The Volga-Akhtuba Catchment is a unique nature park stretching for dozens of kilometres between the Volga and its left-hand tributary, the Akhtuba. In the middle of the plains, scorched in summer and covered with snow in winter, a microclimate has evolved over the past 7 or 8 thousand years that is rather similar to the subtropical Black Sea coast. Cascades of lakes, bayous, flood lands (the catchment gets partially flooded during the high water period in spring), oak groves, mushroom hunter’s paradises, bird sanctuaries…This breathtakingly beautiful nature oasis in the vicinity of Volgograd has remained locals’ and tourists’ favourite recreation destination since the mid-20th century. There are numerous dachas and ca.m.psites here, and yet there are still places in the catchment that no man has ever been to. It is advisable to spend a whole day or two days in the Volga-Akhtuba Catchment to combine outdoor adventure with a tour of old and modern landmarks.
Lotus Lake is a recent landmark that suddenly appeared in the Sredneakhtubinsky (Mid-Akhtuba) District in 2007. This small lake near the community of Krasny Buksir, just off the Volgograd-Srednyaya Akhtuba highway, was a regular, unremarkable pond before 2007. No one has been able to offer any rational explanation as to why the most enchanting flower of the East would suddenly appear in this pond. Lotuses are high-maintenance plants with special needs. The climate of the Volgograd Region does not fully suit them. There are only a few places in Russia where lotuses grow naturally. There is one in the Far East, another one in the Krasnodar Region. The nearest one is near Astrakhan. Now there is a new lotus lake near Volgograd. Lotuses bloom in August and September.
- Krasny Buksir, Sredneakhtubinsky District
This monument in honour of the legendary Cossack warlord Stepan Razin is another recent landmark in the Mid-Akhtuba District. The statue, crafted by the well-known Volgograd sculptor Sergey Shcherbakov, was installed in 2008. According to legend, it was none other than Stepan Razin who founded the settlement of Srednyaya Akhtuba when he took his very substantial army of followers out of Tsaritsin (Volgograd) in 1668. Sailing his boat by the locality that is now the community of Srednyaya Akhtuba, Razin realized that there were too many people following him. He landed some of them, together with their fambilies, on this riverbank. Every settler received a supply of bread, salt, and cooking utensils. There is no historical evidence to back up this story. But it is a historical fact that Srednyaya Akhtuba was a settlement of robbers in its first decades, who defied the authority of Tsaritsin. Armed punitive expeditions were sent here periodically from Tsaritsin, and violent clashes ensued.
- Srednyaya Akhtuba village
The biggest meteorite rain in Russia’s observation history happened on the outskirts of the village of Tsarev in December 1922. While the meteorite rain continued, eyewitnesses in many communities of what today is the Leninsky District of the Volgograd Region observed a peculiar atmospheric phenomenon that accompanied the rain – something they would later describe as a “fiery dragon in the sky.” Stories of this rain circulated nationwide. The natural phenomenon was ascribed mystical significance, and the meteorites were rumoured to possess mystical properties. The event caused much public agitation and the Academy of Sciences offered a reward to anyone who finds a meteorite stone, but no meteorites were ever found at the time. However, some would be found decades later, in 1968. A total of 1225 kilos of meteorite fragments were collected on an area of 15 square kilometres. The biggest fragment, weighing 284 kilos, was handed over to a research institution in Moscow.
Meteor showers, or “star rains,” as they are called in Russia, happen here from time to time. August star rains look unbelievably beautiful in the Volga steppe with its pristine air.
- village of Tsarev
Next to the village of Tsarev in the Leninsky District of the Volgograd Region there is a locality where a large city, named Sarai-Berke, stood in the 14th century. This place is now a federal cultural heritage site, where archaeological excavation is in progress. Sarai-Berke was founded circa 1260 by Berke, then the Golden Horde ruler. The capital of the Golden Horde was Sarai-Batu, a city in the territory of today’s Astrakhan Region, not far from here. When Khan Uzbek took over power in Sarai-Berke, this city became the capital. Sarai-Berke was then a large multiethnic city with a population in the mid five-digit figures, which was an awful lot at the time. Sarai-Berke was destroyed in 1395 by the invading army of the legendary warlord Timur (Tamerlane). The brick ruins of Sarai-Berke existed until the 19th century, when they were described by several explorers. However, from the end of the 18th century on, the ruins began to quickly disappear as people took them apart brick by brick. Some 19th century houses in the small towns and villages this side of the Akhtuba were fully or partially built with bricks removed from the ruins of Sarai-Berke. Only the foundations, sunk deep into the ground, have remained of the buildings and streets of the former capital of the Golden Horde.
- village of Tsarev