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Trip to Baskunchak Lake
June 4, 2015 00:04

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Salt production on Baskunchak began in the eighth century. The first official mention of the lake can be found in the “Book of the Big Drawing” - the first geographic description of the Moscow state compiled by the order of Ivan the Terrible. The lake in the book is called the place “where they break salt as clean as ice”.

Salt production was a hellish toil: people were working 12-14 hours a day under the scorching sun, from year to year. The majority of salt producers could withstand no more than fifteen years – they became disabled or died. A small field of low wooden columns is left from that time on the Baskunchak Lake.

Previously, huge sieves were put on them in order to precipitate salt - brine flowed back into the lake, and the “white poison” stayed on the lattice. It should be noted that Baskunchak is not exactly a lake. There are no outflows from it, and it is replenished by many springs. In fact, it is a basin on the top of a huge underground salt mountain. Surprisingly, human intervention in this natural system has not done to it almost any damage.

There is enough salt in the lake for many generations, and the old production sites get completely “healed” by Baskunchak in six years. They were trying to assess salt reserves in 1927, sank a bore hole, drilled it long and persistently. They stopped at the mark of 257 meters, having not reached the bedrock. The thick salt crust of Baskunchak has long been liked by motorists, the fans of extreme races. Ilya Tikhomirov set a speed record of the country on this lake in 1962, driving the car “Pioneer 2” at a speed of 311.419 km/h.

Perhaps, the record could be improved, but in 1963 the surface of the lake became unsuitable for future races due to increased salt production. Thus, the record of Tikhomirov has not been beaten yet.

Vast expanse, huge sky and white patches of salt lakes make up the fantastic landscape of sun-scorched steppes of Astrakhan. There are hundreds of lakes, as if pearl beads of different shapes and sizes were scattered across the land. This comparison does not seem fanciful, if you remember that pure crystalline salt has been valued since ancient times almost like pearls. The largest of the “pearls” is the Baskunchak Lake. Near the lake the tourists see numerous labels prohibiting grazing, entrance and driving to the territory of the reserve and “Bassol” OJSC.

However, the locals (mostly Kazakhs) ignore the bans and periodically go to the lake to get salt, although all of them can read in Russian. Illiterate cows simply bypass barriers and go to lick the salt from salt marshes. For modern tourists Baskunchak is both an exotic place and a healing procedure in the saturated salt solution - brine. Large salt baths are formed in the areas of industrial production of salt, where salt sucker - a large processor that collects salt crust – has passed. This lake is almost completely covered with white crust, healing black clay lies under it. The “Beach” of Baskunchak is not the shore, but the edge of salt production, a lake in a lake.

The depth of salt production reaches eight meters, but it is not so easy to drown in such pool - the density of brine is higher than that of water, it just pushes the body up to the surface. It does not matter, if you can swim or not – bathe in the salt as long as you want. Only do not let the brine touch your eyes - it is dangerous, so do not make any abrupt movements. Walking on the bottom is also not easy: it is covered with pretty prickly crystals under the salt “sand”. It has long been proven that immersion in brine and healing mud has beneficial effect on blood circulation, skin, endocrine and digestive systems. Thereby hang Baskunchaksky salty air filled with phytoncides and bromine. So, an educational trip will also be health-improving.

Salt crystals stay on the skin after immersion in brine, therefore you need to wash them off. Shower cubicles near the lake are few, not too comfortable and not too attractive. If you do not want to take a shower in the plank shed, bring a lot of water with you. Anyway, you cannot do there without fresh water capacity.

The locals are responsive, willing to talk about the village, show where to go, how to get to the nearest bathe. But you should not walk through the village at night - drunk young people are not too friendly. You cannot spend the night in a tent on the shore of the lake – it is a conservation area. You can stay in the village of Nizhny Baskunchak - in the “Bassol” hotel or “Baskunchak” health resort.


Author: Anna Dorozhkina

Tags: Baskunchak Lake     

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