Belarus’ Sanctuary

When you get to the shore of Lake Naroch for the first time you suddenly get an idea that you have entered another dimension that is clean and peaceful. A three-hour drive from Minsk is enough to forget about your routine, city smog and other “benefits” of the civilization
Lake Naroch is a place that I have known from childhood. My best and most cherished memories are connected with local camps and everyday hikes near the children’s summer camp “Zubryonok”. Tent camps were demolished later in order to pay the debt to nature and turn the shore into “virgin forest” again.

This is a beautiful area. The way to the lake looks like a journey into a fairy-tale, when highways give way to endless forests that are cleaner than any European wood. I saw this purity only once near Lake Valdai in the vicinity of Russia’s St. Petersburg.

The Naroch forest is truly amazing: it is not a mixture of overlapping woods with broad-leaved trees, conifers and underwood, but a solemn and transparent pine forest where every tree would make a perfect mast, a forest covered in soft moss. The smell of fir trees permeates bus windows and takes you away at once. You get there and immediately feel a bit tipsy after a few breaths.

But there is more to come: you pass the pine forest, see an opening and almost run into a giant plateful of warm water that is even bluer than the sky. The water is so transparent that you can see your toes even if there is only your head above the surface. The bottom is sandy, sometimes with tiny shells. The water is drinkable, as the whole lake is fed by thousands of small clean springs.

The beauty and primitive grandeur are so stupefying that you seem to be unable to do anything but look at the natural masterpieces and breathe the freshness. Mysteriously, most ordinary things look unusual and impossible not to fall in love with: an ordinary meadow covered in lupines or dotted by forget-me-nots.

After you feel you have had too much of this freshness and beauty you may go and look for some mushrooms (and accidentally find some old German trench shelters that have been there since World War I. By the way, the first ever air fight is said to have taken place in the sky above Lake Naroch…) Or you may go fishing.

Naroch has its own trademark — the eel. Eels are very odd fish that live in clean waters and go to the Sargasso Sea to breed, thousands of kilometers of water and land (where they slither like snakes) away from their habitat, Lake Naroch. To catch an eel you have to throw a piece of pipe into the lake, wait until the fish gets inside and then cork the pipe with a fresh ell inside. It is hard to find anything more delicious than smoked eel. This food is quite exotic, as many people, especially foreign tourists, are absolutely unaware of the existence of the tastiest fish on earth.

Eel is not the only thing to be tasted at Naroch. Try some traditional dish of the Belarusian cuisine, like meat with potatoes and mushrooms cooked in pots.

In a word, Lake Naroch is a marvelous place to go, and many tourists from Russia and Germany just love this “safe haven”. Russians simply shrug in disbelief: “If Russian capital got here you would have high fences, expensive hotels and parking lots filled with Gelaendewagens. But you get a reserve here and many
children’s camps”.

I also noticed that man starts feeling a bit different every time he finds himself at the wonderful lake. The purity of this place makes the best our features display even stronger.

Every time I go to Lake Naroch I want to stay there as long as possible.

by Alena Izraztsova
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