Soviet Environmental Disasters of Central Asia Part 1 – Lake Aidarkul

Lake Aidarkul lies in the north of Uzbekistan, is 250km long by 15km wide and is entirely man made. Not in the "let's build a lake here for water/power/tourism reasons" sense of man made, more in the "let's build a dam and reservoir in Kazakhstan, oh bugger there's too much water, let's open the dam a bit, wow I didn't expect the water to go there, hey look Uzbekistan we've made you a lovely new lake or three while destroying an inland sea" sense of man made. It is also where a lot of water that should have flowed into the Aral Sea went which, along with another couple of lakes and the cotton industry, is why the Aral Sea is dying – drying up into a lifeless salt pan.

Still, the entire ecosystem of one part of the world's loss is a yurt camp owner's gain. Yurts are large conical tents, most often associated with Mongolian tribes and middle class English people at music festivals who can't be bothered to put their own tent up. There are now a number of camps near Lake Aidarkul where you can stay in a yurt, visit the lake for an early morning swim and enjoy traditional music of an evening. It was during the latter that I chose to unleash the cognac cobra on my travelling companions.
(Note: The "cognac cobra" is literally a bottle of "cognac" in the shape of a cobra that I'd picked up for the princely sum of £2.30 in a Tashkent supermarket, and not some new dance move I'd been working on in my bedroom at home in the hope that I'd have an opportunity to use it in an Uzbek nightclub to impress the locals).

After a simple but tasty meal a local man entertained us by playing a two stringed instrument, something akin to a guitar, and singing soulfully as we passed around the cobra. There had already been beer and vodka at dinner so some people were quite merry.

A jokingly suggested to a young British guy called Max that I'd give him a rouble if he jumped over the campfire. Of course he did, much to the disgust of his stern faced mother who he was travelling with. On the day I'd bought the cognac cobra Max had been so impressed that he bought the other novelty cognac bottle in the shop – a sword. With the cobra almost finished he produced the sword ready to move onto that.

At this point the local guide jumped up and insisted the sword me given to him. He then asked Max to kneel and promptly lay the novelty cognac bottle on Max's right shoulder with the words "I dub thee Duke of Yurt Campshire". The English speaking tourists erupted in laughter while the few Uzbeks and Russians look on perplexed.

The night continued and eventually everyone drifted off to their respective Yurts, except Max who apparently slept on top of a hill somewhere, as you do when you're the Duke of Yurt Campshire.


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