The Altai Ring: the village of Kosh-Agach and the Chuya Steppe

On the next stage of my journey, I take a trip to the Chuya Steppe and the Kazakh village of Kosh-Agach.
Strictly speaking, this district of the Altai Republic is not usually part of the circular route. A trip to Kosh-Agach from the villages of Chibit or Aktash, where the circular route goes, adds an extra 100 kilometers of travel in one direction, not including stopovers at attractions.

The landscape’s astonishing shift from the green mountain taiga to the semi-desert Chuya Steppe and the culture of the Altai Kazakhs were my main impressions of this trip. The second day of the trip can be dedicated to the alpine meadow zone and trekking to the Aktru Glacier.
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The Chuya Steppe is an intermountain basin that is 100 kilometers long and up to 40 kilometers wide in some places; it is located at an altitude of 1800 meters. The basin’s terrain is predominantly semi-desert with a nearly perfectly flat bottom; it is surrounded by mountain ranges on all sides. The Chuya Steppe’s geographical location makes it the coldest and most arid place in the Altai Republic. It’s almost always sunny here. The temperature here may be as frigid as −62°С in the winter, and as hot as +30°С in the summer.
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The village of Kosh-Agach is located in the middle of the Chuya Steppe. Due to the harsh climate with a 100°C seasonal temperature variance, the living conditions here are on par with those in the Russian Far North, even though Kosh-Agach is located in the very south of Russia. According to Russian law, this status means that all local residents who are employed in the government service receive a 40% salary supplement. This is still the Soviet system of northern coefficients. A large part of the population in this area are Kazakhs who resettled here at the end of the 19th century. The main occupation, as in the rest of the Altai Republic, is livestock farming. They even keep camels.
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A space for an office or shop is for rent in Kosh-Agach.

Kosh-Agach is mainly interesting for its ambience, the Kazakh and Central Asian cuisine, and its market, where you can find numerous products made out of Mongolian wool and carpets made by Kazakh craftswomen from the village of Zhana-Aul.
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The Chuya Highway is the only official road in this district. In fact, there’s no need for any other roads—you can drive in any direction across the flat desert of the Chuya Steppe. Every now and then in the steppe, you come across herders’ resting places, but these ones here are covered with clay and have a flat roof, unlike the wooden ones in the rest of Altai. There is almost no precipitation here anyways.
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Dung cakes for heating are being dried on a roof

There is a border zone that begins immediately outside of Kosh-Agach. It’s forbidden to enter the border zone without a special permit. The Russia-Mongolia border is a mere 65 kilometers from here.
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The Altai Ring
  • 8 days
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