• 001 - the logo.jpg
  • 002 - Hiroshima sunset.jpg
  • 003 - Auschwitz-Birkenau ramp.jpg
  • 004 - Chernobyl contamination.jpg
  • 005 - Darvaza flaming gas crater.jpg
  • 006 - Berlin Wall madness.jpg
  • 007 - Bulgaria - monument at the bottom of Buzludzhy park hill.jpg
  • 008 - Ijen crater.jpg
  • 009 - Aralsk, Kazakhstan.jpg
  • 010 - Paris catacombs.jpg
  • 011 - Krakatoa.jpg
  • 012 - Ho Chi Minh mausoleum, Hanoi.jpg
  • 013 - Uyuni.jpg
  • 014 - DMZ Vietnam.jpg
  • 015 - Colditz Kopie.jpg
  • 016 - Glasgow Necropolis.jpg
  • 017 - Hashima ghost island.jpg
  • 018 - Kazakhstan.jpg
  • 019 - Arlington.jpg
  • 020 - Karosta prison.jpg
  • 021 - Kamikaze.jpg
  • 022 - Chacabuco ghost town.jpg
  • 023 - Eagle's Nest, Obersalzberg, Berchtesgaden.jpg
  • 024 - Kursk.jpg
  • 025 - Bran castle, Carpathia, Romania.jpg
  • 026 - Bestattungsmuseum Wien.jpg
  • 027 - Pripyat near Chernobyl.jpg
  • 028 - Sedlec ossuary, Czech Republic.jpg
  • 029 - Pyramida Lenin.jpg
  • 030 - Falklands.jpg
  • 031 - Majdanek.jpg
  • 032 - Soufriere volcano, Montserrat.jpg
  • 033 - moai on Easter Island.jpg
  • 034 - Sidoarjo.jpg
  • 035 - Hötensleben.jpg
  • 036 - Natzweiler.jpg
  • 037 - Polygon, Semipalatinsk test site, Kazakhstan.jpg
  • 038 - Srebrenica.jpg
  • 039 - Liepaja, Latvia.jpg
  • 040 - Vemork hydroelectric power plant building, Norway.jpg
  • 041 - Enola Gay.jpg
  • 042 - Pentagon 9-11 memorial.jpg
  • 043 - Robben Island prison, South Africa.jpg
  • 044 - Tollund man.jpg
  • 045 - Marienthal tunnel.jpg
  • 046 - Aso, Japan.jpg
  • 047 - Labrador battery Singapore.jpg
  • 048 - Artyom island, Absheron, Azerbaijan.jpg
  • 049 - Treblinka.jpg
  • 050 - Titan II silo.jpg
  • 051 - dosemetering doll, Chernobyl.jpg
  • 052 - Holocaust memorial, Berlin.jpg
  • 053 - Komodo dragon.jpg
  • 054 - cemeterio general, Santiago de Chile.jpg
  • 055 - Tuol Sleng, Phnom Phen, Cambodia.jpg
  • 056 - West Virginia penitentiary.jpg
  • 057 - ovens, Dachau.jpg
  • 058 - Derry, Northern Ireland.jpg
  • 059 - Bulgaria - Buzludzha - workers of all countries unite.jpg
  • 060 - Sachsenhausen.jpg
  • 061 - Tiraspol dom sovietov.jpg
  • 062 - modern-day Pompeii - Plymouth, Montserrat.jpg
  • 063 - Pico de Fogo.jpg
  • 064 - Trinity Day.jpg
  • 065 - Zwentendorf control room.jpg
  • 066 - Wolfschanze.jpg
  • 067 - Hiroshima by night.jpg
  • 068 - mass games, North Korea.jpg
  • 069 - Harrisburg.jpg
  • 070 - Nuremberg.jpg
  • 071 - Mostar.jpg
  • 072 - Tu-22, Riga aviation museum.jpg
  • 073 - Gallipoli, Lone Pine.jpg
  • 074 - Auschwitz-Birkenau - fence.jpg
  • 075 - Darvaza flaming gas crater.jpg
  • 076 - Atatürk Mausoleum, Ankara.jpg
  • 077 - Banda Aceh boats.jpg
  • 078 - AMARG.jpg
  • 079 - Chacabuco ruins.jpg
  • 080 - Bucharest.jpg
  • 081 - Bernauer Straße.jpg
  • 082 - Death Railway, Thailand.jpg
  • 083 - Mandor killing fields.jpg
  • 084 - Kozloduy.jpg
  • 085 - Jerusalem.jpg
  • 086 - Latin Bridge, Sarajevo.jpg
  • 087 - Panmunjom, DMZ, Korea.jpg
  • 088 - Ijen blue flames.jpg
  • 089 - Derry reconsilliation monument.jpg
  • 090 - Ebensee.jpg
  • 091 - Mödlareuth barbed wire.jpg
  • 092 - skull heaps in Sedlec ossuary, Czech Republic.jpg
  • 093 - Nikel.jpg
  • 094 - Fukushima-Daiichi NPP.jpg
  • 095 - Tital launch control centre.jpg
