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is only some 10 percent of the inland

seabed once a bit larger than Sri Lanka

or the state of West Virginia—a reversal

of decline is under way: The North Aral

Sea is, slowly, coming back to life.

The closest that commercial airlines

fly to Aral is Kyzylorda, an eponymous

provincial capital of about 190,000

people, about 90 minutes flight time

south of Kazakhstan’s capital, Astana.

Taking that flight late in the after-

noon, my translator Dinara Kassymova

and I arrived just in time to board an

overnight train to Aral. We shared a

compartment with a young woman

who introduced herself as Aynura,

on her way home with her two infant

sons, Islam and Muhammad. The win-