The route looping round to Abakan from Tuva via Askiz is scenically varied, often beautiful and mesmerisingly vast in scale, though the Chinggis Khaan stone near Ak-Dovurak is virtually the only real ‘sight’. While independent travel is feasible, you’ll see a lot more in Tuva’s west in the company of a local or a guide hired in Kyzyl.
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.
Kyzyl to Ak-Dovurak
The spectacularly picturesque and virtually traffic-free grassland route from Kyzyl to Ak-Dovurak is lined with sacred mountains, nomads’ yurts and newly raised stupas. Some 80km out of Kyzyl, dramatic Mt Khayyrakan (1148m), a spiky ridge blessed by the 14th Dalai Lama in 1992, comes into view but isn’t reached until km107.
On the Yenisey’s northern bank, multiple springs gurgle straight from the rocks amid totem poles and trees heavy with prayer flags at cliff-side Bobry Istochnik (Beaver Spring). This popular barbecue and picnic spot with picturesque Kyzyl views can only be reached by taxi (at least R1000).
From Kyzyl to Erzin
The paved M54 offers a wonderfully varied scenic feast with archetypal Central Asian grassland, then parkland-style rolling woodlands after Balgazyn, thickening to pine forest beyond the food halt at Shurmak. Spot shamanic cairns and prayer-rag ticker tape on passes and herders’ yurts in picturesque meadows.