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Scenic Tours

Altai Republic
In the Area of Aktash Village: Mount Belkenek, Aktash Broadcast Relay Station, Lake of Mountain Spirits, Shirlak Waterfall, Ular Falls, Mazhoy Cascade

What to eat when you can’t make a fire, how to choose sunscreen to keep warm, and when to veer off course.

The village of Aktash (that translates from Southern Altai as ‘white stone’), originally founded as a mining community, is the heart of the authentic Altai that opens up on the other side of the Seminsky Pass and claims dominance over all things vaguely familiar. Here, mountains are taller, air cleaner, and steppes wilder. 

It radiates freedom: in every breath, in every quick, if accidental, glance. 

Cows stroll around, thirsty horses herd towards watering holes, and night-time ‘coolness’ feels no less invigorating than ice dipping at Epiphany.

In the Area of Aktash Village: Mount Belkenek, Aktash Broadcast Relay Station, Lake of Mountain Spirits, Shirlak Waterfall, Ular Falls, Mazhoy Cascade

Where to Stay

Do not hesitate to stay in an Altay yurt – you’ll have dinner by the open fire in the best Siberian traditions and fall asleep to gentle twinkling of the stars through an opening in the roof. The yurt’s construction will protect you from the elements – and mosquitoes.

Life Hack

If you rely on eateries or street food, don’t hold your breath – you won’t find any outside of Aktash. Therefore, every traveller is responsible for putting together their own meal in advance of the next leg of the journey.

Mount Belkenek and the Aktash Broadcast Relay Station

Why not start exploring these places from above – by trekking up Mount Belkenek. The walls of the surrounding canyons reach up to 150m but the goal of the climb is the majestic view on the confluence of the Maashey (or Mazhoy) and the Chuya. We would encourage you not to stop there and climb even higher – all the way to the Aktash Broadcast Relay Station, sitting at an altitude of 3,038m above sea level. From that point, the Severo-Chuisky Ridge and the Kurai steppe will be in full view, and, on a clear day, you can catch a glimpse of the legendary Mount Belukha.

Navigating around these parts is impossible without an off-roader, and even then it is riddled with challenges. 

Bumpy roads, mountain passes, and indistinct goat paths are all part and parcel of the quest to comprehend the incomprehensible. The reward, however, will be instant: the pristine wilderness of nature and the rich colour palette of the flora remind you that people are rare guests in this neck of the woods.

The way to the broadcast relay station is a challenge in and of itself – by the fifth kilometre (of fifteen) you get the feeling that it will never end. But then you see the waters of the Yarlu-Airy river rush by, vibrant and unbridled like life itself. Next, you pass the Aktash quicksilver mine that shut down in 1993, with its abandoned tunnels, and it feels as if you are getting closer to solving yet another part of the puzzle – the clue must be somewhere nearby.

The Altai Mountains are the unity of extremes. 

Consequently, an SPF 50 sunscreen will be a perfect match to these camel wool socks of yours: now you can safely build a snowman mid-July and not be afraid of melting in the scorching sun yourself, with temperatures reaching 30ºC.
Lake of Mountain Spirits

Our next stop is Lake of Mountain Spirits that owes its name to the legends of mountain spirits that dwell nearby. The Rothko-esque colour block of rust-and-anthracite slate and ultramarine (that comes from clay at the bottom of the lake) will blow your mind. No wonder it became the subject of Altai artist Choros-Gurkin’s paintings back in 1908. 

The Shirlak Waterfall, the Ular Falls and the Mazhoy Cascade

You can skip Shirlak Waterfall as touristy and generally unworthy of a separate visit, and observe it from the road. But we’ll share a bit of a backstory: it gets its name (‘maiden tears’) from a bloody legend, in which a girl and her brother fleeing from cruel Dzhungar warriors came upon a cliff and, poetically, plunged off it so as not to fall into the enemy’s hands. A narrow stream of tears has been running down that cliff ever since. When you’re done contemplating romantic lore, take a turn to the Ular Falls – one of the most attractive local sights, yet little familiar to tourists. Enjoy the refreshing spray shower of Maly Ular that rushes down the cliff in a thunderous cascade but don’t even think about turning back – all the more impressive Bolshoi Ular is just a few kilometres away. A mountain footpath leading up to it will take you on a steep climb through dense bush and briar, but the view will be well worth the trouble.

On your way back to Aktash, pay a visit to the Mazhoy Cascade – it will make a great addition to your ‘collection’. It is a breathtaking cascade of fifty-four rapids, Class 5 (of six) on the international difficulty scale. Much loved by professionals and fans of extreme rafting, this white water route is among the most dangerous and difficult on the planet.