Frozen in stone legends
One of the most interesting and breathtaking views that could be seen by visiting the Airakty Shumanai Valley. The valley looks like an ancient and deserted mystical city. Weathered cliffs look like medieval castles with high towers and massive ramparts.
The valley is a mountain range that consists of low remnant mountains. Once upon a time, this area was the bottom of the ancient ocean Tethys. The Mangyshlak Peninsula rose from the ocean about 25 million years ago as a result of a powerful earthquake. Soft cretaceous marine sediments raised above the water and dissected by numerous fissures. The ocean eroded soft rocks(mainly chalk) and by it created an unusual and colourful landscape of canyons, mountain ranges, caves. After the ocean finally lowered, mighty winds and the scorching sun completed the creation of this natural masterpiece.
Without a doubt, the main feature of the castle valley is the white mountain of Airakty. A high mountain with sheer weathered walls looks like an ancient antique temple with a magnificent colonnade. By walking a small winding path, you can climb to the very top of this mountain to a small observation deck, which grants a breathtaking panoramic view of the magical Airakty castles. Incredible colours appear on the mountain at the time of sunset. Travellers try to stay overnight to see with their own eyes the famous white mountain of Airakty under the sky full of stars.
On the walls of the chalk mountain, you can see and admire the scratched drawings that are called petroglyphs. There are various images of camels, horses and other animals of the steppe. The most important and sacred animal is the mouflon. One of the most beloved scenes is a hunter's bullet hitting a mouflon. There are two main versions of why this plot is considered sacred. According to the first version, this image represents a ritual before the hunt; according to the second version, it is gratitude for the successful hunting and prey.
In the vicinity of the valley, you can find nodules (spherical mineral formations), that formed around an ancient mollusc or another fossil. Some of them are balls with almost perfect shape and diameter up to 2-3 meters. According to one of the local ancient legends, those balls were the enemy army that attempted to conquer this land and was subsequently turned into stones.
One of the parts of the Great Silk Road once ran through the valley. Legends tell about buried treasures and wealth. Some of the tourists arrive at the valley equipped with metal detectors to search for a hidden treasure.
In addition to the ridge itself, you can spend hours admiring the nature of this marvellous land. If you are lucky, you can see in the Valley of Castles magnificent mouflons - mountain sheep. Wild horses and camels often graze nearby.
Recently, to attract tourists archaeologist, Andrei Astafyev, created a gallery of giant geoglyphs. Five majestic stone masterpieces attract attention and impress with a scale. They became a real enrichment of the Valley of Castles, giving it an unforgettable Turkic feeling.
The best time to visit the valley is in spring. After warm spring rains, the whole valley is covered with blooming Sogdian tulips, and the air is filled with a wonderful aroma.
For tourists, an ethnic village was recently built near the valley. It is located in the Kogez area between the castle valley and the legendary Sherkala mountain. Yurts were built on the territory of the ethnic aul; their interior decoration is made in the national style. Travellers can enjoy all modern amenities, internet and telephone. The ethnic aul season opens in April and lasts until late autumn.
How to get there
You can get to Airakty - Shumanai from Aktau in a rented car, the road will take you about 2 hours (176 km).
Travel companies as well organize tours for groups by bus or off-road cars.
Useful travel tips
For the first trip to Airakty - Shumanai, we recommend you to hire a guide who will show you the most interesting and safe pathways and the best observation points.
If you are planning a long walk around the valley, we recommend you to stock up on water and wear comfortable shoes and a hat.