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Zhalanash 'Ship Cemetery'

The 'ship cemetery' is another sight which provides a stark illustration of the reality of the departure of the Aral Sea. To get here head out from Aralsk on the road towards the village of Zhalanash, passing soon after leaving the town on your left the old airport of Aralsk, once used to supply the Vozrozhdenie biological weapons facility. Zhalanash, whose economy is focused on the keeping of camels, is 63km from the town. In the Soviet period it was a collective farm named after the poet Zhambyl, the source of an error which has crept into several publications, including the 2004 edition of the Reise Know-How Map of Kazakhstan, which place the ship cemetery in the quite different settlement of Zhambyl on the road from Aralsk towards Aktobe. There is also a more direct route from Aralsk to the 'ship cemetery', a 44km route travelling straight across large stretches of the former seabed. But you will need a guide to attempt this.

Take the sandy track beyond the village towards the now visible ships, beached by the side of what was once a bay. The ship cemetery is a sight which is getting smaller with every passing year, as ships are broken up for their scrap metal, exported on to China. The 11 ships that were here a few years back are now down to six. But they still make for a striking sight: large rusting vessels sitting silently in the sand. They were brought here from Aralsk when that port began to dry up. However, when the desiccation of the Aral Sea hit the bay around Zhalanash too they had nowhere else to go, and have lain here ever since. Camels wander past: the ships of the desert meeting ships in the desert. The largest of the rusting vessels here is the Aleksey Leonov, its fate a less than fitting tribute to the Soviet cosmonaut who was the first person to walk in space.