There are places in the world, incredible expanse, breathtaking beauty and unexplainable magic of which can be compared to the outer space only. Ustyurt in West Kazakhstan is just such an unexplainable and wonderful outer space on Earth.
Ustyurt is a huge plateau, its territory size is about 200,000 sq. km, and it is located between Mangyshlak and Kara Bogaz Gol Bay in the west, Aral Sea and Amu Darya delta in the east. As a matter of fact, this is an immense desert, as scientists state: a clay-sagebrush and saltwort-sagebrush desert, and in its south-eastern part it is clay-and-rock-debris, with alkali spots. And even with all things considered the nature in Ustyurt is fantastic and unique. It is especially beautiful in spring and autumn. Those who chanced to see these landscapes just once, claim that it is impossible to ever forget them.
Just these shocking emotional impressions of visitors of these places provoked the abundant fairy-tales and legends about different nooks of Ustyurt. Even its local name Barsa-Kelmes sounds quite like a fairy-tale in the Russian translation: “if you go there, you will never come back”. Its summer temperature here is more than 50ºC, and in winter severe cold winter blows! Nevertheless, brave and inquiring explorers and tourists try to reach the central point of Ustyurt, which locals accordingly call Shaitan Kala, or ‘the Devil’s Castle’.
They say, be you patient, and in the distance above the alkali soil you may spot the emerging walls of the ancient fortress and severe high rocks… Scientists attribute all this to mirages in the scorching air, though.
The tolerant and daring travelers did make sure that these are not mirages, when in front of you above the endless desert there suddenly rise sheer cliffs up to 400 m high, here they are called ‘chinks’. You may climb up the eastern part of the plateau on the side of Kungrad and Aral Sea only in two or three spots throughout hundreds of kilometers, but afterwards, in reward, you can see this mystery of nature and culture from the height of bird’s eye.
For centuries Ustyurt was a real crossroads of civilizations where interests of very ancient tribes such as Scythians, Mongols, and many other peoples clashed. Sensational historic discoveries are expecting to be made by Ustyurt’s explorers. Today more than 60 sites of the Neolithic period have already been found, and they are waiting to be studied. And quite recently, the famous Silk Way was passing through the plateau. On the road that connected Khiva with lower reaches of Emba and Volga rich caravans were passing by. Along this trade route there was an ancient city called Shakhr-i-Vazir, Beleuli caravanserai, and Allan fortress. The ancient graveyards with the magnificent mausoleums called ‘mazar’ and monuments of different epochs make us contemplate philosophically and culturally.
Although, it is not only the past of Ustyurt that has its mysteries. There is information that large deposits of oil may be discovered here, and they await their explorers. Thus, perhaps, very soon a completely different history will begin in this endless and uninhabited desert. And so far, silence and peace reign above this outer space on Earth.