zoroastrians for burial of corpses to be exposed to carrion birds, usually vultures. It is the earliest example of the traditional funerary ritual, built somewhere between the 1st century BC and 1st century AD. Zoroastrianism is an ancient religion that has a strong following in some areas in Asia, for instance, a corpse is considered impure and should not be allowed to pass on its impurity to the elements around it, particularly the element of fire, which is believed to be holy. Therefore this dakhmas, or Towers of Silence, were built for laying the dead to rest. The body of a dead Zoroastrian is placed on depressions in the circular platform and exposed to both the elements and birds of prey, which feed on the flesh, leaving behind the bones, which were then buried later. The use of these towers was first reported more than 2,000 years ago, though the English term “Tower of Silence” however it didn’t come into use until the 19th century when it was coined by a British translator stationed in colonial India.

Chilpik dakhma is one of the most easily accessible monuments in Karakalpakstan. It is located on the Northeast bank of the Amu Darya, about 44 km Southeast from Nukus and just 6 km downstream from the bridge at Kipchak town. The distinct hat-shape of Chılpıq stands out as the one prominent feature on the left West side of the road between Nukus and Urgench and you can see Chilpik already from far far away. This tower of silence stands in the otherwise almost completely flat desert horizon, rising almost like a skyscraper, towering over the landscape. It is a truly enormous monument of huge proportions especially taking into account the time when it was built.

Guests can climb on top of the tower to admire the desert view that carries easily also to Turkmenistan side of the border. The only way to the top used to be a set of stairs facing the Amu-Darya (Oxus in the past). Wind and rain have decimated those stairs along time ago though but at the same time carved out several new access points that can now be used to climb up. 

The top of the platform is uneven and it is hard to see any remains there as the structures and other objects have been washed away a long time ago. The stone and loosely compacted mud that Chilpik is built of will keep on eroding until the whole tower is just a bump in the desert. This all said it is still a place where one can have a sense of the old religion and culture and imagine all the dead bodies being eaten by the birds of prey and the memory of them being washed away by the wind of the desert.

More information about the Zoroastrian towers of silence.

Page updated 6.12.2020

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