Saturday morning, right on cue, was sunny, warm and windless. Inspired by the spirit of adventures I was up in arms, when I arrived to “KvadroDrive – Atyrau” base, the company which organizes regional tours on ATVs for those who want to travel to the reaches of the native soil. Together with the group of tourists who are anxious to experience the feeling of drive, I started to get prepared for a trip to Naryn sand dunes.
- Strictly follow the instructor, don’t lag behind or overtake. Keep the distance and don’t rush under any circumstances. Four-wheel drive ATV behaves differently than a car, leave alone the bicycle or motorbike. You cannot tilt it during turns and it doesn’t have the same controllability of a car. You can easily roll over even on the flat road or soar up high into the air when you accidentally run into a hillock. All distance long you should strictly follow the commands of the instructor. Independent actions are not welcomed, - was briefing us Vladimir SHPILENKO, KvadroDrive - Atyrau director, who also assumed the functions of our main instructor.
Then we started to put on the ‘battle suit’. The most impressive items of protective clothing were – “turtles”. Made of strong plastic, looking like a turtle shell, it protects clavicles, ribs and a spine from bruises and fractures. Then there is a helmet lining made of soft fabric to protect you from wind and dust. We put on the solid metal helmet which is very similar to one that special forces wear. It will protect your head and everything that is inside it. We protected our eyes from dust and small pebbles flying from ATV wheels by wearing mono-glasses. The last stroke of protective ammunition was a windbreaker made of a windproof material.
Looking at each other through the big plastic goggles, we laughed at ourselves and this sudden metamorphosis. A real Ninja Turtles special task force!
We are through with instructions for safe driving on ATV and, here we go!
THE BEAUTY OF STEPPE
The starting point is the airport area. We moved across the steppe towards Atyrau – Astrakhan highway. SUV equipped with GPS navigator was following us in the capacity of technical support, otherwise it is easy to get lost in our steppes.
Having reached the asphalt road, we turned towards Akkistau settlement. The technical support team was driving on the asphalt road and we drove on ATVs along an open boundless steppe. This appeared to be not as easy as we imagined. Hardly visible snake of the steppe road was constantly “disappearing” and we were forced to drive along the rough off-road, crushing down the sun beaten grass and lifting dense clouds of dust.
We came across a few small rivers on our way and, practically, on each one of them we witnessed many beautiful scenes: a flock of geese, quickly wagging their wings, were flying off the river bank. Passing by the other river we noticed a pair of graceful swans swimming on an unruffled surface of water. On the third river another picturesque view - a herd of horses of varied breed came to a water hole.
To drive through the most difficult sections, we had to drive to the main high way to be able to continue our journey.
The passing drivers took us for travelers and amicably signaled their horns or waved their hands in salute.
Having covered about 65 kilometers and getting a little tired, we reached the village of Novobogat. We had a little rest and set off again. From the village we turned to the right and dove to the steppe. Along a winding bumpy road we need to drive another 40km.
The deeper we drove into the steppe, the landscape started to change. The plains are changing to small hills with bushes of saxaul and tamarisk out of which soar up into the sky a flock of partridges or jump out timid hares.
The closer the Naryn sands, more yellow is the color of the sand around and less dust behind the ATV wheels. The air is filled with a pleasant smell of wormwood. We are nearing the dunes…
BETWEEN THE PAST AND THE FUTURE...
Having covered in total over 100 kilometers in three hours, after overcoming numerous high hills, we all of a sudden, saw an amazing picture: endless sandy dunes. A real desert with high dunes and magnificent patterns created by wind on sand.
Naryn sands are a white spot on the map of Pre-Ural area. A few decades ago the local people left from these places. You can occasionally meet shepherds here who have chosen sandy dunes as the winter quarters for the cattle.
The Naryn dunes keep many secrets. This is not surprising that “black” (illegal) treasure-hunters come here from time to time. Dunes have the ability to move and when moving they open the ancient treasures. According to Atyrau Oblast experts, there could be Sarmatian and Scythian burials in the area. And there are stories told by people that among the dunes there are numerous herds of free wandering camels.
We spent in the dunes some time in absolute silence. Everyone was thinking his or her owns thoughts … You get hypnotized by these dunes. You can sit and look at the horizon for hours. At those moments you feel that you are just a tiny particle of this great Universe...
But this cannot last forever and once more we “saddle” our ATVs to conquer the dunes. To drive to the top side of the dues it is easier and safer from the downwind side. The sand here is more dense. But once you reach the dune crest, the sand starts sliding on the other side. The farther the dunes – the higher and more fascinating are the dunes waves. You can travel through these magnetic places for long hours and you feel as if the time has stopped.
… Soon the wind will ruthlessly cover up our traces retuning the dunes back to their original state, as if we never were here. But we will keep the memories and a desire to come back here again.
By Tamara Sukhomlinova
Naryn Sands occupy the territory between the Volga and the Ural Rivers. Its total area equals to 25 000 sq.km. Sands are 0,21 m below sea-level. The climate in the area is dry, continental; the average annual precipitation is 214-246 mm. The growing plants adapted here to desert climate are: dzhuzgun, kayak, kumarshyk, tamarisk, saxaul. The animals are represented by hares, dog foxes (corsacs), steppe polecats.
Naryn Sands are the witnesses of many historical events. They are mentioned in the verses of the poet and warrior Makhambet.