Sights

After following the Katun River south from Aya for about 150km out of Mayma, you'll start climbing up to the Seminsky Pass, at 1715m the highest point on the entire Chuysky Trakt. Don't let that statistic excite you too much though. The climb up to the pass is very gentle and if there wasn't a sign to inform you that you'd arrived, you'd probably just race on over. If you do stop though, you'll find snack and souvenir kiosks up here along with a winter sports training centre and, rising gradually to the east, bleak and bald Mt Sarlyk (2507m). If you're looking for a relatively easy and easy-to-access climb in central Altai, Mt Sarlyk is your answer.

The road descends through Tuekta (km611) and Onguday (km634), then starts climbing again up to the beautiful, serpentine Chike-Taman Pass (km663). The pass acquired its name, which means ‘flat sole’ in Altai, before the Chuysky Trakt was built. The old road was so steep that locals believed you could see the bottom of the shoe of the person walking ahead of you. Today the pass is a more gradual affair, but from near the top (take the path behind the souvenir stands) you can still see the old road, which remains open to off-road vehicles. As with the Seminsky Pass there are a number of snack shops and souvenir stands here, some of which sell morally questionable bear and wolf paws turned into key rings and such like.

The pass descends through Kupchegen (km674), with aily (yurt-like traditional Altai dwellings) in almost every yard and the scenery rapidly starts to become more impressive. At km684 you rejoin the Katun River, last seen in Ust-Sema, and at km689 you get your first view of the high Altai mountains as the snow-capped Northern Chuya range comes into view. Next up is Maly Yaloman (km696), which sits in a cliff-ringed curl of river and has a microclimate allowing local villagers to grow pears, cherries and apples. Indeed, Altai is known for its myriad microclimates, and as you drive the length of the Chuysky Trakt you'll be amazed how dramatically the landscape changes with every bend in the road.

When you enter Inya (km703), be sure to keep your eyes open for what may be the most dramatically placed and memorable Lenin statue in Russia. At km712.5, picnic tables and prayer flags tempt you to stop for wonderful views of the meeting of the Chuya and Katun Rivers far below. Just beside the slip road for the simple Chuy-Oozy cafe at km714.2, very lightly scored road-side petroglyphs depict little antelope figures. But the big sight here, if you can spot it, is the legendary ‘rock face’ on the left bank of the Katun. If you can’t make out its ‘features’, pop into the cafe and check out the helpful drawing hanging on a wall. Then go out and have another look. All should now be clear!

Some 3km before the tiny settlement of Iodro, on the left-hand side, stands a stone idol with a well-preserved and somewhat haunting face. There’s another petroglyph group at Yalbak Tash crag, a five-minute walk north of km721. The road then snakes scenically through the Chuya Canyon. At km761, look up to the right for a glimpse of a waterfall crashing out of the hills. At km782 you enter Chibit, where there's an enticing camp on the river with partial views of the snow-capped Mt Aktru (4044m) and Mt Kurkurek (3982m).

Clouds permitting, the best views on the whole Chuysky Trakt are between Aktash (km790) and Kosh-Agach (km889). A few hundred metres beyond km796 is a small, sulphurous and electric blue geyser lake. From km801 to km811 the Northern Chuyas are right in your face and you'll want to stop the car as much as possible for photos. Beyond this you begin to traverse the vast and desolate Kuray and Chuy Steppes, with distant panoramas of perennially snow-topped peaks. The Kuray Steppe regularly hosts Russia’s paragliding championships. The cold and bleak village of Kuray is home to the Altai National Park office and is the launch pad for assaults on Mt Aktru.

The road leading to Kosh-Agach sees the greenery start to die out, and the scenery gradually transforms into something resembling a lunar landscape.