We have returned from a trip to Bashkiria recently. It was not quite a regular voyage we take on vacations. My wife's friend, a geography teacher in a school, wanted to take a group of schoolchildren from the school's ecological club to Bashkiria and asked us to help her in the trip. The plan was to visit some places described in the books of Sergey Timofeyevich Aksakov, a 19th century Russian writer.
He is best known for his books on fishing and hunting and for his fairy-tale "The Scarlet Flower", a variation of which became the basis for the plot of the "Beauty and the Beast". But most of all I liked his "Family Chronicle", which describe the life of the Russian village in the early 19th century.
After long and hectic preparations, we, 5 schoolchildren, 1 little girl and 5 adults, finally departed in a little van. The first point we visited had nothing to do with Aksakov, it was the Blue lake in Samara oblast. The children visit the place regularly and study the ecological situation there. This time they just wanted to put some "keep the nature clean" signs around the lake. It was the first time I saw the Blue lake and I was impressed. The lake is a carst doline, about 20 meters across and 20 yards deep, filled with sulphorous water, blueish, dead cold and absolutely transparent. I found a great photo made from under the water in the Internet: check here.
On the next day we left the lake and entered Bashkiria. We stopped for the night on the southern shore of Kandrykul lake. The southern shore is an "organized" place for the rest. We payed 400 roubles for our minivan and stopped at a strip of grass between the road and the lake. Kandrykul is a nice looking place, but a little bit too noisy. It seems that half of Bashkiria and a quarter of Tataria come there for week-ends. The lake is quite large, 8 kilometers long and 4 kilometres wide. There's a nature reserve on a small island, Utrau, in the middle of the lake.
We planned to visit a museum of Aksakov on the third day. The museum is in the village called Aksakovo, near Belebey. It's a relatively new museum, it's only four or five years old, but looks quite good. It is located in the building which reproduces the old family house of the Aksakovs.
Then we went to Ufa. We came there late in the evening and stayed on the shore of the river Belaya (or Agidel in Bashkir language, both names translate as the White river). On the fourth day, we went to Ufa. We saw the city three or four years ago and didn't like it very much. This time the impression was much better, probably because we had a car this time :). We met some really friendly people there. A local Bashkir guy who served in the army in Samara invited us to his home and asked us to call him if we need some help. A Tatar girl who turned out to be a chemical engineer had a city map and shown us some interesting places we should visit. Liana, a schoolgirl who met our geography teacher at some science conference came to us and spent some hours with us showing around the city. Thanks to everyone of them!
We saw the Friendship monument built in 1957 for the 400th anniversary of the union of Bashkiria and Russia, monument to Sergey Aksakov, monument to Salavat Yulayev, the new Congress Hall, where the Kurultai (the parliament of the republic of Bashkortostan) sits, another Aksakov museum and some other places. One of them was a little suspension bridge. They have a tradition when newly married couples hang padlocks on the bridge, lock them and throw away the keys. Like, their love will last as long as the padlock is locked. Liana told us that some years ago the bridge almost broke under the weight of the padlocks and was reinforced. I don't know if the divorce rate was affected by this accident :).
When we left Ufa, we planned to reach the last point of our route, river Zilim, by 2000 or 2100 hours. Unfortunately, the bridge across Belaya that we planned to cross was broken some years ago and we had to go back to another bridge. We came the the village Tash-Asty about two hours late when it was already dark. We decided not to cross the ford, but we found a good place on the meadows between the village and the mountains.
We spent a couple of days in this place. We went up the river, to the mountains, where we found an interesting well spring. It was a bit like the Blue lake: a small karst doline (6 meters in diameter and 2 meters deep), but full of clean, fresh, most tasteful drinking water, without that smell of rotten eggs.
From Zilim we returned to Kandrykul, but this time we came to the northern shore, which is more accessible and you don't have to pay for the car to stay there. Of course, lots of people come there. You have to cross about 200-meters wide stripe teeming with tents and cars to get to the water. Just terrible.
We continued our way, spent a night on a meadow in the Orenburg oblast and finally came to the last Aksakov museum in Aksakovo near Buguruslan. It was the barton of Aksakov's grandfather which he described in details in the "Family Chronicle". Very interesting. The garden is almost intact. They still show the pine, under which young Sergey was lying when he was ill and the parents thought he was dying. There's also a huge willow, see the picture below.
Well, that's about all. We came back to Samara and immediately went to the other side of Volga where we spent the last days of the first half of my vacations.