There is one desert in the world, even the name of which (for those who have already had the chance to see it) elicits exceptionally positive emotions. It is Charskie Peski stow, located in the valley surrounded by mountains, in the very North of Transbaikal Region.
It is an absolutely real desert with ridges of dunes 20-25 m high, wind ripple on the sand, singing barchans and sand storms. Here you can see the remains of trees that could not survive the pressure of the desert, and distinctive creeper grass, uselessly grasping on the moving sand. To be identical to the desertsof Central Asia, it lacks only camels and scorpions.
But the main peculiarity of this place is the absence of widely known oppressive feeling of loneliness deserts usually impose. Charskie Peski is a very small desert. Its territory takes up only 50 square kilometers. It is small and cozy, but not toy-like. It is all real and serious. In bad weather it is even possible to get lost, if the clouds hidethe mountains, the only landmark. But there have never been any fatal accidents or dehydration sufferers: dimensions of the barchan field are only 5×10 km, and around the area there are taiga, moors and brooks. This incredible co-existence of two theoretically incompatible zones is the most amazing fact about the place.
Charskie Peski is known as a “wonder of nature”; it has even been granted a status of a natural monument of geology. Its origin still causes a lot of questions.
Let us begin with the fact that Charskaya Valley is a hollow between two mountain systems. In the North the crater is limited by the comparatively young Kodarsky Range, and from the Southern side it is surrounded by the older Udokansky and Kalarsky Ranges. The Kodar is a typically Alpine range, astonishing in its beauty: baroque cuspate peaks, narrow edges, kilometers’ long cliffs and ice rivers. The mountains surge over Charskaya Valley like a giant wall.
Approximately 45 thousand years ago a huge glacier slid down to CharskayaValley from the mountains. It formed a giant water basin. The reservoir 250 m deep stretched for almost 60 km long. The glaciers slid from the mountains right into the formed lake, bringing millions of tons of clay and sand.
The ancient reservoir of Charskaya Valley existed for around 2-3 thousand years, during which a considerable mass of residue collected on its bottom. When the ice age was over, everything that was left from the lake was several hundreds of small relics, little lakes scattered all around Charskaya Valley today. The bottom deposits of the prehistoric reservoir found themselves on the surface, where they got fanned by winds and collected into dunes, until finally they transformed into the modern sand desert. Aeolian processes are still going on. The sands are mobile: barchans are slowly moving from the South-West to the North-East.
The CharskiePeski massif is slightly elevated over the surrounding boggy landscape by 60-80 meters, and can be easily seen from nearby hills and even from Novaya Chara village, which is situated almost 10 km away. Chara village is even closer. But all sides of the stow are separated from the settlements with rivers.
During winter season it is easy to get to Peski, however, it may be very cold: up to -40, -50oC. In other seasons you have to cross the Chara River first, and then hike through the woods and moors for several kilometers before you see the stow. These circumstances decrease the flow of tourists, which helps preserving the environment, but for the locals Charskie Peski remain the most popular place for holidays all year round.
After a short summer Charskaya Valley welcomes autumn, which never lasts long, too. In the middle of September you can enjoy the view of sandy barchans with snowy mountainsin the background. A little later, when winter comes, the desert itself hides under a white blanket of snow. But as the sun and wind do their job, even in January the snowy cover is chequered with yellow patches.
Charskaya winter is reluctant to leave: even in March there is no smell of spring. But little by little the light day grows, it gets warmer and warmer. In April the snow melts. Finally, in the second half of May, real spring breaks out in the stow. The desert blooms. It must be the most beautiful time of year for CharskiePeski. Windflower, or Transbaikal snowdrops, shoot from the ground. This is how the desert amazes its guests with new wonders, from spring and till winter.