Mugodzhar Hills

The Mugodzhar Hills form the southernmost part of the Ural Mountains. The range starts near the Kazakh-Russian border and runs south for 200km+ through the Aktobe Region, forming a geographical boundary between the Aral Sea and Caspian Sea basins.

Mount Bolshoy Boktybay (657m) is the highest point. Fifty kilometres south of it is Mount Zhamantau (381m), which marks the end of the 2,500km+ Ural Mountain range. From here, the Uralian orogenic belt, which is made of primarily crystalline rocks, dips below the earth’s surface and is taken over by the North Ustyurt Plate’s sandstone, chalk and marl rocks. This demarcation is based on proceedings by Vladislav Karelin, a researcher in technical sciences, who presented a paper at the Ural State Pedagogical Univeristy’s 2019 Europe-Asia Border conference.

Russian Academy of Science academic Alexander Chibilev presents a counter view, in his 2011 article The Europe-Asia Border in the Geographical and Cultural-Historical Aspects, that the Urals finishes at the southern end of Shoshkakol Ridge (405m), 120km+ southeast of Zhamantau and next to the Shagyrai Plateau.

Satellite view showing the full length of the Mugodzhar Hills
Map Data: Google, © 2022 Landsat / Copernicus

Mugodzhar Hills Rivers

The Mugodzhar Hills are up to 20km wide and its slopes give rise to several major rivers. The Emba River is the longest. From its source, in a small valley beside Mount Kenkus (557m), it flows for 712km through the Poduralsky Plateau to the Caspian Sea. Along the way it passes by an 80km+ long expanse of sand dunes that form the Kokzhide-Kumzhargan nature reserve.

Thirty kilometres northwest of the Emba’s source, the Shiyli and Terisbutak Rivers meet and form the Or River, which flows 332km north to join the Ural River.

In the northeast foothills, beside the Russian border and 5km southeast of Aktastykul, the Irgiz River begins its 590km+ journey south through the Turgay Plateau wilderness and then empties into the Shalkarteniz salt marsh, which until the 16th century was connected to the Aral Sea.

How to get there

Only two main roads cross the Mugodzhar*—in the north, the E38 in Bogetsay village, which is beside the Or River. And the A-26, 180km+ to the south, between the train accessible towns of Birshogir and Mugodzharskoye. To climb Mount Bolshoy Boktybay, head to Birshogir as it’s less than 5km east of it. South of here, to Zhamantau and Shoshakol Ridge, you’re unlikely to find any signs of human life until you reach the Beyneu–Zhezkazgan railway tracks on the Shagyrai Plateau some 150km away.

*Variant spellings for the Mugodzhar include: Mugojar, Mugodjar, Mugodjary, and Mughalzhar.


  • Mount Bolshoy Boktybay (RUS—гора Большой Боктыбай): 48.467, 58.487
  • Mount Zhamantau (RUS— ): 48.032, 58.347
  • Shoshkakol Ridge (RUS—кряж Шошкаколь): 47.362, 58.043
  • Mount Kenkus (RUS—гора Кенкус): 49.157, 58.699
  • Or River (KAZ/RUS—река Ор/Орь): 49.3214, 58.3827
  • Shiyli River (RUS—река Шийли): 49.3176, 58.3723
  • Terisbutak River (RUS— река Терисбутак): 49.3150, 58.3813
  • Kumzhargan Sands (RUS—пески Кумжарганские): 48.5832, 57.6319
  • Kokzhide Sands (RUS—пески Кокжиде): 48.4011, 57.2353