Through the Russian Altay Mountains
I was back in Russia again. Now in the Altay Mountains.
That is in the border area between Kazakhstan, Russia, Mongolia and China. Every country gets a little bit from the Altay Mountains. And is up to 4.500m high. I also drove mostly between 1,500 and 2,000m.
Unlike when I entered Mongolia, I didn’t have to worry about a SIM card and cash at first. I still had both from Siberia. I only had to reload the SIM card in the next bigger city and there to go to an ATM.
And the route through the Altay was actually quite easy. I only used two roads. The R 256 from the Mongolian border northwest to Barnaul. And from there the A 322 in a south-west direction to the Kazakh border.
The R 256 is the only major road that can be used all year round and connects southwestern Siberia with Mongolia. There is no railroad here and the rivers are unsuitable for ships.
My travel route through the Altay
And so I set off. From Tashanta via Kosh-Agach, Aktash, Gorno-Altaysk and Barnaul to Rubsovsk on the border with Kazakhstan. About 1,100 kilometers.
There is probably also a 100 km shorter route, which branches off to the west at Gorno-Altaysk. And then also leads onto the A 322. But this is a side road that rather leads through smaller villages. So my ‘detour’ did not bother me any further.
I actually wanted to spend the night in Tashanta. But my hotel app didn’t offer any options here. And it was a wonderful weather and long light. So that I drove on for now.
By the way, that was an extraordinary experience: Up to the Mongolian border everything was dry and dusty. But soon after the border this changed. There were trees and streams, lakes and birds. You can see that to some extent on the map above as well.
A camping site in the Altay…
On the further route, however, only small towns and a few campsites came up. On those I asked, but unfortunately everything was occupied.
It was holiday season and the Altay is a vacation area for the residents of the greater Novosibirsk area. Also in Kosh-Agach, the capital of the region, it was said ‘all occupied’. By the way: In winter it should be as cold as -62 degrees there…
Only in Aktash at about 8 o’clock in the evening I found a camping site which was not fully booked. And they rented me a little wooden hut for one night. Very cozy and comfortable.
Just before 9 p.m. I wanted to eat something in the village. But this turned out to be a failure. I did not find a bigger restaurant and in a snack bar at a gas station it was also called ‘Njet’. The shop wanted to close at 9 p.m.
…with a russian barbecue…
I had already accepted that I would have to make do with a few cookies from my travel provisions that evening. When I came back my Russian neighbors at the campground asked me how the dinner was.
And when I told them that it would have to be cancelled today, they spontaneously said that wouldn’t work at all. So they immediately turned on their grill again and invited me to a delicious dinner. We ate and talked until quite late into the night. And of course also vodka was offered.
But I only tasted a little bit of it, because the next day I had to drive again. And in all the countries I passed through, there is a absolute ban on alcohol if driving. As a tourist with a foreign license plate, I didn’t want to take any risks.
In the meantime, a former colleague who was born in Novosibirsk had given me some tips for the Altai region as well.
…and in friendly atmosphere
So I planned to spend another night here. But I had to vacate the hut, it was already rented out again. So I wanted to set up my tent and a group of young people who were just leaving offered me their campground.
Around noon it started raining heavily again. So I decided to continue my trip. I did not want to have wet camping equipment in the car. Since I never knew when and where I could dry it for a longer time.
But before I left I had a look at Blue Lake or Geyser Lake. A tip from the young people at the campsite. It is only 2 meters deep and actually not a real geyser as you know it.
The water is not thrown into the air but only pressed from below on the bottom of the lake. But because of this and the sediments at the bottom of the lake a special color of the water and shapes at the water surface are created.
On the Chuysky Trakt
For a long time the road ran alongside the Chuya, a tributary of the Katun. So this highway is also called Chuya Highway or Chuysky Trakt. Whereby ‘trakt’ in Russian means something like trunk road or postal route. Here there were many opportunities for nice photo motives – but unfortunately I couldn’t stop everywhere.
I stopped here only once, at a monument for the builders of the road. It was probably planned since around 1850, but not completed until about 1950.
By the way, I think the section of the Chuysky Trakt between Kosh-Agach and Gorno-Altaysk is the most beautiful. First along the Chuya and later along the Katun. In the direction of Barnaul it gets very touristy and many cars approached me from the greater Novosibirsk area.
People lived here already 2,000 years ago
When I stopped some time later on a large meadow next to the road to find out how far I wanted to drive that day, a jeep with tourists and a young guide came up to me. They told me that I should definitely check out the 2,000 year old rock paintings 200 meters away on the mountain rock.
Great tip, because on Google Maps the place was only marked in cyrillic. And without this hint I would never have thought that there is something to look at here. Because there was nothing fenced in, there was no sign – but no entrance fee as well.
Quite brave of our ancestors to live here. At an altitude between 1,500 and 2,000 meters and then at the temperatures in winter.
Somewhere in this area I spent the night in a private room. Because there were only fully occupied campsites and very few accommodations, but all of them were fully booked.
The next day I continued my trip through this beautiful mountain landscape with the river valleys. All the way to Gorno-Altaysk.
There I met a group of young Russians during dinner. Snowboarders, as I understood.
And we talked for a long time that evening. Afterwards they did not let themselves be dissuaded from accompanying me to my accommodation. Because I was walking from the hotel to the restaurant. Too dangerous for a tourist at night, they said…
At the hotel I went to my car again to get some things. Because after talking to the young people in the restaurant, I decided to stay in Gorno-Altaysk one more day.