  • 096 - Dallas Dealy Plaza and Sixth Floor Museum.jpg
  • 097 - Auschwitz I.jpg
  • 098 - Stalin and Lenin, Tirana, Albania.jpg
  • 099 - Malta, Fort St Elmo.jpg
  • 100 - Peenemünde.jpg
  • 101 - Tarrafal.jpg
  • 102 - Kilmainham prison, Dublin.jpg
  • 103 - North Korea.jpg
  • 104 - Mittelbau-Dora.jpg
  • 105 - St Helena.jpg
  • 106 - Stutthof, Poland.jpg
  • 107 - Merapi destruction.jpg
  • 108 - Chueung Ek killing fields, Cambodia.jpg
  • 109 - Marienborn former GDR border.jpg
  • 110 - Mig and star, Kazakhstan.jpg
  • 111 - Nagasaki WWII tunnels.jpg
  • 112 - Hellfire Pass, Thailand.jpg
  • 113 - Kiev.jpg
  • 114 - Grutas Park, Lithuania.jpg
  • 115 - Zwentendorf reactor core.jpg
  • 116 - two occupations, Tallinn.jpg
  • 117 - Trunyan burial site.jpg
  • 118 - Ushuaia prison.jpg
  • 119 - Buchenwald.jpg
  • 120 - Marienthal with ghost.jpg
  • 121 - Murmansk harbour - with an aircraft carrier.jpg
  • 122 - Berlin Olympiastadion.JPG
  • 123 - Bastille Day, Paris.jpg
  • 124 - Spassk.jpg
  • 125 - Theresienstadt.jpg
  • 126 - B-52s.jpg
  • 127 - Bledug Kuwu.jpg
  • 128 - Friedhof der Namenlosen, Vienna.jpg
  • 129 - Auschwitz-Birkenau barracks.jpg
  • 130 - mummies, Bolivia.jpg
  • 131 - Barringer meteor crater.jpg
  • 132 - Murambi, Rwanda.jpg
  • 133 - NTS.jpg
  • 134 - Mauthausen Soviet monument.jpg
  • 135 - pullution, Kazakhstan.JPG
  • 136 - palm oil madness.jpg
  • 137 - Berlin socialist realism.jpg
  • 138 - Okawa school building ruin.jpg
  • 139 - Pawiak, Warsaw.jpg
  • 140 - flying death, military museum Dresden.JPG
  • 141 - KGB gear.JPG
  • 142 - KZ jacket.JPG
  • 143 - ex-USSR.JPG
  • 144 - Indonesia fruit bats.JPG
  • 145 - Alcatraz.JPG
  • 146 - Chernobyl Museum, Kiev, Ukraine.JPG
  • 147 - Halemaumau lava lake glow, Hawaii.JPG
  • 148 - Rosinenbomber at Tempelhof, Berlin.jpg
  • 149 - Verdun, France.JPG
  • 150 - hospital, Vukovar, Croatia.JPG
  • 151 - the original tomb of Napoleon, St Helena.JPG
  • 152 - Buchenwald, Germany.JPG
  • 153 - Bhopal.JPG
  • 154 - Groß-Rosen, Poland.jpg
  • 155 - at Monino, Russia.jpg
  • 156 - blinking Komodo.jpg
  • 157 - inside Chernobyl NPP.JPG
  • 158 - Mount St Helens, USA.JPG
  • 159 - Maly Trostenec, Minsk, Belarus.jpg
  • 160 - Vucedol skulls, Croatia.JPG
  • 161 - colourful WW1 shells.JPG
  • 162 - Zeljava airbase in Croatia.JPG
  • 163 - rusting wrecks, Chernobyl.JPG
  • 164 - San Bernadine alle Ossa, Milan, Italy.jpg
  • 165 - USS Arizona Memorial, Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.JPG
  • 166 - Brest Fortress, Belarus.JPG
  • 167 - thousands of bats, Dom Rep.JPG
  • 168 - Hohenschönhausen, Berlin.JPG
  • 169 - Perm-36 gulag site.JPG
  • 170 - Jasenovac, Croatia.JPG
  • 171 - Beelitz Heilstätten.JPG
  • 172 - Kremlin, Moscow.jpg
  • 173 - old arms factory, Dubnica.JPG
  • 174 - Pervomaisc ICBM base, more  missiles, including an SS-18 Satan.jpg
  • 175 - Cellular Jail, Port Blair.jpg
  • 177 - control room, Chernobyl NPP.JPG
  • 178 - Podgorica, Montenegro, small arms and light weapons sculpture.jpg
  • 179 - Vught.jpg
  • 180 - Japanese cave East Timor.jpg
  • 181 - Ani.jpg
  • 182 - Indonesia wildfire.jpg
  • 183 - Chacabuco big sky.jpg
  • 184 - Bunker Valentin, Germany.JPG
  • 185 - Lest we Forget, Ypres.JPG
  • 186 - the logo again.jpg

