Thursday, December 12, 2013

Chara Sands – The Miniature Desert of Siberia

If I showed you an image of desert sands set up against a background of snow-capped mountain peaks, your first word would probably be ‘Photoshoped’. That’s what I thought too, but such a place really does exist and it’s called Chara Sands.

There is really no end to nature’s mysteries and Chara Sands, in Siberia, is just one of them. Located in the Trans-Baikal, about  25 miles from the Kodar Glaciers and right next to the mountains, ice fields and blue lakes, the bright and yellow sand dune is hard to miss. At 10 km long and 5 km wide, the dunes are of varying heights. Some of the tallest ones are 15 to 30 meters high. Given the large volume of the loose and shifting sands, the place actually looks like a desert, although it is not. Spotting a desert-like terrain in the tundra region is nothing short of a miracle and a well-recognized one around the world. According to the Russian Geographical Society, “The contrasts seem impossible: as if an incredible open-air museum was set up, displaying natural curiosities of the north and the south next to each other.” They couldn’t have put it better.

The formation of Chara Sands is estimated to have formed about 55 to 100 thousand years ago, during the Muruktin glaciation period. It was originally a lake delta in front of the Sakukan glacier. This was when Chara hollow was filled with water. It was in the Holocene era that wind erosion produced the blown sands, dunes and ripples. Chara Sands is located about 6 km from Chara, the district capital. The images capturing Chara Sands are so breathtaking, you could look at them forever. A few dunes have snow on one face and sand on the other, creating the effect of caramel on ice cream. This is exactly what I call a feast for the eyes.