Barsa-Kelmes (alternative spelling Barsakelmes) is the largest island of the Aral Sea, which has a reputation of being a strange (and even cursed) place. It remains uninhabited even today (with exception of scientists of the Nature Preserve which is situated there), and was rarely visited before.
Kazakh people native to the area have tales of entire families that vanished on the island tracelessly, and legends (such as 'Koblandy-Batyr and Seven Brothers') about people that spent a day on Barsa-Kelmes only to find that decades are passed for those who left on the shores of Aral. In fact, the very name Barsa-Kelmes means Isle of No Return in Kazakh language.
Since the late 1950s there were reports of strange events that confirm the reputation of the island. An article published in 1959 tells about encounter with live pterosaur. The letter of the ship mechanic Timur Dzholdasbekov, written in the late 1980s, describes how he discovered 'a military base of sorts' during his trip on the island; when he returned on the next day, he found no buildings on the same place. In 1991, a major scientific expedition was planned to go there, but the USSR crumbled, stopping the plans for it.
All this made Barsa-Kelmes one of the key places in ex-USSR UFO lore.
The island itself is not very big — 23x7 km — and mostly devoid of vegetation. Now, thanks to the shallowing of Aral, it is almost turned into in a peninsula, but hundreds of years ago almost only way to reach Barsa-Kelmes (especially for nomadic cattle-breeding Kazakhs) was a bridge of ice over the sea surface. In some years, due to severe storms that bridge didn't form, stranding the people on the island and dooming them to death of starvation. That's how 'vanishing families' legends came into existence.
The anomalous sightings and pterosaur attacks has even simplier explanation — it is a hoax.
In 1988, two SF fans, Sergey Lukianenko and Grigory Savich, both of which then lived in Alma-Ata, received a request from Moscow SF fans to investigate strange rumors about the Barsa-Kelmes. They haven't the means to do so; however, they were quick to cook two stories: 'an ancient legend of Koblandy-Batyr and Seven Brothers' and 'witness account of Timur Dzholdasbekov'. They sent their 'findings' back to Moscow.
They haven't expected the reaction that followed. Their stories were so spectacular that they were widely published in the press (including very prestigious Tekhnika Molodyozhi magazine), and expedition indeed was planned, but the plans were dropped when Lukianenko admitted that there weren't much to find on the island.
As for article of 1959, it was also found to be (a rather risky, given the time of publication) prank pulled by journalist G. Novozhilov.
However, these revelations weren't enough to turn off the conspiracy theorists and UFO enthusiasts.
Game and Story Use
- Assuming that hoax haven't happened, Barsa-Kelmes might be a weak spot in time-space continuum thet might allow us to visit the past (or beings from future visiting us…)
- Rip van Winkel story happening in Central Asia is a possibility too…
- For a setting that involves memetics (or investigation of strange rumors) it might be a story of meme that gone wild… with all that implies.