What is Chuisky Tract and where is it located?
Chuisky Tract is a highway linking Russia with Mongolia and China, and is considered a national treasure for the stunning beauty of the natural surroundings.
Chuisky Tract is a highway in southern Siberia connecting Novosibirsk to the border between Russia and Mongolia in the Altai Republic. The official name is the federal highway R256 “Chuisky Trakt”. Until 2018, the route was also indexed M52. Chuisky tract is one of the sections of the trans-Asian highway AH4 Novosibirsk – Karachi. The last populated point in the Russian Federation is the village of Tashanta in the Kosh-Agachsky district of the Altai Republic. After crossing the border with Mongolia, the highway continues with the dirt highway A0306 border with Russia – Ulgiy (Bayan-Ulagey, Mongolia).
Nowadays, the name Chuisky Tract is applied to the entire R265 highway, but the historical route has a shorter length. It began in Biysk (Altai Krai) and continued to the Mongolian border. For the majority of tourists this part of the highway is the most interesting. Here is the mountain part of the highway and the highest passes of the route – Seminsky and Chike-Taman. In the Altai Republic, the Chuisky Route runs along the Katun River, the main waterway in the region. It was named after the tributary of the Katun River Chuya, which lies in the southern part of the republic.
Route R265 can be conditionally divided into three parts:
- middle mountains;
- high-mountainous with peaks and hollows.
The plain part starts in Novosibirsk and continues to Gorno-Altaisk, the route passes through Biysko-Chumyshskaya upland in this place. From Gorno-Altaisk to Aktash village there is a middle part with two passes. From Aktash to the border is a high-mountain part.
The history of the tract’s construction
The automobile road, which appeared here in the XX century, has its origin in the trail of pilgrims of the XVIII century. At that time, it was used for religious processions of Mongols and Oirat people from the territory of modern Mongolia to the Buddhist tract Bayhach in the upper reaches of the Katun River. In the 19th century, the trail was used by Mongols to visit the fair in the border village of Kosh-Agach. At that time, it was only a pack-hill mountain path with rocky ledges on which two caravans in a chain could not separate.
At the very beginning of the XX century, after the allocation of money, the trail was rebuilt into the Chuysky path, a road 3.5 m wide in the main body and 2 m wide on the rocky ledges. Wheeled vehicles such as wagons, carts and tarataiks could already pass along this path. However, immediately after the construction of the tract began to deteriorate and in a couple of years almost returned to its pristine condition.
The modern route of the Chuysky tract was prepared in 1916 after the surveys of the expedition headed by the famous writer and engineer V. Shishkov (the author of “Ugryum River”). However, because of the outbreak of the Civil War, plans for the construction of the highway were not fated to come true. And the remaining infrastructure of the highway (bridges) was finally destroyed during the Civil War.
The restoration of the tract began in 1925 and lasted 10 years. The main work was done by hand by residents of Altai villages and prisoners of the 7th branch of the Siblag. The first cars passed along the route in 1925, and a year later tractors drove along the road, causing a commotion among the local residents. In 1935, work on the construction of the highway was completed.
Since 1961, the entire road from Novosibirsk to the Mongolian border was named Chuisky Tract. In the 80s, the road was straightened, a new Chike-Taman Pass was built, and an asphalt surface finally appeared here as well.
Today, the Chuisky Tract is a fairly modern and well-appointed highway leading from Southern Siberia to Mongolia. The historical Chuysky tract stretches from Biysk to Tashanty (Republic of Altai) for 630 km, it is a two-lane road with two mountain passes: Seminsky (1709 m) and Chike-Taman (1269 m). Seminsky pass is characterized by a long descent and ascent, Chike-Taman – a large number of mountain serpentines.
From Biysk to the town of Babyrgan in the Republic of Altai, the foothill part continues. The high-mountain part of the highway begins from the village of Aktash and continues to the border. Here the road is laid at an altitude of just under 2 km above sea level. There is a border zone in Kosh-Agach; you have to present your Russian passport to continue. Foreigners are not allowed to go further without the permission of the frontier service.
Climate and weather
Because of its length and topographic features, the Chuisky Tract climate is not homogeneous. The northern part of the highway from Novosibirsk to Biysk is laid out in an area with a moderate continental climate. The average annual temperature ranges from +1.8°C in Novosibirsk to +3.2°C in Biisk. Winters are cold, with a steady snow cover. In January, the average temperature ranges from -14 to 16 °C. Summers are hot, in July the average temperature reaches between +19 and +20 °C. Humidity is average, year-round, with maximum precipitation in July. The foothills, including Gorno-Altaisk, have a milder climate – it is slightly warmer in winter and slightly cooler in summer than in the steppes of Novosibirsk Oblast and Altai Krai.
