Plumbing the Depths of the Largest Underwater Gypsum Cave on Earth

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Image: Viktor Lyagushkin

“The reward is the possibility of seeing something beautiful, something that nobody has seen before you.”

Even with lights, it is dark, and the sense of claustrophobia is overwhelming. Passages wind off in different directions to confuse the careless or unprepared. And should you find yourself in danger in these tunnels in the Earth’s crust, there can be no quick escape; no way to scream, even. Why? Because Russia’s Orda Cave is not only deep underground, it is also underwater. As cave diver, Bogdana Vashchenko warns, “There are hundreds of ways to die in a cave, and many divers never come back.”


Image: Viktor Lyagushkin

The Orda (or Ordinskaya) Cave is located in the shadow of the Ural Mountains, in Russia’s Perm Region at the border of Europe and Asia. It is the longest underwater cave system yet discovered in the former USSR, measuring 4,400 meters (14,435 ft) long – most of this underwater – and up to 43 meters (141 ft) deep including its dry sections. The cave also contains the longest subterranean passage fully flooded with water, which 935 meters (3,067 ft) long. And in terms of the size of its underwater galleries, it is one of the world’s biggest caves of its kind. What’s more, new smaller passages and caverns are still being found. So it’s definitely not a good place in which to get lost.

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Image: Viktor Lyagushkin

“The first time I went to the Orda cave in 2005 I immediately fell in love with it,” cave diver Bogdana Vashchenko tells Environmental Graffiti. Her husband Viktor Lyagushkin is the photographer who took these stunning photos, part of a book project called Orda Cave Awareness. “It was an incomparable delight,” she enthuses, “floating in zero gravity in giant rooms filled with absolutely clear water.”

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