Then I found a note under the wipers of the car. From a young Swedish tourist who asked if I could give him a lift. Unfortunately he wanted to go in the opposite direction to Aktash. So to where I just came from.
Nevertheless, we agreed to meet for dinner the next evening. I learned that he wanted to go to the Mongolian border. And actually only to bridge the time until autumn. Then he planned to study in Georgia for 6 months.
Unfortunately I drove through Georgia earlier than he was there. And I couldn’t meet him again, as we had planned.
…and its surroundings
The following day I took a look at the area around Gorno-Altaysk. Sure, it is the main town at the beginning of the Altay mountains, already a medium sized city, and there were correspondingly a lot of tourists.
But you always had a choice: Either you drive a few kilometers into the mountains, to go for a walk or hike. Or you can stay at the river or at one of the lakes, sunbathe or enjoy water sports.
Unfortunately, the lake I had chosen was fenced in and was used as an outdoor swimming pool. And it was so crowded that I decided not to visit it. I already noticed that when I got into the parking lot.
On the way to Barnaul
Behind Gorno-Altaysk the Altay region becomes flatter. And after about a third of the way towards Barnaul, the pretty river valleys have also disappeared.
Because the Katun river flows there into the Ob river. And on its 3,700 km to the Arctic Ocean, the Ob river takes initially a westerly direction. Only in Barnaul did I cross it again.
This is what it looked like in my Landcruiser during the trip. The backpack with papers, laptop and valuables on the passenger seat. In front of it the camera, drinks and snacks. And the GPS tracker on the driver’s seat. While driving it was lying on the dashboard because of the GPS signal. That is why you can sometimes see an orange reflection on the videos of the dashcam. Depending on the position of the sun. And a kitchen roll and toilet paper under the driver’s seat.
The two cables are from the dash cam and to connect the cell phone to the radio. To listen to music and Google Maps directions through the car speakers.
Anyway, I can’t look so much to the right and to left here. The closer I get to Barnaul, the denser the traffic becomes. And finally, Barnaul is a big city with over 600,000 residents. Around 300 km southeast of Novosibirsk.
By the way, I would have liked to go to Novosibirsk as well. But unfortunately there was not enough time. Because I must have left Russia in 2 days. My visa is expiring.
Barnaul – the gateway to the Altay
But there is something happening in the sky again. And there are sometimes very strong short thunderstorms. How it looked like after a thunderstorm at the entrance to Barnaul, there is a short clip in the video below. I’d better wait for this thunderstorm at a gas station. I did’t always want to be the highest point in the landscape with my box on the roof rack.
The motel is located just outside of the city in a new building district. I selected this one as I didn’t want to take the risk of narrow inner city streets with my car. There were also several supermarkets nearby.
Time to refill my provisions. Drinks, snacks and coffee powder for the trip. And some durable food for the evening – in case I can’t find a place to stay.
It was another 300 kilometers from Barnaul to Rubsovsk. Without major highlights. Apart from the overtaking maneuvers of the Russian drivers on this flat and not very winding route. But on the left and right side of the road there were often yellow glowing (canola?) fields.
Rubsovsk – a border town near to the Kazakh border
The hotel in Rubzowsk was also a bit outside. In the vicinity of an industrial area. I wonder if it was built on a former industrial site?
And apparently Google Maps didn’t really know where we were either. Because it constantly changed the direction and guided me through streets with such pretty names as ‘Ulitsa Traktornaya’, ‘Komsomol’skaya Ulitsa’ or ‘Oktyabr’skaya Ulitsa’. And promptly I got lost there first. Somehow the area looked more like 1968 than 2018. Very different from the modern Barnaul or the chic Gorno-Altaysk. But anyway, I didn’t want to move here, I just wanted to sleep one night.
But at some point I found the hotel. A huge fenced off area. With its own security staff. On the property there was a large children’s playground, small pavilions, green spaces, an outdoor disco or event area – and apparently a sales exhibition for antique cars.
The room was excellent too, a suite with a living room, a bedroom and a bathroom. All together including breakfast for 25 US dollars. A bit strange, but exciting. Especially since I was almost the only guest. But maybe this hotel is booked more for family celebrations or events…
Unfortunately I could not enjoy the hotel complex from the afternoon on, because there was something like a tropical rain again. Anyway, the down pipes on the gutters could not hold the water masses any more. By the way, this was also the case in the days before. In the morning the sun was shining brightly. And from noon on, rain without end. Sometimes with, sometimes without thunderstorms.
So I have already planned my first days in Kazakhstan. Because the next day I had to cross the border. And then in the evening I had an excellent dinner.
On to the Kazakh border
The almost 60 km to the border the next day were quickly done. I had filled up my tank, because I didn’t know how refilling would work in Kazakhstan. By the way: It is easy – and the fuel is cheaper than in Russia!
At the border in front of me a German Unimog. The couple wanted to go to Tajikistan on the Pamir Highway. We could only talk for a few minutes, then the border control already started. And it went very quickly. But this time the Russian officials wanted to take a look inside the box on the roof rack. The only time on the whole trip that it was checked. No, there were no state secrets in it. Just tools and oil for the Landcruiser. And an air compressor for the tires.
After just 2 hours I was in Kazakhstan. What I experienced there I will tell you in my next blog post.
Here is a short video of the drive through the Altay mountains through the windshield of the Landcruiser (2m 5s, Music: The 126ers – Water Lily / YouTube Audiolibrary).
And if you want to see more of the Altay, you can also watch my video from 2019 on YouTube (7m 15s).
Cheers, Ruediger 😎