A few km outside of Termez along the M39 highway stands the Zurmala stupa. It is a 13,5m-high brick tower, the remnant of the largest Buddhist stupa in the area and possibly the oldest construction still standing in Uzbekistan.
The cylindrical tower, which had a diameter of more than fourteen meters, originally stood on a platform (now underground). All in all, it must have been some sixteen meters high. It has not withstood the elements very well; the younger stupa of Shingerdar in Pakistan, which has the same dimensions, is in a much better condition.
Zurmala is built of adobe square bricks. Each of the bricks has a distinctive stamp in the form of a line and two small pits. According to archaeologists such bricks were used in Bactria, specifically during the Kushan Empire in the early part of the 3rd century AD. Otherwise, the bricks would have been rectangular in shape. The stupa was also faced with kilned bricks in the past; their fragments can still be found around the stupa.
Back in the 3rd and 4th centuries CE, at the height of Buddhist influence in the area, the base of the stupa would have been covered with white limestone slabs below red brick decoration. The upper part of the stupa is believed to have had a reliquary – a chamber to store Buddhist scriptures, statues or Buddha relics. The exterior facade of the stupa was painted a bright red color.
Today, this former religious magnet lies lost in a deserted cotton field, torn by a huge, heartrending crack.
Other sights nearby: