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PHOTO TOUR: WESTERN CLIFFS OF THE USTYURT PLATEAU (8 DAYS)
Tour duration
8 DAYS
Tour route
Mangystau Region (Kazakhstan)

A photo tour to unique sites of Mangystau Region. Western cliffs of the magnificent Ustyurt Plateau have a lot of secrets. Buttes, underground mosques, high cliffs of chalk mountains, and mirror-like saline lakes. All within one tour.

Route: Mangystau Region (Kazakhstan)

Season: April to November

Recommended period: April to May and September to November

TOUR SUMMARY

Day 1. Aktau—Torysh Valley of spherical concretions 

Group gathering at 07:00 a.m. and departing for Torysh locality.

Torysh. Also known as the Valley of Spheres. According to a local legend, numerous troops invaded the land of Mangystau like locusts. Locals prayed to heaven for help and were heard. The sky poured rain on the ground, roaring with thunder and flashing lightnings. All the enemies were turned to stone in no time. This is how the vast fields and arrays of unusual stone objects known as spherical concretions appeared in Mangystau. The concretions can be as large as 3 to 4 m in diameter while some are even large. They form intricate compositions of balls, eggs, mushrooms, cylinders, matryoshka dolls, and animals. 

Several stops on the way. Arriving in the valley about 12:00, putting up a camp, lunch, then walking and photo shooting. Returning to the camp for dinner. Free time. Optional night photo shoot. An overnight stay in a tent camp near the valley. Kilometers to be driven: about 200 km.

Day 2. The Torysh Valley with spherical concretions 

Early rise to take photos of the sunrise in the valley. Returning to the camp for breakfast. Free time after breakfast, you can rest. We go to the valley to take some photos towards the evening. After photo shooting we return to the camp for dinner. Preparing for the next day. Free time. Overnight stay in a tent camp. Walking distance: about 5 to 7 km.

Day 6. The Torysh Valley of spherical concretions—Sherkala—Airakty

Early rise to take sunrise photos in the valley. Returning to the camp for breakfast. Packing and moving to Mount Sherkala after breakfast.

The legendary Mount Sherkala is the natural symbol of Mangystau. From a certain point of view it looks like a giant yurt that mythical giant nomads put up in the wrinkles of Akmysh. Mount Sherkala is a large residual hill of a peculiar shape dating back to the time when the Subkaratau valleys were formed as land rose from sea. Legend has it that valiant knights once defended against numerous troops of the enemy on Mount Sherkala. They fought like tigers. The last defenders of the mountain hid in the underground passages within the mountain to stay there forever. This is why this place became a symbol of heroism and independence and was named Sherkala, which means City of Tigers. 

Sightseeing. A lunch break. Then we move to the Airakty Canyon.

Local call a system of small buffes Airakty-Shomanai. The Airakty Mountains look very much like castles with spires, towers, columns, and tall walls from a fairy tale. The winding path that semi-wild horses have treaded on one of the mountains leads us to a small sightseeing platform offering a panoramic view of the far Aktau Mountains and all castles of the Airakty Range. In humid spring small but redolent Tulipa sogdiana flowers cover the valley. Chalk blocs that lie along the sides of Mount Airakty bear carvings that a scholar described as Steppe Symphonies. 

Starting off for an evening photo shoot. Then returning to the camp for dinner and night rest. Kilometers to be driven: about 90 km. Walking distance: about 2 to 3 km.
 
Day 5. Airakty—Tuzbayir Sor Bay

Early rise to take photos of the sun rising above the canyon. Returning to the camp for breakfast. Packing and moving to Tuzbayir Sor Bay after breakfast.

Tuzbayir is a magnificent creature of forces of nature. Here a cliff of the Ustyurt Plateau ends in a cascade of steps of clay, limestone, and chalk resting on a large salt marsh, which locals call sor. The slopes of chalk cliffs are rugged with washouts and deep gutters forming rows of intricately shaped columns. At the very foot of the cliff there is a natural semi-arch that emerged due to soil blowing. Water fills the sor during snow melt and heavy rains, forming a giant saline mirror reflecting the sky and the chalk columns. 

We stop at a contemporary caravanserai for lunch on our way. You will also have an opportunity to take a shower and the like. Then we move to the panoramic view points of the Tuzbayir Sor Bay. Photo shooting at sunset. Then moving to the camping ground for dinner and an overnight stay. Optional night photo shoot on the bottom of the sor bay. Kilometers to be driven: about 80 km. Walking distance: 1 to 2 km.
 
Day 3. Tuzbayir Sor Bay
 
Early rise to photograph the sunrise. Returning to the camp for breakfast. After breakfast there is free time for rest, walks around the sor bay and the nearby cliffs. Lunch in the camp. Walking in the canyon until sunset. Returning to the camp for dinner. Preparing for the next day. Free time. Optional night sky photo shooting. Overnight stay in a tent camp. Walking distance: 10 km.
 
Day 6. Tuzbayir Sor Bay to Bozzhira

 Early rise to shoot the sunrise. Breakfast, then packing. Moving to the Bozzhira Canyon (the western cliff of the Ustyurt Plateau).

Bozzhira is the part of the cliff (edge) of the Ustyurt Plateau where Mother Nature displays its imagination by creating a truly otherwordly scenery in white. The small Bozzhira is surrounded by a amphitheater of Nature's creation on three sides. Everything is white here: canyons, peaks, tower-like mountains, castle-like mountains, yurt-like mountains... The buffes of Bozzhira are like chameleons that change their appearance as you walk among them. Intricately shaped residual hills are like silent guardians looking into the fog-covered distance. They secure the peace of the giant rock yurt as a colossal symbol of Mangystau. Its sole master is the lonely wind that chants songs of the steppe to the vast sky. 

We visit a number of panoramic viewing platform and ancient structures. Lunch on a panoramic viewing platform. They descending into the valley. Arriving in the valley, putting up a camp, and walking until sunset. Returning to the camp for dinner. Free time. Optional night photo shoot. Overnight stay in a tent camp. Kilometers to be driven: about 110 km. Walking distance: about 3 to 4 km.
 
Day 7. Bozzhira

 Early rise to shoot the sunrise. Returning to the camp for breakfast. After breakfast, a walk in the canyon and photo shooting. Lunch in the camp. Walking until sunset, then moving to the shooting point to take photos of the sun setting above the canyon. Returning to the camp for dinner. Free time. Overnight stay in a tent camp. Walking distance: about 10 to 12 km.

Day 8. Bozzhira—Tuyesu—Tokmak—Karakiya—Aktau

Early rise to take sunrise photos. Returning to the camp for breakfast. After breakfast we pack and set off for the Tuyesu sand massif.

The Tuyesu sand massif has a patch of bare sand with barkhans along which the hot wind blows, singing its mournful song in the thin branches of saxauls. The sands have many faces. They are incredibly pure and novel. In broad daylight the sands look inhabited, only toad-headed agamas, local lizards, slip from under one's feet. A carpet of incredible ornaments that the little paws of nocturnal creatures have left covers the sands at dawn. If you light a torch as high as your eyes in the dark, you can see bright white sparkles. Those are the eyes of plate-tailed geckos, incredibly beautiful and peaceful lizards. 

A short walk on sand barkhans and photo shooting. Then we move to Zhanaozen city for lunch at a cafe. We move towards Aktau. On our way we visit the mysterious Cape Tokmak and one of the deepest trenches across the CIS. We arrive in Aktau towards the evening, then check in at a hotel/see our guests off to the airport.

NOTES:

The tour is extremely intense. We will be driving from camp to camp on impassable roads most of the time. You will have to get up really early and walk very long distances to find the best shoots. All in a semi-desert where the weather is changeable so it can be hot in the afternoon and quite chilly after dark. Lots of dangerous insects and reptiles live there. Thus, it is advisable to drink no alcohol and stay alert. 

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