Walking on water
Tus: a unique salt lake in Khakassia for non-swimmers 07/5/2013, 13:08
A nice holiday doesn't have to be associated with applying for visas and buying plane tickets. In some cases, the requirements are restricted to a full petrol tank and a few days off. As part of a continuing series on where to go in Siberia, Sib.fm's correspondent headed for the Republic of Khakassia to get acquainted with one of its most popular holiday destinations – Lake Tus.
Translated from the local Turkic language, "tus" means "salt", so it's an unsurprising name for one of the most salty lakes in not only Khakassia, but the whole of Russia. There's so much of it that it doesn't dissolve in the water and falls to the bottom as white sediment.
155 grams of salt are contained in one litre of water from Lake Tus
People come to the lake not only to relax, but also for therapeutic mud-baths in the unique silt. Tus is known as the "Siberian Dead Sea" – the lake really does resemble the popular Israeli tourist destination due to the almost identical composition of its waters. By the way, another similarity is that it isn't too easy to just have a quiet swim: the high density of the water will constantly push your body towards the surface.
You won't be able to get to the bottom and check whether it is covered with salt either. Instead, you can do what's expected of you in such a place: sit on the surface of the water and read a newspaper, posing for a photo.
More than a hundred salt lakes are located in Khakassia
Tus is 800km from Novosibirsk, 550 from Kemerovo, 380 from Krasnoyarsk and 200 from the regional capital, Abakan. To get here from Novosibirsk, Kemerovo or Tomsk, first take a long drive along the M-53 motorway towards Khakassia and Irkutsk. Then, after reaching Solyonoozyornoye (literally “salt lake”) village, turn left onto a well-worn road across the steppe. After a few kilometres of pot holes that any car will easily be able to get the better of, a view onto the flat, mirror-like water will open up in front of you.
Despite the fact that most Siberians don't exactly live around the corner from Tus, it's visited by thousands of people from all over the region in its peak season, which lasts from May to September. The air, water and even the mud there have healing properties.
"Walk around with exposed skin more often: let your body learn to 'breathe'. If possible, go barefoot. If you start to get cold, do any sort of physical activity before getting dressed, but don't overdo it," is the advice for guests posted on the window of the kiosk near the entrance to the beach.
People come to the lake to treat conditions of the heart, blood vessels, gastrointestinal tract and nervous system.
The lake's mud helps with painful joints and improves the metabolism, while bathing in salt water is recommended for young children to strengthen the body. A holiday at Lake Tus has a good effect on the skin, so the lake is very popular with girls, by the way.
Holidaymakers should be aware of a few things. First of all, stylish and expensive swimsuits will be absolutely out of place – they'll turn ugly and shabby after a few spells in the water. The same goes for other pieces of clothing. Holidaymakers told Sib.fm's correspondent some terrible stories, one of them about walking on the water in jeans. The jeans got wet and it was impossible to take them off when they dried: they were literally “stiff as a board”.
8 kilometres is the length of the lake's coastline, which it is possible to walk around in 2 hours
Secondly, it's important to remember that over-zealous self-treatment is harmful. Mud is a highly active treatment agent that should be treated with respect. Apply it only to localised areas of the skin that have already warmed up in the sun. Daubing yourself in it from head to toe is dangerous, especially for those with weak hearts. It's not worth being greedy and keeping a mud compress on for more than 10-15 minutes either, as it's possible to suffer burns.
The lake is situated in a valley between some hills, on one of which tourists make small, so-called "spirit houses" out of the flat, reddish stones that the steppe is literally peppered with. It's also possible to encounter dangerous snakes and ground squirrels, who gobble up tourists' food supplies.
From the road, Tus is surrounded by barbed wire: access costs about 150 roubles ($5) per day. A holiday resort with a sauna and all mod-cons is located near the lake, but most prefer to camp on the shore.
There's a free beach too, but it can only be reached on foot. In this case, cars are usually parked on a cliff above the lake. Some pitch their tents there too because of the beautiful view from the top. As for public facilities, you can find toilets around the whole perimeter and a paid-for shower.
It's easy to understand the importance of a shower. If you get out onto the shore and dry off without rinsing, the sting of the salt will be unbearable, even if your skin isn't cut or otherwise damaged. In addition to the shower, fresh water can be found in the small lake Kiprino, which isn't too far away.
The surface of the lake is covered with white foam, which from a distance looks like soap bubbles, but actually smells delicious, like the sea. The water in Tus is rather cloudy: this is because small, reddish brine shrimp live in it, although you shouldn't be afraid of them. They are completely harmless to humans and are a much-loved treat for aquarium fish.
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Feel free to take a souvenir jar of therapeutic mud with you on departure. It won't last for long though, even in the fridge, which can't be said for the persistent smell of hydrogen sulphide.