“Brown coal was mined here in the 60s but it burns poorly due to impurities so the production was mothballed.” – says Denis as he guides me through the surroundings of Konduki in Tula region. Under my feet, there is loose soil with layers of brown coal protruding to the surface. We are on the shore of a red lake, one of 28 colorful lakes in this area. “The water is red because of high content of iron and other metals. The environment is aggressive to most forms of life, so there are no fish here and it is strictly forbidden to swim in it.” – explains Denis. It is also impossible to come close to the water line – there is quicksand around and we are slowly moving along the lake, testing the density of the soil with sticks.
After a couple of kilometers, a view of the chain of azure lakes of karst origin opens up. The water is truly mesmerizing with its turquoise color, and the birch trees that grow on both sides of the steep banks create an emerald edging, completing the ideal palette of colors. Both soul and eyes rejoice here. The water is absolutely clear. Under the water there are broken pines overgrown with green algae, which, like foliage, move from the branches of an underwater forest.
Having skirted this karst lake, we climb the improvised mountains – an excavation after coal mining, which formed hills and small mountains in the area. From here you can see the blue lake. Denis says that the locals take water from there, since the lake has a peat bottom, which serves as a source of good purification.
We move away from the lakes and find ourselves in the edge of swamps. “These swamps are of glacial origin, they brought with them the seeds of plants that are found only in Siberia,” – explains Denis with enthusiasm. But in Soviet times, swamps interfered with coal mining and a decision was made to reclaim the soil, which adversely affected the entire ecosystem.
These swamps used to be a stopover for migratory birds flying from Turkey and Africa to Europe. Now, thanks to the efforts of ornithologists and ecologists, the marshes have been almost restored and birds have reappeared here.
The whole area is now a part of the national reservation park, which shows how quickly nature can recover, even the most poisonous lakes will eventually come alive, and the most destructive human actions will become history. It inspires and gives hope.