[b]First Belarusian safari park launched at Pripyatsky National Park [/b]Several wild boar pass close by while aurochs graze in a nearby field and storks fly above. At the end of my trip, I’m offered regional dishes, made with local ingredients from Polesie. It’s slightly ‘wild’ but this is the spirit which attracts nature loving holiday makers from Germany and Holland. Since early this year, Pripyatsky National Park has generated $400,000 of tourist revenue, with its recently opened safari park being the latest attraction. I was among the first to travel through the dense forest in one of specially designed vehicles.
Several wild boar pass close by while aurochs graze in a nearby field and storks fly above. At the end of my trip, I’m offered regional dishes, made with local ingredients from Polesie. It’s slightly ‘wild’ but this is the spirit which attracts nature loving holiday makers from Germany and Holland. Since early this year, Pripyatsky National Park has generated $400,000 of tourist revenue, with its recently opened safari park being the latest attraction. I was among the first to travel through the dense forest in one of specially designed vehicles.
Black gold of boar
In fact, everything might have developed differently. Long ago, geologists discovered oil deposits on the site, as the General Director of the National Park, Stepan Bambiza, recollects. Wild boar dug into the ground, resulting in oil flowing to the surface. Drilling was considered to extract the valuable deposit but strict state law prohibited such action.
Mr. Bambiza was born in the local village of Lyaskovichi — now the centre of tourism in the region. Accordingly, he has a great desire to revive his locality, bringing it to international level. The village already serves as a bright example, having a church, well managed houses and good roads. In summer, it expects to welcome the President for its folk festival: The Call of Polesie. A Museum of Nature and Everyday Life is to open, coinciding with the Head of State’s arrival. The festival is being organised for the second time and could become a traditional cultural forum.
The Nad Pripyatiu Hotel is situated at the centre of Lyaskovichi, while more accommodation is located on the river bank. Full scale leisure infrastructure is being created, able to rival any resort.
The land has a rich history, boasting some remarkable events. The Turov Duchy originated here, with Turov being the oldest Belarusian city, only rivalled by the city of Polotsk, situated not far away. However, after Turov’s reign ended, the forests and marshes near the Pripyat River were left to run wild, with no cultural or natural potential recognised. Lyaskovichi’s residents would have left for larger cities sooner or later; traces of habitation are evident deep in the forest though. “Do you see this hole?” Mr. Bambiza asks. “In ancient times, people smelted iron in coal-mining stoves here.” On hearing this, I immediately realise why the local springs have brown water; there are metal deposits in the soil. Other evidence is found in the hills, while Turov’s museum has several artefacts from those days. In turn, modern infrastructure is developing.
My house is at the centre
The National Park offers employment to thousands of local residents. Sergey Morozko, 25, works at Pripyatsky’s administration and was a mere child when his village began reviving. “There were about 600 people at that time but, now, there are over 1,000. New houses have been built and the Nad Pripyatiu Hotel is situated on the former marsh. As far as I know, everything began with a wood processing workshop which produced parquet. The President then arrived and must have seen potential here; afterwards, the first hunting lodges were built and, later, tourists began arriving,” he explains.
Sergey enjoys carpentry and is an amateur photographer. He’ll always be able to find employment in his local village, with his skills contributing to the village flourishing. Sergey confirms, “I don’t really like city life. Here, I have my own house.”
Three large steamboats and one small travel the Pripyat River, forming the local fleet; the river is broad, so vessels have plenty of room. The idea of cruising is proving popular with tourists. Guests from all over Gomel Region are arriving, in addition to those from neighbouring Ukraine. They come to celebrate weddings, birthdays and other events, cruising the ‘jungle’ via the canals formed by the flooded Pripyat between meadows and dense forests. On switching off the engine, wonderful bird song is heard... Mr. Bambiza now dreams of launching an illuminated steamboat — similar to those travelling along the Parisian Seine.
Pripyatsky is primarily a reserve and a hunting site, with ecologists and hunters from Western Europe arriving in spring. “Germans are the most common foreign guests, permitted to hunt wolf, fox, elk and deer,” explains Diana Novosad, a leading specialist and for many years an interpreter at Pripyatsky Park. “The British, Dutch and Finns are ‘vegetarians’, being more interested in nature, while the Italians like to hunt birds; 99 percent of guests return,” she adds. Charming Diana has made a personal contribution to the National Park in my opinion, helping attract a steady flow of guests from the West. She is the only person in the area to speak fluent English and Italian.
Tracking aurochs by tractor
Belarusians also love hunting wild boar. However, the major attraction for them this season is the local safari park. Unlike the Belovezhskaya Pushcha (where aurochs are seen mostly in cages rather than in their natural environment), these animals walk freely through Pripyatsky and can be easily viewed through binoculars (rented from the National Park’s hotel). Moreover, it’s a real pleasure to observe wild duck.
Those who prefer photography head for the Pripyat’s curving banks and to Lyaskovichi where, Mr. Bambiza tells us, 37 stork nests are to be found. It’s fascinating to observe how these birds behave.
It’s taken five years to lay a road through the forest — now the major road of the safari park. Each day, five metres of timber was laid, later covered with sand and gravel. Mr. Bambiza assures us that the road will last for centuries, as the wood is well preserved beneath a layer of stone.
The local ‘taxi’ is unusual, a tractor pulling three carriages through Pripyatsky. Interestingly, the boar love the noise of the ‘Belarus’ engine, always approaching; in fact, they associate its arrival with being fed.
Pripyatsky plans to accept at least 300,000 guests annually by 2016, explains Igor Chernozipunnikov, who heads a company working with German clients. He tells us, “We may see even more tourists who are interested in nature.” The National Park’s administration is already working on a flexible pricing policy.
By Viktor Korbut