Buzachi Peninsula Deserts

The Buzachi Peninsula has five small ‘sands’ (пески), which is a Russian term for a small desert: the Kyzylkum (Кызылкум), Uvahkum (Увахкум), Shulshagylkum (Шулшагылкум), Zhilimshik (Жилимшик) and Egizlak (Эгизлак). The Kyzylkum Sands start on the outskirts of Shebir village and extend 30 km west to Kiyakty where it merges with the Uvahkum Sands. The Uvahkum portion is similar in size and runs up close to the edge of the Caspian coastline where it turns into a network of inter-dune saline areas. The combined surface area of the deserts is similar in size to the Big Tract Salt Marsh, which it borders to the north. Approximately 10 km south of the marsh is the minor Shulshagylkum, which is connected to the Kyzylkum’s north end.

The Zhilimshik Sands stretch from the north-eastern edge of the Buzachi Peninsula, near Dead Kultuk, to Zhideli settlement. From there it merges with the smaller Egizlak Sands, which extend another 15 km to the west. The combined east-west measurement of the two deserts is 45 km. Few people live here, aside from half a dozen farmsteads between eastern Zhilimshik and Zhideli. Thirty kilometres south is the nearest town, Akshimrau.

Map Data: Google, © 2021 Maxar Technologies, CNES / Airbus, Landsat / Copernicus
Satellite view of the entire Buzachi Peninsula with Kaydak Bay on the far right and Tyub-Karagan Peninsula in the bottom left.
Map Data: Google, © 2021 Landsat / Copernicus

Buzachi Peninsula’s Ancient History

Shebir hosts the Buzachi Peninsula’s most important archaeological sites. A number of Neolithic and Chalcolithic artefacts have been discovered around Shebir. At Shebir-4, pottery was discovered with similar designs found in Tajikistan’s Dzheitun and Iran’s Sialk settlements. There’s also hand-moulded earthenware bearing direct resemblance to the Chalcolithic Khvalynsian peoples of the 5th-4th century BCE, who lived in the Middle Volga and North Caucasus regions. According to prominent Mangystau archaeologist Andrey Astafiev, the Khvalynsian people introduced metallurgy and domesticated sheep to Mangystau.

K.M. Taimagambetov and Z.K. Baypakov’s Archaeology of Kazakhstan mentions two large ceramic fragment and flint accumulations in Shebir. There’s also a pit, used for religious purposes, filled with sand and red ochre, and over one hundred small ‘flakes’ and blades. It’s believed that locally sourced silicon was used as a raw material in the manufacture of tools and weapons too. No arrowheads have been discovered at Shebir, although this is made up for with numerous composite tool inserts. The authors go into more depth, including descriptions about Shebir’s hand-moulded earthenware, in their chapter about Kazakhstan’s Chalcolithic era.

Desert Grave and Mausoleum

Fifteen kilometres south-east of Shebir is the mausoleum of Dosan Tazhiuly. Along with Isa Tilebayuly, Tazhiuly led the 1870 national liberation uprising of Mangystau’s Kazakhs against Tsarist settlers. The event is considered one of the most important in the country’s history. He was born in Zhideli. Tazhiuly is most famous for beating Lieutenant Colonel Rukin in Ushayz, on Kochak Bay’s southern coast. In 1874, he was captured in Sam Sands, some 35 km north of the Uzbek border, and died two years later in prison. His body was returned to the peninsula and a mausoleum erected in his memory not long after. Many consider him as the first of Mangystau’s inhabitants to take a stand for independence.

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Looking southward at the Buzachi Peninsula, pictured in the bottom left and covered in frost (February 2018). The Tyuleniy Islands (right) are surrounded by sea ice. The dry peninsula is Tub-Karagan and Bautino Port is tucked inside the small stick-like land spit (in the top right). Image courtesy of the Earth Science and Remote Sensing Unit, NASA Johnson Space Center (http://eol.jsc.nasa.gov)


  • Kiyakty (RUS—Киякты, KAZ—Қияқты): 44.760007236883204, 51.694607840782375
  • Dosan Tazhiuly (RUS—Мавзолей Досана Тажиулы, KAZ—Досан Тәжіұлы кесенесі): 44.76421578805663, 52.26847005413896
  • Big Tract Salt Marsh (RUS—Урочище Большой Сор): 45.14334796616409, 51.76109113802999
  • Zhideli (RUS/KAZ—Жиделі): 45.039574858797415, 53.026867889717344
  • Sam Sands (RUS— Пески Сам): 45.474695938946496, 56.49899156062352
  • Akshimrau (KAZ—Ақшымырау): 44.82173170813641, 52.830424686539814
  • Shebir (RUS—Шебір, KAZ—Шебир): 44.81389219447375, 52.088741084659475