Country #8, Day 57, Aralsk, Kazakhstan
Over our journey of around 20,000kms now, we have covered a variety of landscapes, cities and cultures each of them mesmerised us but what Aralsk had to offer us was truly unique. The dried sea bed of the once great Aral Sea offered us an absolutely thrilling 200km 4×4 trip where we saw bactrian camels, falcons, grounded rusting boats, sea shore, desert, swamps and miles and miles of salt flats.
The Aral Sea, once the fourth largest lake(with saline water) in the world at 68,000 sq. kms. spanning two countries Uzbekistan & Kazakhstan. Fifty years ago, it was one of four inland seas; the other three are the Caspian Sea – also in Central Asia – Lake Victoria in Africa, and Lake Superior in North America. But today it is a man-made environmental disaster – it has shrunk by 80 per cent, mainly because of mismanagement of water and land resources in the former Soviet Union where they built dams for irrigation on the two main rivers that fed it, the Syr Darya and the Amu Darya. By 2014, the surface area of the Aral Sea has reduced to 10% of its original size.
The dying sea, though it has started reviving in parts with efforts from the Kazakh government, has left behind some sights of breathtaking beauty and a 4×4 track which was too tempting for us rovers to not attempt. So we went off road on a 200km journey which with its varied landscape and terrain both challenged and enthralled us for 7long hours. But it was no means an easy task, our Land Rover’s off-road capabilities were thoroughly tested as we drove on gravel, loose mud, deep sand, climbed and descended extreme angles but it conquered it all. It was one bumpy ride that we are happy that we did. We are also proud to probably be the first Indians to rover on the dry sea bed. Basis our learning of driving a loaded car on very very rough terrain, it is advised for all future enthusiasts to empty their 4x4s of all excess weight before attempting this, high ground clearance is a must.
Despite the ecological tragedy that the Aral Sea has become, the trip was still worth it. By the time many of you get here, it may be gone. And for those you back home in India who won’t make it here, there’s something similar close by. Not so big, not so large, but a 5,700-square-kilometre Sambar Lake about 100 kilometres from Jaipur. The drive may not be as bumpy or the walk to the shore as squishy, but the water will taste as salty.
Enjoy the photos and the video!