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Aral Sea

Stretching across from the southwestern region of Kazakhstan and into Uzbekistan, the Aral Sea is a lake named for the numerous islands which once populated it. Over many years, the Aral Sea has faced disasters and troubles including pollution and climate change, both the cause and victim of drastic shrinking since the 1960s when Soviet irrigation projects diverted the water from its two main feeder rivers. However, more recently, projects have been underway to save what remains of what was once one of the largest lakes in the world.

Now dams have been set up, most notably the mighty Kokaral Dam, the area known as the North Aral Sea has seen water levels replenished by nearly 40 feet and many species of fish have begun to flourish once again. Consequently, fishing has become increasingly popular once again. Visitors flock to the region to hike across the now arid steppe where many ships now stand aground and cities that once flourished with fishing and trade are rendered ghost towns.

Stretching across from the southwestern region of Kazakhstan and into Uzbekistan, the Aral Sea is a lake named for the numerous islands which once populated it. Over many years, the Aral Sea has faced disasters and troubles including pollution and climate change, both the cause and victim of drastic shrinking since the 1960s when Soviet irrigation projects diverted the water from its two main feeder rivers. However, more recently, projects have been underway to save what remains of what was once one of the largest lakes in the world.

Now dams have been set up, most notably the mighty Kokaral Dam, the area known as the North Aral Sea has seen water levels replenished by nearly 40 feet and many species of fish have begun to flourish once again. Consequently, fishing has become increasingly popular once again. Visitors flock to the region to hike across the now arid steppe where many ships now stand aground and cities that once flourished with fishing and trade are rendered ghost towns.

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Aralsk

What was once a busy fishing port on the very edge of the Aral Sea is now nearly 40 miles from water. The Fishing Museum, the History Museum, the monument to the old port and a large mosaic in the town’s train station tell the story of the town’s history and how things have changed over the years.

Camping

Intrepid visitors are enchanted by the haunting expanse of dry steppe that was once covered with water. An excursion popular among outbound holiday-makers is a camping trip on the bed of the Aral Sea. Travelers set up their tents or traditional yurts under the stars, where once they would have been under the sea.

Hiking

The areas around the shrunken North Aral Sea are popular with trekkers and hikers. Famed for its dramatic scenery and endless view, the journeys from old port cities such as Aralsk, to the water’s edge, are poignant ways to experience the extent of the shrinkage.

Kokaral Dyke

In a bid to save the North Aral sea, a sand dam was built twice, in 1992 and 1998 - both times washed away - but the benefit to the water level and quality was noted. And so, the Kokaral Dyke was completed in 2005; since then, the water level in the North Aral Sea has risen significantly and many fish species have returned.

Ships graveyard

At Zhalanash, just six miles from the shore of the North Aral Sea today, visitors come to see the ‘cemetery of the ships’, where old boats have been left to rust after the waters dried up beneath them. Surrounded for miles by arid steppe and grazing camels, they are a dramatic sight.

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