The mountain passes (Seminsky and Chike-Taman) are characterized by a harsh climate with very low temperatures in winter. The segments between the passes lie in the medium altitude plateau conditions. These areas (Aktash, Ongudai, Inya) are characterized by a dry climate with little snowy winters, clear weather and noticeable winds. The average annual temperature is -0.3 °C.
The most severe climatic conditions along the Chuysky tract are noted in the intermountain hollows – Kurai and Chuysky steppes. This is explained by the phenomenon of temperature inversion – in winter, all the cold air accumulates in the lowlands, so the temperature rises as the altitude rises. Frosts in the Chui Steppe can reach -60 ° C. The period without frosts usually does not exceed 2 months, but they can also happen in summer. The average temperature in January is -32 ° C, in July, the air temperature averages +14 ° C. In addition to extremely low temperatures, the Chui Basin is distinguished by the minimum amount of precipitation. Their average annual amount is only 80-150 mm, and they fall only in summer. The only plus of the local climate is almost always sunny (more than 300 days a year).
Large settlements along the road
The largest population center of the Chuysky tract lies at the base of the highway. Novosibirsk is the largest city on the highway with a population of more than 1 million 600 thousand people. Also among the major cities lying on the highway are:
- Berdsk (100 thousand inhabitants);
- Iskitim (57 thousand);
- Novoaltaysk (73 thousand);
- Barnaul (633 thousand);
- Biysk (203 thousand);
- Gorno-Altaisk (63,000) is the only city in the Altai Republic.
The last relatively large settlement on the route is Kosh-Agach, which lies in the Chui Steppe and has a population of 9,000.
Infrastructure of the highway
Excellent quality asphalt is laid along the whole length of the Chuisky Tract. From Novosibirsk to Biysk, the highway is a classic Russian federal highway with lots of gas stations, cafes, and places to stay overnight. The historic Chuysky tract can be divided into two parts: the section from Biysk to Aktash and the section from Aktash to the border. The first section is the tourist center of Altai with a good infrastructure, a lot of villages, tourist bases, and attractions.
Just after Aktash the place becomes more deserted, the next pockets of civilization are in Kosh-Agach in 100 km from Aktash, though 15 km before Kosh-Agach there are a couple of hotels on the Tydtuyaryk river. From Kosh-Agach to Tashanta area is almost deserted, there are no gas stations, no hotels, almost no cell phone service.
The Chuisky Tract in Winter
Winter travel along the Chuisky Tract involves some complications. Unlike most of the mountain roads, the main danger that awaits travelers on the Chuisky tract is not snow drifts, but ice. This is why the highway is regularly sprinkled with antifreeze on the territory of the Altai Republic in winter. The probability of avalanches is low. Low temperatures can cause trouble in the Chui and Kurai hollows, so traveling along the tract in winter in this area is an extreme activity.
Sightseeing and interesting places
Chuisky Tract is the axial route of the Altai Republic, or as it is often called here – “the road of life”. This is one of the most beautiful roads in Russia and all over the world with many natural sights. Crossing the “Golden Mountains”, as Altai is translated from Mongolian, you can visit many interesting places.
The Chuisky Tract Museum is located in Biisk, the starting point of the historical road. Here you can find documents and photographs related to the construction of the highway. Address of the museum: Central lane, 10.
There are three objects in the Republic of Altai: the river, the lake and the village. All of them are located 25 km west of Gorno-Altaisk on the opposite bank of the Katun river from the highway. The most interesting is the lake, in the middle of which there is a wooden “Pavilion of Love”. You can get to the pavilion by boat or even by swimming. The water in the lake is quite warm, which distinguishes Ayu from most of the mountain lakes of the Altai.
Arzhaan-Suu is a spring that has the status of a natural monument of the Republic of Altai. The spring is situated at the 478th kilometer of the Chuisky Tract, 7 kilometers from Manzherok village. Water in the spring is rich in minerals and chemical elements (silver and iron), and among the Altai people the spring is considered sacred. Therefore, according to Altai beliefs, the trees near the spring are tied with white ribbons.
Tavda caves are located near the Arzhaan-Suuk key, but on the other bank of the Katun river. You can get here by turning off the highway and crossing the bridge over the Katun River in the area of the special economic zone “Biryuzovaya Katun” (opposite to the spring). Tavda caves – an array of more than 30 karst caves with the total length of about 30 km. The caves are located on steep cliffs, but the vast majority of them are accessible and actively visited. The most famous cave is Bolshaya Tavdinskaya, which also bears the second name “Maiden’s Tears”.
The village of Aktash is a former mining settlement where mercury was once mined. However, Aktash is better known not for its architectural delights but for the fact that the middle part of the tract ends here and the highlands begin. So, Aktash is the border between the developed part of the tract and its extreme part.
Kurai steppe is a model of a rare landscape phenomenon “giant ripple currents”, the most extraordinary views can be observed in the south of the basin near the Tete River. The giant rippling current is a consequence of a glacial lake that once existed in the basin and melted and formed a bizarre pattern on the soil of the valley, most resembling the bare sandy bottom of the river. The sand waves in the Kurai steppe are up to 20 meters in size.
