“Sarykum Dune” – Russia’s Death Valley


Sarykum Dune

The Sarykum Dune is considered to be highest dune after the Grand Erg Oriental in the Sahara Desert. It is also the the tallest in Eurasia as well. The dunes spread 12 kilometers along the left bank of the Shura Oseni river in the republic of Dagestan in the Caucasus region of Russia. It has been said that this is Russia’s – Death Valley.

The dune is considered a relict dune, meaning that unlike its geological surroundings, it hasn’t undergone any changes for thousands of years . The dune’s tallest point is 250 meters high made up of fine golden sand quite reminiscent of Asian deserts.

So how did these sand dunes form and where did they come from? The locals speak about magical legends that touch the heart, while scientists have suggested they were formed by winds blowing through the valley of Lake Ak-Kol. It is their speculation that when it passed through Kapchagaiskoe Gorge, the sand dunes where formed by the blowing winds that settled among the rocks. Albeit the first sounds much more romantic than the latter.

A Garden of Eden – So to Speak

The desert flora that surround the base of the dunes are relics from the ancient past. What used to be widespread throughout Eurasia are only found today on the western shore of the Caspian Sea. This landlocked remnant of dunes are a miniature version of the deserts of Asia — it has become a “botanical garden” in which plants that originated from Central Asia, Iran, the Caucasus and even the Altai Mountains can be found. A garden of Eden so to speak.

So what are the legends that surround this garden of Eden?

The first legend comes from the Tohtamysh khan,  ‘Aksak-Temir’ who decided to check how many warriors he had  in his army  before he went to go to fight with his enemy. Every warrior was ordered to put sand into his helmet and then pour it out over this spot. Once every warrior had emptied his helmet Aksak-Temir saw a mountain of sand. Upon seeing it he believed that he’d be able to conquer the greatest state of their time – “The Golden Horde”.

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The Legend of Bulat and Bariyat

The more romantic of the legends is a love story. In the village of Kumtorkala there lived a man called Ibrahim. He had a very beautiful daughter Bariyat. Many young men wanted to marry her but she loved only one man- Bulat. Many time Bulat came to Ibrahim and asked him permission to marry his daughter but Ibrahim refused every time. Bariyat was stubborn girl and didn’t want to marry any other man. Following Bulat’s persistence Ibrahim told him to do the following: “Bring from the sea and throw up such a large sandy mountain behind the river Shura-Ozen that you would be able to see our house from its top. Only then I will believe that you love my daughter.” Bulat agreed.

Months passed, years passed but the mountain grew very slowly. It became more and more difficult for Bulat to bring sand from the sea. He was now becoming very tired.

After a lot of time he climbed the mountain and saw his native village. In the distance he could make out a woman’s figure on the roof of  house familiar to him. Though it was difficult to see her face he recognized his beloved. Bulat ran down the slope, crossed the river and ran into the village. He could finally marry his beloved Bariyat. But lo and behold, who did he see? A crooked, old, grey haired woman was looking ruefully at the approaching man. Her cheeks had become hollow; her eyes had lost their color from the many tears.

What was a pitiful sight! It was at this point he noticed his long white beard. His youth gone, past away, it seemed life itself had passed away… Even to this day the monument of unending love of Bulat and Bariyat stands near Kumik village of Kumtorkala.


11 thoughts on ““Sarykum Dune” – Russia’s Death Valley

  1. I have never heard about a sand dune in Russia…

    We always related Russia with ‘Tundras’ and never with deserts…

    Quite an interesting and informative post, indeed …

    Thanks for sharing, Steve 🙂

  2. Wonderful video and to me the love story is a success: they remained “in love” probably because they were kept apart. Every society has such a story. In ‘City Slickers’ the cowboy Curly tells the story of how he rode towards a homestead into the setting sun when a young man. In a garden a young girl stood up and he saw her form as the sun’s rays shone through her thin cotton dress. He looked at her, then turned his horse and rode away. “I figured, he said, things couldn’t ever get any better than that.” Shocked, the character played by Billy Crystal said, “What a dumb thing to do. You could have had a whole life of love with her.” The now very old Curly replied: “I did.”

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