Karakavak and Shuldor Canyons

The main sections of the Karakavak and Shuldor Canyons start east of a dirt road junction. Both run north for roughly 9 km before opening up in front of a small and shallow cove in Kochak Bay—which also freezes up in the winter. Their total drop in elevation is over 150 m and the cliff height is similar in size.

Satellite image of Karakavak and Shuldor Canyons.
Map Data: Google, © 2021 Maxar Technologies, CNES / Airbus
Close-up satellite image of the plateau dividing Karakavak and Shuldor Canyons.
The defensive wall is above and left of the centre, with the dirt track cutting through it at a right angle. Map Data: Google, © 2021 Maxar Technologies, CNES / Airbus

In 2017, a Russian-Kazakh archaeology expedition conducted a survey of Kochak Bay, around the Karakavak area, searching for the remains of 16th–18th century piers. According to accounts by Prince Alexey Cherkassky in 1715, who was on a scientific expedition to study the east Caspian Sea and liaise with Mangyshlak Turkmens, the piers served as the primary landing point and trade hub for vessels coming from Astrakhan in the 16th–17th centuries.

Backing up Cherkassky’s account are the memoirs of 19th century Russian naval officer M.I. Ivanin who reported seeing old wooden piles in Kochak Bay. Russian navy maps from 1848 and 1869 mark their location in a small nook within the bay and refer to them as ‘Karagan’ and ‘Old Mangyshlak’.

The 2017 expedition didn’t find any remains of the piers. However, it’s not unsurprising—the organiser of the research project, Andrey Astafiev, said that the sea has receded by several hundred metres over the last three centuries, leaving any remains exposed to the harsh climate or prone to being buried by wind-blown sand.

Shuldor Canyon, less than a kilometre to the east, runs parallel to Karakavak and there’s a dirt road along the dividing plateau. Shuldor is considered the more picturesque of the two. Both are part of the Aktau-Buzachinskiy Nature Reserve. Karakavak also has 8th–9th century remains of a citadel, when it once served as a stop-over point for caravans arriving from Khorezm (aka Chorasmia). Spanning east to west between the two canyons is a half-kilometre long defensive wall of the same era too.

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  • Karakavak Canyon (RUS—Каньоны Каракавак) dirt road junction start point: 44.43071263122166, 51.38569992531588
  • Shuldor Canyon (RUS—Каньоны Шульдор): 44.47312915970202, 51.42942852024437
  • Defensive wall: 44.45988890200218, 51.422505681287234
  • Old piers: 44.533502058802156, 51.362027721148834