Shulgan Tash National Park (Averianov Sergei)

Shulgan Tash National Park

The Southern Urals form a massive part of the Ural range. They border Aral steppes in the south, numerous lakes in the forest steppe in the south-east, and coniferous and mixed forests in the west and north-west. The Southern Urals have long been inhabited by people. The weather conditions in the Southern Urals are extremely favorable for beekeeping. The entire log beekeeping equipment was discovered at the Birsk burial site near the city of Ufa. The archaeological excavations were estimated to be over fifteen hundred thousand years old. Beekeepers continue to live here nowadays. There is the Shulgan Tash National Park in the Burzyansk district, in the valley of the Belaya river. The highlight of the national park is the world-famous Kapov’s cave, one of the largest karst caves in the Southern Urals. Its depth exceeds two kilometers. The Shulgan river flows through the cave. Kapov’s cave is known for its drawings of over fourteen thousand years of age.

The inconceivable beauty of this location is fascinating. The river valley is surrounded by mountains covered with pure Scotch pine woods and oak groves. Horses graze on mountainous meadows. There are a few villages of log beekeepers.

The ancient skills are practiced by mere fifty people. They represent log beekeeping dynasties dating back their roots to ancient times. Most of the beekeepers work as forest caretakers in the national park and look after the log trees. Log beekeeping tools have barely changed their form nowadays: a kiram, a leather belt for climbing up a tree; a lyange, a wooden step to stand on a tree; a serpe, a thin rope; an axe, a smoker and a wooden vessel for honey. Log hives are made inside age-old pine trees, 16 meters above the ground. Log hives are often kept for dozens of years and are handed down to the next generation, with every tree marked by the tamga. A long window sealed with a wooden lid is used to look after a log hive and extract honey. The window is covered with tree twigs to protect the hive from birds and small animals. Metal net is now placed over the window. In order to keep log hives safe from famous honey-lovers, bears, a toukmak, a heavy long log is hung on a thick rope beneath the log hive.

Log beekeepers tend to their trees and maintain the forest in order. They remove fallen off branches to avoid fire.

Spiritual values and morale constitute the lifestyle of log beekeepers. Bees are thought to be able to feel a mean person. Therefore, mean people cannot become log beekeepers. Alcoholics cannot even approach bees; they are bound to be stung. Bees’ sensitivity is the reason why log beekeepers do not smoke tobacco. Watching their simple lifestyle and looking at their kind faces, you get overwhelmed by the amazing internal harmony of forest beekeepers. These down-to-earth people are the perfect example that honey has moral value.

Nevertheless, the civilization has reached these lands; and the unique place is at the risk of vanishing. Deposits of barium and polymetallic ores were discovered here in Soviet times but they were not developed due to the proximity of natural reserve areas. Open exploitation of the deposits is starting now, with water storage facilities being constructed on the Belaya river. Nearby villagers are being forced to abandon their houses; heavy-duty roads and bridges are being built. Kapov’s cave is at the risk of flooding. These places are likely to change but hardly for the better. That is why it is paramount for us to support and preserve the ancient tradition.


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