Barsa Kelmes. White Silence


"The land of no return!" So warning and frightening the word-combination "Barsa Kelmes" (‘Barsa Kelmas’) sounds in Turkic. This is the name of a drying and brackish lake and the natural boundary Barsa Kelmes at the Ustyurt plateau in Uzbekistan. The same name was the island (where the homonymous reserve was located) in the north-western part of the Aral Sea. The island Barsa Kelmes just disappeared, having decomposed in the monotony of sand and salt - the legacy of the past Aral Sea, and turned into a peninsula that annually upsizes, exposing the bottom of the disappearing Aral Sea.

Now it will be about the Ustyurt plateau and Barsa Kelmes depression.

Barsa Kelmes depression is the former bottom of the prehistoric Tethys Sea, which vanished from the surface of the globe 30 million years ago, leaving for us the possibility to contemplate the silence of the Karakum desert, the Kizilkum desert and the Ustyurt plateau, rising above the surrounding world like a smooth table.

The foundation of the Ustyurt plateau consists of Mesozoic and Paleozoic deposits of the geological history of the Earth. Tectonic forces, the destructive work of wind and water created a unique world of Ustyurt: now it is a huge desert of gypsum and clay, decorated with fantastic landscapes that resemble extraterrestrial ones; extraordinary figures and conglomerations, canyons, chinks (‘chink’ in the local dialect means ‘cliff’, ‘canyon’, ‘gorge’) and fissures. For millions of years, bottom mud compressed into stratified soil of gypsum and clay and now appears us as mysterious drawings, hieroglyphs, and bas-reliefs. Canyons either abruptly crumbled down or gently sloping down to the lowland, are of an incredible sight: figures of unknown creatures; faces frozen in mysterious silence, pillars and embrasures, mighty walls and towers, bas-reliefs and the whole towns, greet us. When you see them you feel as if an unknown sculptor worked here enjoying the malleability of plaster and clay and created phantasmagoric pictures even the rampant imagination of a human being cannot fancy. The height of the gigantic walls of the gorges reaches 50 - 60 m and somewhere more than 100 m lowering as we approach the depression. It gives you a thrill, you are aware that these layers clearly observed on the slices of the cliffs are several millions of years. Many who dared to know this land stayed here forever. Perhaps that is why the Ustyurt left still and grim visaged figures of sphinxes, warriors, predatory animals at intervals remind of prison-keepers of this place. Its sculptures the nature exhibited either to terrify, or to prevent: “Stop! This is Barsa Kelmes! The land of no return!”

Canyons and chinks of desert of gypsum and clay gently slop down to the sparkling world of salt - salt depression Barsa Kelmes. This is typical depression of Ustyurt. It has an enormous size - almost two thousand square kilometers! It is the most little-studied and hard to get place on the plateau. The bottom of Barsa Kelmes is only 10 - 11 m above the bed of the Aral Sea. And the whole depression is full of huge deposits of salt, bequeathed from the Tethys Sea. Incredibly huge gray-white-and-blue space greeted the rare visitors of these places; almost pure salt that filled up all around to the horizon. More than 70 km long and about 40 km wide - these are the dimensions of this giant reservoir of salt.

It’s rather risky to move around these places. There are a great deal of gaps and open waters covered with a thin crust of salt. And you may instantly fall to not known what depth. The salt is sparkling and shining and looks more like hummocks covering all around. Small open waters and tricklets of crystal water are enhancing the impression that we are in the icy kingdom of Snow Queen. Since recently, there is salt miming. As old-timers put it, this stock will be enough for ages.

"Barsa Kelmes” - “The land of no return!", “White silence”. So many epithets were given to this mysterious, fantastic place by people. Barsa Kelmes is an insufficiently explored, endless and sparkling with virgin whiteness place, like a mirror, reflecting the grandeur of our immense and multi-faceted world.

Igor Blidarev


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Other tourist attractions of Uzbekistan: How to visit Barsa Kelmes:
Barsa Kelmes. White Silence
Ustyurt Plateau
To Aral Sea via Kyzyl-Kum desert



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