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Ak-Dovurak & Kyzyl-Mazhalyk/Russia

Introducing Ak-Dovurak & Kyzyl-Mazhalyk

The world’s largest open-pit asbestos mine dominates Ak-Dovurak, Tuva’s unlovable second ‘city’. Around 10km away, the main attraction is the Chinggis Khaan stone, a remarkably well-preserved 1.5m-high moustachioed stone idol. To find it, cross the Shui River to Kyzyl-Mazhalyk town then drive 8km towards Ayangalty. About 500m after you pass the turn-off to tiny Bizhiktig Khaya village, the stone figure stands all alone in a field, 400m west of the road. To get close, you may have to pay an admission fee. The surrounding meadows are peppered with less prominent standing stones. Ak-Dovurak taxis want at least R600 return.

Long rows of standing stones and Turkic burial sites can be seen by turning onto a dirt track just before the 10km marker on the Teeli road west of Ak-Dovurak. Most still bear fading petroglyphs. Yet more delicately etched ancient stonework is the star attraction at Kyzyl-Mazhalyk’s Regional Museum, alongside an independence-era newspaper printed in the Tuvan Latin script, a mock-up of a yurt and figures sculpted in a kind of soapstone, a tradition practised in the area since Scythian times.

Ak-Dovurak’s Hotel Cheleesh has cheap, survivable rooms and staff are friendly. It’s upstairs in the rear of the building bearing a giant Soviet-era mural. However, homestays with local families are infinitely more enjoyable; these can be arranged through Kyzyl agencies and helpers.

From Kyzyl, sporadic marshrutky serve Ak-Dovurak (five to seven hours) via Chadan. However, private transfers arranged through Kyzyl agencies allow you to stop along the way and are much safer. Ak-Dovurak city buses run from the centre of town via the bus station (1.5km) to Kyzyl-Mazhalyk.