Travel to Mangystau (Western Kazakhstan)
In September 2020, the Trekking Club team made a two-week voyage across Western Kazakhstan, starting from Almaty.
We decided to get to Mangystau bypassing Aktyubinsk and shortening part of the way. Therefore, we went through Taraz, Shymkent and Kyzylorda to Aralsk, and from there along the shores of the Aral Sea to the city of Beineu (which, in terms of kilometers, saved us 1,700 km of the way, but we had to travel 600 km through the Aral desert).
Since our path ran through the south of Kazakhstan with its rich historical and cultural heritage, we visited the ancient cities of Akyrtas, Otrar, Sauran, and of course, Turkestan. After refueling with water and fuel at the Saksaulskaya railway station, which is beyond the Aralsk, we made an 11-hour march across the desert to the west - following the former coastline of the Aral Sea. And we arrived in the city of Beyneu, which, after the Martian landscapes of the Aral Sea, seemed to us the crown of civilization - a kind of mirage city built from yellow shell rock (which is sold everywhere in the form of bricks and is very inexpensive). We spent the night at Uncle Lesha's motorcycle camping, which proudly bears his name - "Uncle Lesha", and began our exciting journey around the Mangystau peninsula.
The first stop on our way was the Tuzbair salt lake, which we examined from the outside, and after that we found an exit to the bottom - there was no water in the lake, so we were lucky to ride on a perfectly flat surface covered with salt. At some point, we even felt like famous American racers testing cars at the bottom of the same salt lake in the United States. The views from the bottom are simply incomparable - the shores of the lake, consisting of soft sedimentary rocks, have acquired the shape of fairytale towers due to erosion, and the multi-colored clay against the background of the dazzling white bottom makes them even more interesting. Fossils of ancient marine animals are found throughout the rocks.
The next stop on the way to the west was the recognizable Sherkala - a lonely mountain of unusual shape and color. From a distance, it looks very much like a yurt. Her image is on the 1000 tenge banknote.
After inspecting Sherkala, we moved to the local, West Kazakhstan Valley of Castles called "Airakty Shomanai". This is a large tract with several rocky ridges, the pointed peaks of which really resemble medieval castles and fabulous animals. Here we met a very cute herd of camels, among which remembered one beautiful mother with a baby camel and a lonely camel with a huge Sasha inscription on its side. To spend the night we went to a place called Kokala - tourists are often brought here to see the remains of an ancient burnt forest, which now looks like a hill made of coal.
The next morning we devoted to exploring the Valley of the Balls - a stunning natural mystery. This is a huge territory, literally dotted with perfectly round stones with a diameter of 50 cm to 3 meters. In several split "balls", in the very center, we found fossils of ancient sea creatures - ammonites, shells, annelids, etc. We assumed that they worked as condensation nuclei, which where later covered by the layers of silt at the bottom of the sea. Something similar to the formation of pearls in the alignment of a mollusc. Not very sure about the scientific nature of our theory, but at least some explanation)
After dinner, "alarmed" by the balls, we went to seek solace in the famous underground Shakpak Ata mosque. The road there ran through the incredible beauty of the Shakpakatasai gorge - driving along the bottom of this majestic canyon surrounded by white chalk walls, we appreciated the wisdom of our ancestors who founded a mosque in such a sacred place. The mosque itself also impresses with its beauty and sophistication: the carved columns of the halls are hollowed out right in the shell rock, and after passing through several levels, you get to the top of a rocky cliff. We spent the night on the coast of the Caspian Sea, near a huge depression called "Falling Earth".
The next day we examined the westernmost part of the peninsula - the city of Fort Shevchenko and the port of Bautino, after which we decided to stay on the coast for a couple of nights, not wanting to miss the last sunny days and the warm sea. We camped near another tourist attraction in Mangystau - the abandoned village of Saura. She even on the Soviet military maps of the 60s is already marked "abandoned". On the way to it, by the way, there is another interesting karst sinkhole, filled with green water and turtles! That is what it is called - Turtle Lake.
After resting for a while, we plunged into civilization by entering Aktau, and then moved to the east. Our goal was Mount Bakty, on the way to which we crossed the deepest earthly depression - the Karakiya lowland (which we were informed about by road signs and an altimeter on the clock). We drove through the city of Zhanaozen, surrounded by oil rigs, and visited the Shopan Ata mosque. In the evening we reached Mount Bokty, which met us from afar in the rays of the sunset with its mysterious view. The mountain is a long, geometric, even cone, made of multi-colored layers of clay, which makes it look like a layer cake. Its beauty is especially impressive against the background of the surrounding white salt wastelands (salt marshes). We spent the night on the already familiar salt bed.
The next day, having made a march through the desert, we arrived at perhaps the most famous part of the Ustyurt plateau - the Boszhira tract. Peaked limestone peaks, also called Fangs, are present in the photo reports of all travelers without exception. From here it is really impossible to leave without thousands and thousands of pictures, selfies, panoramas. Bozzhirinskaya valley is huge - on three sides it is surrounded by white canyons, and in any direction there are breathtaking landscapes of rocks and mountains made of white-yellow-pink chalk. To begin with, we examined the valley from above, from several observation points. Then we went down into the canyon and could not resist the temptation to ride along the dirt roads winding along the gorges of different colors and different from each other. Here, of course, you need to stay with an overnight stay in order to capture the scenery both at sunset and in the light of the moon. However, the Beket Ata mosque was still waiting for us, and we went there after thousands of pilgrims.
The pilgrimage to Beket Ata has become so widespread that a new road from Aktau has recently been built. Mangystau, by the way, is not for nothing called a Land of thousand holy elders. Here, starting from the 9th century, the preachers of Islam began to settle, and the followers of the great scientists of the East, such as Yassaui, came here from the southern regions. Today, hundreds of ancient underground mosques can be found on the peninsula.
Seeing the burial place of the revered Sufi, we embarked on a dirt road marked on the maps as "road A33" and rushed eastward, accompanied by clouds of dust. Thus, having traveled around Mangystau in a circle, we again ended up in Beineu, from where we returned to Almaty in the same way, but already changed - tanned, with a bunch of amazing impressions from the magical world of the Caspian Sea region.