The egg-shaped Shalkar Lake is south of Oral (aka Uralsk). The brackish lake measures 15 x 18 km and is fed by two rivers on the east side: the Sholakankaty (Шолаканкаты), beside Rybtsekh village, and the Izenankaty (Изенанкаты) near Chalkar village. In the southwest there’s also the Solyanka, which is a seasonal creek. The average depth range of Shalkar is 5–7 m, and the deepest point is up to 15 m.
The 10th-century Arab Muslim traveller Ahmad ibn Fadlan* produced the first written account of the lake: “We arrived at the Pechenegs’ [territory] and stopped at the water, [it’s] similar to a real sea.” And right he was, as strong winds whip up waves on Shalkar’s shores, and there are flocks of seagulls and terns too. Other wildlife include ducks, swans and geese, which hang around thickets of reed and cattail. There are also birds of prey, such as white-tailed eagles, merlins, and harriers.
Once ibn Fadlan and his team reached the Volga Bulgar’s capital, Bolghar, which is now part of Russia’s Republic of Tatarstan, he encountered Viking traders (Varangians). His first impression of them was positive, describing them as “… perfect physical specimens, tall as date palms, blonde and ruddy…” However, his sentiment soured the more time he spent with them, and later on considered them the “filthiest of God’s creatures” and like “wild asses”.
*Under the orders of Al-Muqtadir, ruler of the Abassid Caliphate (r. 908–932), ibn Fadlan travelled to Russia to educate the recently converted Volga Bulgars on Islamic law. Departing Baghdad, Iraq, in June 921 CE, he and his group followed caravan routes to Gorgan, Iran, which is a distance of 1,300 km+. From there, they followed the eastern shore of the Caspian Sea to the Volga Delta. The journey took 11 months. Before reaching the Volga Bulgars, they met with several other Turkic ethnic groups: Oghuz Turks, Pechenegs, Khazars, and Bashkirs.
Two kilometres northeast of Saryumir village, near the southern lakeshore, is Baza Otdiha Shalkar which has log cabins and gers to rent. To enquire about prices or availability visit their Instagram page. Alternatively, call or message them via: +77055715888 (Aslan) or +77776606777 (Yerlan). If you’re looking for a good view of the lake, walk up to the top of Sosai hill (94 m) which is one kilometre from the western end of the village.
Camping anywhere around the lake is doable. But arm yourself with bug repellent as mosquitoes are around occasionally from spring to autumn. Fortunately, the south shore around Saryumir is significantly less vegetated than the remoter north shore.
For the adventurous, Extreme Samara –based in Russia– offers 3-day kiteboarding tours and tuition on the lake. Ice skating is a possibility too, as the lake freezes in winter, but you’ll need to bring your own skates and decent cold weather gear—the temperature dips to as low as -40°C.
If you’re coming from Oral city centre, take the E38 road towards Zhympity. After approximately 55 km, there’s a right turn for the KL-12 road which takes you all the way to Saryumir. The total distance is 115 km and takes less than 2 hours. You’ll need your own car or a taxi.