Baikonur

  
  - darkometer rating:  4 -
  
The name resonates with historical significance and modern adventure like few others. Baikonur is the oldest and largest "space port" on the planet – this is where the Soviet Union's space exploration had its home base; and even in post-Soviet times, now in independent Kazakhstan, but leased to Russia, it remains the world's busiest and most significant rocket launching site, even ahead of Cape Canaveral in Florida, USA.
 
The "Cosmodrome" of Baikonur is the place where Yuri Gagarin lifted off to become the first man in space. That followed the first launch of a satellite, the legendary Sputnik, and other firsts included the first living creatures sent to space (namely Laika the dog) before Gagarin and other men, and later also the first woman in space, Valentina Tereshkova, took off from Baikonur.
 
Ever since the various launch pads of the complex have been used for most of the formerly Soviet and subsequently Russian space missions. Today it's even an international "space port". It lies in the middle of the steppe in Kazakhstan, not far (by Kazakh standards) to the east of the Aral Sea.
 
Google maps locator: [45.7,63.3]
 
 
Though now on independent Kazakhstan's territory, it's still on lease to the Russians and effectively a Russian colony and restricted military area. Therefore visits aren't straightforward, but they are possible with sufficient advance planning. Some specialist tour operators offer help in arranging the required special permits – for a price (from ca. 1000 USD for a two-day visit). You can even arrange visits to watch actual launches – with even more forward planning – and for some real serious money. (And if you have several millions spare, and are of the required fitness, you could even become a "space tourist" – so far, however, there's only ever been two.)
 
But why should it be something for the dark tourist? Well, space travel and rocket launching also had (and potentially always has) its dark sides. Serious accidents have happened. And Baikonur is no exception. So visits to the huge complex may include memorial sites too, e.g. that of the "Nedelin disaster" – possibly the worst of them all, when an R16 ICBM exploded on the test launch pad killing between 90 and 200 people, including the commander of the R16 development team, Chief Marshal Nedelin.
 
