Garabogazkol basin is also known as the Gulf of Garabogazgol. Garabogazkol is isolated in the empty northwesternmost corner of Turkmenistan, east of the coastline of the Caspian Sea, just south of the border with Kazakhstan. Garabogazkol basin is a salt lagoon, at ca. 7000 square miles or 11,265 km2 it’s, in fact, the world’s largest such lagoon. It is also one of the saltiest bodies of water on Earth, even hitting the much smaller but more famously super-briny Dead Sea. And it’s at least as deadly an environment. Therefore it listed in the dark tourism.
From Turkmenbashi, there is a good road to Bekdash, with stunning views of the Caspian Sea and the Karabogas Basin. En route, you cross a bridge that spans the 5km-long channel which connects the Caspian Sea and the inland gulf. The distance between the bridge and Bekdash town is around 60 km. The area around Garabogazköl is extremely remote and difficult to get to. Traveling there also requires a special permit. It’s near impossible to visit it as an independent traveler, and if so then only at great cost and with much bureaucratic hassle. Only very few tour operators offer a short visit to Guwlymayak as part of special adventure packages.
Karabogas today formally Bekdash is a nearly-abandoned Soviet industrial city, probably the harshest settlement in Turkmenistan, filled with vacant apartment blocks gutted for anything usable. The city is surrounded by surreal-looking salt lakes, the remains of a once profitable sodium sulfate leftover business. The livelihood of the town is still based around sodium sulfate. This is a long-standing industry, developed in the late 1920s, which depends on the concentration of salts in Garabogazgol.
Waters from this are then led into a series of natural depressions around the town, relying on the power of the Turkmen sun progressively to increase further the salt concentration. The outcome of the process is sodium sulfate and other salts which can be shoveled up into 500kg sacks. The workers who carried out this tough labor under the burning sun were praised as heroes in the Soviet period, a sign at the entrance to the town features one masked sulfate collector proudly bearing his spade like a rifle. But the industry is facing difficult times. Sacks of sodium sulfate fill warehouses and railway wagons around the town for want of markets, the workforce has reduced, and many of the apartment blocks of the town stand half-empty. From here is a 40-minute drive to the Kazakhstan border on a rough dirt track.