Karagiye Depression

Fifty-five kilometres south-east of Aktau city is the Karagiye Depression. At –132m below sea level, it’s the lowest point in Central Asia and the former Soviet Union.

Size estimates vary, but it’s over 20km wide and at least 40km in length. Its deepest point is the Batyr salt flat, in the southern half. The name ‘Karagiye’ derives from the Turkic words kara (black) and kiya (steep slope).

Karagiye Depression panorama
© Matthew Traver

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 peters out near the A-33 road, which connects Aktau and Zhanaozen city.

Despite the rugged and hostile-looking landscape, it’s home to a wide variety of animals, such as caracal, Pallas’ cat (aka manul), corsac and steppe fox, and mouflon. There’s also plenty of monitor lizards, tortoise, snakes, centipedes, and scorpions living around the depression’s cliffs and ravines. Its rich biodiversity also makes it a popular spot for hawks and vultures.

Together with Lake Karakol, 30km+ to the west, the depression is part of the 130,000+ hectare Karagiye-Karakol Nature Reserve. The reserve area also has some human activity, with oil derricks, camel farms, and watermelon and tomato plantations dotted around parts of the desert.

Ashchisor Depression, Capes, and a Lighthouse

Less than 15km west of Karagiye is the 15-kilometre-wide, bowl-shaped Ashchisor Depression*, which is inland of Cape Peschaniy and Cape Sarzha. Since 2018, there are discussions of developing a hotel and recreational area in Ashchisor and turning part of it into a reservoir for leisure use. The plan involves cutting a channel, at a cost of US$130+ million, from the Caspian Sea to the depression to flood the area. For now, the project appears to be on hold as the local government and environmental groups assess how to minimise the development’s environmental impact.

Less than 5km north of Cape Peschaniy, meaning ‘sandy’ in Russian, is a lighthouse. With an off-road vehicle, it should in theory be possible to drive most of the 100-kilometre length of coastline between Aktau and Kuryk Port. The lighthouse is on the route, along with extensive stretches of sandy beach and a hot spring that’s popular with Mangystau’s residents.

* The ‘ashchi’ prefix derives from the Kazakh word for ‘bitter’.

Satellite view of Mangystau Region with Kargiye Depression in the centre.
Map Data: Google, © 2022 Landsat / Copernicus
Oblique satellite view of Karagiye Depression from the south.
Map Data: Google, © 2022 Maxar Technologies, CNES / Airbus, Landsat / Copernicus

Getting to the Karagiye Depression

To visit the Karagiye Depression, take the A-33 road out of Aktau, toward Zhanaozen and Zhetybay. Drive 30km along the road, for approximately 40 minutes, to reach a series of southerly dirt roads leading near to the bottom of Karagiye. Another 12km further east of the turn-off is a popular viewpoint overlooking the depression’s north side. If you’re headed to the bottom of Karagiye or driving on any dirt roads surrounding its perimeter, it’s strongly recommended going with a 4WD.

Coordinates:

  • Eralievo Town (Ералиево): 43.2191, 51.8172

  • Kuryk Town (Qūryq/Курык): 43.1797, 51.6780

  • Zhetybay Town (Jetıbai/Жетыбай): 43.5900, 52.0990

  • Karagiye Depression viewpoint (Qaraqiia Oiysy/Смотровая площадка Впадина Каракия): 43.5604, 51.7922

  • Dirt Roads to the Bottom of Karagiye Depression: 43.5890, 51.6329

  • Ashchisor Depression (Aşchisor Oiysy/Впадина Ащисор): 43.2631, 51.5141

  • Cape Peschaniy (Siendi Müiısı/Мыс Песчаный): 43.1543, 51.2747

  • Cape Sarzha (Sarja Müiısı/Мыс Саржа): 43.1616, 51.4907

  • Sandy Lighthouse (Qūmdy Maiak/Маяк Песок): 43.1902, 51.2849

  • Hot Spring: 43.3505, 51.3375

  • Karakol Lake (Qaraköl/Озеро Каракол): 43.5364, 51.3064

Resources:

  • 1:500k Soviet map of the Karagiye Depression, pictured in the top-left quarter. Its southern end is in the small bowl slightly north-west of the vertically positioned red “52° 00’” mark.

  • 1:200k Soviet map of the southern Karagiye Depression shown in the top-right quarter. Top-centre is the Ashchisor Depression. Cape Sandy is the tip of the nose-shaped peninsula and Cape Sarzha is the tiny fang-shaped feature directly south of Ashchisor.

  • 1:200k Soviet map of northern Karagiye Depression shown in the bottom-right quarter.

Planning a visit? Check out our debut guidebook

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