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Salt of the earth
How a remote lake in southern Russia became a people’s paradise

Lake Baskunchak in southern Russia is far from a classic tourist spot. The alien beauty of its salty shores evokes the Dead Sea or Death Valley more than a bucolic travel destination. Located close to the border with Kazakhstan, the lake has been a significant source of salt since the eighth century, when it formed a trading point along the Silk Road.

The salt industry is still operating today: the area contributes 80 per cent of all Russia’s salt. Lake Baskunchak also draws plenty of visitors from across the country who are mainly attracted by the healing properties of the salty water and mud.

Russian photographer Lialia Gimadeeva has long been fascinated by the lake and last year travelled there to record the site and the people who are drawn to it. “It amazes me that people come here from afar, particularly because there is such little comfort,” says Gimadeeva. “The lake often dries up and it takes a long walk on salty ground in the heat if you want to swim, and you need to take your own fresh water to wash yourself afterwards.”

If there’s a Martin Parr-like quality of sardonic humour to some of Gimadeeva’s photos, it’s not down to any innate scepticism on her part. Like many of the visitors who make the trek to the lake, she too is drawn by a sense of wonder at what lies in this remote corner of the world. “People believe that this land is sacred,” she says. “It has wind, heat, salt and mud. Buddhist legend says it’s a place of healing. I go to the lake when I need to regain my strength.”

“People believe that this land is sacred. It has wind, heat, salt and mud. Buddhist legend says it’s a place of healing. I go to the lake when I need to regain my strength.”

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