If you’re new to Planet Esoterica, have a read of our About Us page to learn more about our motivations and objectives. Right now, we’re focused on researching and writing about Kazakhstan, in particular the western part of the country. Take a look at some places we’ve explored so far, ranging from desert-covered peninsulas, remote Caspian Sea islands, underground mosques, and more. If you have time, we also recommend reading our history of Kazakhstan article.

Satellite view of the Akkergeshen Plateau's white cliffs.

Akkergeshen Plateau

The Akkergeshen Plateau is an area of chalk upland 55 km east of Kulsary town (pop. 51k). It measures approximately 12 x 8 km and

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Rocky shoreline and a blue Caspian Sea in Aktau.


Aktau serves as a perfect starting point for journeys into the Ustyurt and the broader Mangystau Region. Its strategic location on the Caspian Sea, coupled

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Photo from space of the Dolgiy Peninsula.

Aktau-Buzachinskiy Nature Reserve

Established in 1982, the Aktau-Buzachinskiy Nature Reserve (Актау-Бузачинский Заповедник) covers an area larger than Greater London. Animals living in the area include the Ustyurt mouflon,

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The white and gold walls and minarets of Nur Gasyr Mosque, set against a background of blue sky and white clouds.ound.


Aktobe is on the western end of the Kazakh Steppe, less than 100 km from the Russian border. As the capital city of the Aktobe

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Aerial view of the Aktolagay Plateau, showing a triangular chalk peak.

Aktolagay Plateau

The Aktolagay Plateau is a cluster of freestanding chalk cliffs rising out of the eastern Precaspian Basin on the Aktobe-Atyrau regional border. It’s 50 km

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Wide shot of grey clouds over the Ural River in Atyrau.


Table of Contents History of Atyrau Tsardom of Russia Era The origins of Atyrau began in the 1550s after Tsar Ivan the Terrible’s soldiers overthrew

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Ten kilometres north-west of Shetpe town is Ayrakty-Shomanai, or as 19th-century Ukrainian artist-poet Taras Shevchenko preferred to call it: the Valley of Castles. The peaks are

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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

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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

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Wide shot of Cape Zhigylgan showing steep cliffs and a giant bowl strewn with boulders.

Cape Zhigylgan

Forty kilometres west of the Aktau-Buzachinskiy Nature Reserve, on the Tub-Karagan Peninsula’s north coast, is the rubble strewn landscape of Cape Zhigylgan. Meaning ‘Collapsed Land’ in Kazakh, the area was

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A man running along a Caspian Sea shoreline near Golubaya Bay.

Golubaya Bay

On the south-west side of the Tub-Karagan peninsula is the half-kilometre-long Golubaya Bay (aka Blue Bay), which is sandwiched between the Uzynkuduk and Tulkili Gorges. Less than a kilometre

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Satellite view of Shalkar Lake and its bright white-coloured surface made of salt.

Inder Lake

Less than 20 km east of the Ural River is Inder Lake. It’s the second largest lake in western Kazakhstan after Shalkar Lake, which is

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Oblique view of Kamysh-Samara's network of dried-up lakes.


At the northern edge of the Ryn Desert is Kamysh-Samara. The 100 x 60km plain was once home to at least a dozen lakes, with

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Kapamsay Canyon

Kapamsay Canyon is four kilometres southwest of Shakpak-Ata. When approaching it from afar, you’ll see the white-sided walls of the chasm peeking up above the vegetated

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Karagiye Depression flat plain and long cliffs

Karagiye Depression

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.

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High shot from space showing Kaydak Bay, Dead Kultuk and Buzachi Peninsula.

Kaydak Bay

Kaydak Bay is a 15 km wide salt marsh extending for over 100 km along the Buzachi Peninsula’s east coast. A 1–2 metre high depositional

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Satellite view showing the full length of the Mugodzhar Hills

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

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Satellite view of New Alexander Fort, showing the outline of the old walls.

New Alexander Fort

Overlooking Dead Kultuk Bay is New Alexander Fort. It’s located on the cliff edge of the Western Chink Ustyurt (Западный Чинк Устюрт) and was in

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Green and white exterior of Oral's regional museum.


Ural Cossacks founded Oral (aka Uralsk in Russian) in 1584. To establish it, they had to oust the Mongol Nogai Horde from the area. Throughout

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Satellite imagery of Otpan Tau, western Kazakhstan.

Otpan Tau

Otpan Tau (532 m) is the Mangyshlak Peninsula’s highest point. From the summit, you can see unrestricted views of Mangystau’s vast steppe, the Caspian Sea,

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Ushtagan village surrounded by a large ring of sandy desert

Ryn Desert

The Ryn, also known as the Naryn Sands, is Kazakhstan’s westernmost desert. It spans for over 350 km between the Volga and Ural Rivers, and

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Steep cliffs beside a small, green lake in Saura Canyon.

Saura Canyon

Ninety kilometres north of Aktau is Saura Canyon. It starts 2.5 km inland, runs southwest towards the Caspian Sea and ends in front of the

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

Senek Sands

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

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Entrance to Shakpak-Ata underground mosque, carved out of weather-worn sandstone.


Situated 4 km south of Sarytash Bay, the 10th-century Shakpak-Ata is one of Mangystau’s most interesting historical-religious sites. Tauchik, a small village, is the nearest

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Satellite overview of a bright green-coloured Shalkar Lake.

Shalkar Lake

The egg-shaped Shalkar Lake is south of Oral (aka Uralsk). The brackish lake measures 15 x 18 km and is fed by two rivers on

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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

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Close-up view of Sherkala's white, pink and brown cliffs.


Sherkala (307 m) is five kilometres west of Ayrakty-Shomanai on the northern side of West Karatau Ridge. In Turkmen, Sherkala means ‘Lion Fortress’ as its western aspect looks like

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

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

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Wide view of Sor Tuzbair from the plateau.

Sor Tuzbair

Eight kilometres south of Kizyl-Bas/Say-Utes is Sor Tuzbair, a salt marsh stretching for 15 km along the edge of the Western Chink Ustyurt. Along with

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A cluster of six rock balls sitting in a desolate stretch of Kazakh desert.

Torysh Valley

Eight kilometres east of the Aktau-Kalamkas road is the Valley of Balls. Locally known as Torysh, the valley lies on the north side of the

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Tyuleniy Archipelago seen from space with colourful water and marshes.

Tyuleniy Archipelago

Ten kilometres off the north coast of Tub-Karagan Peninsula is the Tyuleniy Archipelago. Tyulen means ‘seals’ in Russian. The archipelago consists of five named islands. The westernmost

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Satellite view of Karagan-Bosagas cave, located in a remote section of Ustyurt desert.

Ustyurt Caves

According to G.N. Amelichev’s “A Brief History of Cave Exploration in the USSR and Russia”, there are over 50 caves in the Ustyurt region. Here’s

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

Zhanaozen City

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

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