One of the most “Instagrammable” and “youtubed” points on the map of Kazakhstan is the Bozjyra gorge in the Mangystau region in the west of the country, which has become widely known over the last decade. Today, its highly unusual landscape, which many visitors call “lunar” or “extraterrestrial”, has become a real calling card not only for the region, but also for Kazakhstan.
Bozjyra, sometimes spelled Boszhira or Bozzhyra, is a ridge of large rock formations of various shapes and sizes. The most famous are The Vessel, The Fangs and The Yurt. The gorge is located in a large canyon in the western part of the Ustyurt Plateau. The fantastic landscapes were once the bottom of the prehistoric ocean of Tethys. The fossilized remains of the ancient creatures that inhabited it can still be found today at the foot of the giant cliffs.
Some people compare Bozjyra to the famous Monument Valley in Arizona, U.S. A certain similarity is there indeed. These landscapes share a common creator – water, the Sun and wind. The difference is only in the color of the valley – on Bozjyra on a clear day you will be dazzled by the gray-white color of the surrounding rocks. Notsun without reason, the name of the site can be translated from the Kazakh language as “The Pale Gorge”. In early spring the place turns green, with rare flowers blooming, which have adapted to the harsh climate of t treasii. But the hot sun soon burns out all the grass. Many tourists plan their visit to take place in spring or fall, as they believe it to be very hot in Mangistau in summer.
With the construction of a modern highway between the towns of Aktau to Zhanaozen in the Mangystau Region (west Kazakhstan), getting to Bozjyra became significantly less challenging. Only the last, relatively small part of the way is off-road. Locals advise to give preference to taking free off-road vehicles and plan a trip only in dry weather. Many recommend to come with an overnight stay, then one can fully enjoy the colorful sunset and sunrise, see the limitless starry sky, get acquainted with local inhabitants – gazelles, urials (Ustyurt mountain sheep), lizards and turtles.
Despite the fact that on the Internet one can find detailed routes to explore the gorge from all sides – both from above and from below, it is advised to carefully prepare for the trip and take a local guide. There is no shortage of guides and firms in Aktau today, offering individual or group trips around the region. As a rule, the cost of a one-day trip in a comfortable SUV starts from 80 thousand tenge (180 USD per car). For an additional fee, meals can be provided and shootings a video you drones can be organized.
A significant increase in interest in Bozjyra was associated with the spread of news in November 2020 about preparations for the construction of a boutique hotel with a swimming pool, spa area, etc. right at the foot of The Fangs. The news caused a strongly negative reaction from many environmental activists and many social media users, who believed that the presence of such a facility in close proximity to the unique rocks would disturb the pristine appearance of the ancient site.
A series of publications in the media and active discussion of the topic in social networks seemingly provoked an increase in the interest of tourists to the region.
Also, this news coincided with the pandemic Covid-19 and in the conditions of closed borders Kazakhs traveled more actively around their country and discovered interesting places. One of the most popular of them was the Bozjyra tract.
In December 2020, the project of construction of a boutique hotel was suspended and after revision for public hearings in 2021, the project of creating a visitor center 4 km from the “fangs” at the entrance to the tract with a small hotel was put forward.
It is assumed that all cars will stay at the visitor center, and further it will be possible to get there on horses, camels or quad bikes. At a public hearing in February 2021, evidence was cited about the destruction of soil and the now uncontrolled passage of heavy vehicles along the bottom of the gorge.
Proponents of the construction note that it will create new jobs, both during construction and during operation of the facility. It will also promote more civilized and safe recreation for visitors.
A paved or at least gravel road to Bozjyra would help more people to reach this fantastic place. Currently, entry to the gorge is not regulated in any way, and people often leave without proper planning and preparation, which poses significant safety risks for tourists. One can find stories on the internet of people stranded there in bad weather on unsuitable vehicles.
Opponents of any construction point to the threat of destruction of the unique ecosystem and loss of its pristine nature and beauty. There is also an opinion that the construction of a hotel or a visitor center is most actively opposed by some tour organizers, as they fear a decrease in demand for their services in case of easing the road. A similar situation has previously occurred with the development of access to underground mosques located in the region.
However, as of today, the project to build a visit center and a road to the Bozjyra tract is frozen for an indefinite period of time.
West Kazakhstan is rich in interesting and unique places. Many of which are still less known outside the region. They are often less distant from Aktau than Bozjyra, but can also be attractive to tourists.
The Mangystau region is in many ways unique in Kazakhstan as the only one with good beaches on the shores of the Caspian Sea, the world’s largest saltwater lake, and unusual underground mosques, carved into chalk cliffs between presumably the 12th and 18th centuries, which have become important spiritual centers for local Muslims. Here you can visit a museum dedicated to Ukraine’s national poet Taras Shevchenko, who was exiled to these places by the tsarist authorities to serve as a soldier. In addition, despite the arid nature of the region here you can meet in their natural environment such unusual for Kazakhstan animals as pink flamingos, seals, honey-eaters and leopards.
At the same time, the capital of the region – the city of Aktau – already has a good infrastructure for tourism, which continues to grow and develop. So now is a great time to plan a trip to Mangystau – one of the most unusual and attractive regions of Kazakhstan.
There are daily passenger flights to Aktau from Astana and Almaty with Air Astana, Fly Arystan and Scat airlines, as well as regular flights from London. There are trains too, which take about two days to get to Mangystau from either Astana or Almaty.