Karagiye Depression

Karagiye Depression flat plain and long cliffs

Fifty-five kilometres southeast of Aktau is the Karagiye Depression. At -132 m below sea level, it’s the lowest point in Central Asia and the former Soviet Union. Its southernmost point is several kilometres east of Eralievo town, which has a train station, and is near the E-121 and R-114 roads leading to Kuryk port. The northernmost point […]

Senek Sands

Golden-coloured sand dunes with Senek village in the background and chalk cliffs further beyond.

The Senek Sands, also known as Tuyesu (Туесу), is an 11 x 30 km area of dunes located halfway between Zhanaozen city and Boszhira. Barchan dunes cover the south and eastern corner, and the north and west quarters are desert shrub land. The southern section of the Senek sands, with Senek village in background.© Marina Khlybova Desertification in Mangystau In 1971, […]

Zhanaozen City

Rail carriages loaded with giant industrial pipes outside of Zhanaozen railway station.

Founded in the late 1960s, Zhanaozen has a population of 100,000+ people, making it the Mangystau Region’s second largest city. Until 1992, it was called New Uzen (Новый Узень) and has remained an important centre of the oil and gas industry since it was established. It’s a two-hour drive east of Aktau and because it’s […]

Shopan Ata

Red sandstone sarcophagus, locally known as sandyktases, sit in steppe land near Shopan-Ata.

Twenty kilometres north of Senek village is Shopan-Ata, a circa 10th-century underground mosque that is one of Mangystau’s oldest religious sites. It was first surveyed in the early 1950s by a research team led by Malbagar Mendikulov, a prominent Kazakh architect who incorporated traditional designs into his architectural work as a way to preserve national […]


Rugged cliffs on top of Shalkar-Nura.

Shalkar-Nura is in the central section of the Irgiz-Turgay Nature Reserve and is a part of the Aktobe Region’s easternmost district: Irgiz. Although the district appears small on a map, it’s in fact slightly larger than Switzerland, but has a vastly smaller population by comparison: 15,000 vs. 8.5 million people. The Irgiz-Turgay Nature Reserve itself […]

Karynzharyk Depression

A mountain surrounded by pure white salt flats.

Karynzharyk is an 85 km long and 15 km wide depression in the Ustyurt Nature Reserve. The nearest village is Ak-Kuduk, which is situated 25 km to the east, on the edge of the Karynzharyk Sands. Most of the depression is 40–50 m below sea level. The east side, known as the Western Chink Ustyurt, […]


Rock spires rising above chalk slopes.

Boszhira (Босжира) is Central Asia’s rival to the USA’s Monument Valley National Park, with the added bonus of no crowds. Packed into a 7 x 7 km area are several distinct red sandstone rock formations set atop waterworn chalk slabs. The most striking are the Azu Tisteri rock spires, meaning ‘fang teeth’ in Kazakh. Without […]