Less than 20 km east of the Ural River is Inder Lake. It’s the second largest lake in western Kazakhstan after Shalkar Lake, which is south of Oral city and 230 km+ to the north.
Springs and groundwater flowing from the nearby Inder Mountains feed the 10km-wide lake, particularly in the spring with snowmelt. Although it’s too shallow to swim in, it’s worth visiting just to see its picturesque snow-white shoreline.
For the best views, head to the northern and eastern shores as it has cliffs rising 20 metres above the lake and over 80 mineral-rich springs. One of the most popular springs for therapeutic use is Tilepbulak on the north coast.
Peter Simon Pallas, a late 18th century Prussian zoologist, was the first to record the Inder District’s biodiversity in his book, Journey through Various Provinces of the Russian Empire. Many of Pallas’ recorded species remain here today, such as the sunwatcher (Phrynocephalus helioscopus) and rapid fringe-toed lizards (Eremias velox).
In the 19th century, Prussian biologist-explorer Eduard Eversmann, as well as Russians Alexander Strauch (herpetologist), Mikhail Dmitrievich Ruzsky (zoologist), and Hugo Theodor Christoph (entomologist) conducted additional research. Between them, they identified several snake species such as the steppe rat snake (Elaphe dione), dwarf sand boa (Eryx miliaris), and the steppe viper (Vipera renardi). Fortunately, snakes are extremely wary of humans, so you’re unlikely to encounter any during your visit. However, keep your eye out for them during sunrise and sunset, as this is when they’re most active.
There are nearly 30 species of mammal in the region. Apex predators include saiga, jerboa, ferrets, and long-eared hedgehog, and predators include lesser white-toothed shrew, steppe and marbled polecats, European badger, korsak fox, wolf, raccoon dog, and red fox.
The Inder Mountains cover a 15 x 25km area of land on the north shore of the lake. It’s the largest area of karst in the Kazakh Caspian lowland region and has 200 to 300 karst features per square kilometre. Despite its name, the mountains are in fact low-lying hills peppered with depressions, ridges, and small craters less than 30m above sea level. The lake shore is -15m below sea level. The geology of the area is a mixture of gypsum and limestone rock, as well as 10–15m thick salt deposits, and the karst features are formed through dissolution and bedding plane collapse. The region also has nearly 50 types of minerals, including rare ones such as inderite, inderborite, and preobrazhenskite.
Borate and gypsum mines dot the landscape. A few of the disused quarries, some of which began operation in the 1930s, are a popular sunbathing and swimming spot for Inderbor village locals and are reachable by car. The nearest one is less than 4km from the north shore and located at 48.5471, 51.9292.
The Russian Geographical Society’s Astrakhan branch has undertaken several trips to explore the Inder Mountain caves. Of their half-a-dozen discoveries, the 25-metre deep “Ice Fern Cave” is the most intriguing, as it’s the only known cave in the North Caspian region to have ice year-round. Undoubtedly, there are plenty more caves yet to be discovered.
Inder is a two-hour drive north of Atyrau and a four-hour drive from Oral. You can also approach it from the east via remoter rural roads running through the Aktobe Region and eastern Atyrau Region.
Where to stay
Unlike Shalkar Lake, which has cabins and gers to rent, there’s no accommodation at Inder Lake. Inderbor village’s Aksay Hotel, on No. 10 Makhambet Street, is the nearest place to stay, as well as Ak Zhol Hotel, which is 1.5km further south on the P-103 road leading to the village. You can also camp around the vicinity of the lake, but be sure to bring drinking water!
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