You'll definitely see the complex's museum, Gagarin's and Korolev's houses. Tthe latter, if you don't know, was the "Chief Designer" of the Soviet space programme – the Russian equivalent of Wernher von Braun (see Peenemünde). And of course some of the facilities such as assembly plants, cosmonaut training facilities, and a launch pad or two.
 
Another dark aspect of the site is that it didn't only serve purely "civilian" space travel purposes (if ever there was such a thing) but was also the place where the Soviet ICBM programme was largely conducted and tested and where several ICBM launch facilities were located (now gone, since Kazakhstan relinquished the nuclear weapons it had "inherited" from the Soviet era). You probably won't see or hear much about this, but still, knowing the significance of the place during the Cold War makes for an extra element in the dark atmosphere of the site …
 
A visit to Baikonur would most naturally combine with a visit to the Aral Sea, but can also be done independently, either from Astana – or even from Russia (e.g. with rusadventures.com or atlasaerospace.net).
 
Personally, Baikonur for me is potentially one of the coolest places the world has to offer – but it turned out to be one of my greatest traumas in my recent travel history. I had planned a visit for almost a whole year, i.e. well in time. It was scheduled to include the observation of a Soyuz rocket launch, namely that of an unmanned cargo supply ship for the International Space Station (ISS), a mission code-named "Progress M-12M". The launch date remained fixed until just two weeks before my departure when I was informed that it had been rescheduled by the Russian space agency. Normally that means postponement, but in this case the launch was brought forward by a week. This made it even more painful for me to miss it, as I would actually already be in the country, within a day's travel reach of Baikonur, but unable to go and see the launch because the dates on the permit for my Baikonur visit could not be changed at such short notice.
  
Clearly, this was a great disappointment, but at least I would still get to see all those cool facilities and historically momentous places. But things went from bad to worse. Only two days before my transfer to Baikonur I was informed (by a brief text message) that the whole trip had to be cancelled. I was in Aralsk at the time, which is not a place where you want to be stranded, believe me. At least I managed to get out by train and back to Almaty through my own initiative and with a good dose of luck (tickets regularly sell out in the summer months) – my tour operator had just left me high and dry …
 
Why the cancellation: the whole Cosmodrome had been closed to the public and all tours cancelled due to a series of accidents that had happened, most significantly the loss of "Progress M-12M" – yes, the very one I had originally been scheduled to see lift off (before you think of it: no, I did NOT jinx it; it never occurred to me either that the most reliable rocket in history could possibly fail so disastrously on this occasion). The launch from the pad at Baikonur had been the same picture-book perfect affair it had always been for the last 33 years (with well over 700 launches that went without a hitch). But the third stage of the rocket failed and its cargo crashed into the Altai mountains in southern Siberia just north of Kazakhstan. This followed a series of other losses, including a hugely expensive satellite that could not reach its orbit and thus ended up an exorbitant piece of space junk.
 
With the reputation of Baikonur thus so seriously damaged, and amidst allegations of corruption (or even worse), a full-scale investigation was ordered by Russia's prime minister (Vladmir Putin himself, that is). And that's why Baikonur was closed just at the time I was supposed to go there. Needless to say, I was VERY distraught …
  
Now, with little need to return to Kazakhstan for another field trip (I had more or less exhausted the country in dark tourism terms in August 2011), I guess I will at some point have to opt for one of those tours with the Russians, via Moscow (see above). But that would be such a luxurious expense that I could not possibly justify it in the foreseeable future. But maybe one day.  
 
If you want to go to Baikonur overland or as part of a longer trip to Kazakhstan, then I recommend you use the company Kazakhstan Tours for this bit. I found them highly competent when I had my trip to the Aralsk organized by them and I know they do tours to Baikonur too – see their sponsored page here
   
  
  
  
  
  
  
  

© dark-tourism.com, Peter Hohenhaus 2010-2019

Cookies make it easier for us to provide you with our services. With the usage of our services you permit us to use cookies.
More information Ok