According to the rating of the National Geographic magazine, Chuysky tract is in the top ten most beautiful roads in the world. One can enjoy breathtaking landscapes, as if moved from the paintings of Nikolai Roerich, who once searched for Shambala in the Altai Mountains. This highway is a treasure in itself, not inferior to other attractions of Altai.
Roads can be sights, too. Examples are the Atlantic Ocean Road in Norway, the Great Gateway in China and the Great Ocean Road on the Australian continent. In the top 10 most beautiful roads in the world, the magazine National Geographic also included the Chuysky tract in Altai. It was the first full-fledged road connecting Russia and China.
From Siberia to the Indian Ocean
On the road maps, the Chuisky tract is numbered R256. The 968-kilometer route begins in Novosibirsk and ends in the village of Tashanta, on the very border with Mongolia. It crosses the Novosibirsk region, Altai Krai and the Republic of Altai. Along the road are cities such as Berdsk, Novoaltaisk, Biysk, and others.
The zero kilometer of the Chuisky tract in Biisk
In its turn, the highway is a part of the trans-Asian highway AH4. Its foreign part begins in the Mongolian border town of Yarantai . Then the road goes through the Chinese Urumqi and ends in the Pakistani port of Karachi. Thus, having started in Siberia, it is possible to reach the Indian Ocean with a breeze.
Stages of the big road
Most roads have no history. To be more exact, of course, they have a history, but no one knows it except road builders. Chuysky trakt is quite another thing! This road has a rich history, even school textbooks tell about it. The thing is that thousands of years ago, on the site of today’s highway, there was the Mungal Route, which was used to transport goods from Russia to China and back. Of course, it was not the Great Silk Road, but it too was of great importance.
Monument to the builders of the route
The construction of the caravan trail began in the second half of the 19th century. The money for the construction was allocated by the Siberian railroad and Biysk merchants. In 1901, construction began, which was led by engineer I.I. Biel. However, the first pancake turned out to be a hollow. The constructed section worked for several years and collapsed. However, the merchants’ income increased six times for that short period!
The Museum of the Chuysky tract in Biisk. The first years of the highway operation
Since the route promised great profits, it was decided to resume construction. In 1914, exploratory work began, and two years later the route appeared on the map. Convicts from the surrounding camps, including many repressed, were involved in the construction of the route. Officially, the Chuisky Route began to operate January 1, 1935.
Chuisky Tract: step by step
Looking at the map of attractions of Altai, you can find a lot of unusual natural monuments. For example, the state protects a single cedar in the village of Zalesovo and the steppe near the village of Sibiryachka. No less interesting is the question of the origin of many place names, giving reason to fantasize. For example, at Snake Mountain, perhaps, a snake frightened the surveyors. And during the study of the Katornaya cave, too much time and effort was spent.
Zigzags of the Chuy highway
Chuysky tract is very popular among auto-, moto- and bicycle-tourists. This is due not only to the picturesque landscapes, which abound on the road, but also a large number of remarkable places located in the immediate vicinity of the route. Well, let’s take a virtual trip along the legendary road.
37 km. Berdsk. On the Berdsk Bay there are lots of tourist facilities, sanatoriums and resorts. The main natural hit of these places are considered the Berdsk Rocks. They are a high rocky site along the right bank of the Berd. The river makes a sharp turn there by 180 degrees.
The beauties of the Altai plains
217 km. Novoaltaysk. The approach road to Barnaul. The capital of the Altai Krai is a little bit to the west of the highway, nevertheless, it’s worth seeing. The city was founded during the reign of Peter the Great. It appeared due to the discovery of a copper deposit. Demidov, a famous Urals factory owner, chose the place to build a copper smelting plant on the bank of the Barnaulka river. This happened in 1730.
Nadezhda Krupskaya, moving to Vladimir Ilyich in Shushenskoye, as it were, was returning to her native land. Her grandfather, Vasily Ivanovich Tistrov, was a native of Barnaul. In 1823 he became the first keeper of the Altai Museum of Local Lore, which is still in force. It is worth a visit to get an idea of the history and peculiarities of the region.
Monument to Peter I in Biisk
250 km. At the turn to the village of Verkhneye Zhilino of Kosikhinsky district there is a modest sign – “House-museum of pilot-cosmonaut German Titov. From the neighboring Kosikha village comes the poet Robert Rozhdestvensky.
364 km. In Biysk museum of local lore there is an exposition devoted to Chuysky tract. There are not only maps, plans and photos, but also ancient artifacts, which archaeologists found during the construction of the road. The museum has models of cars of that time, a chauffeur’s suit, as well as paintings dedicated to the legendary road.
400 km. Srozki. Altai land is extremely rich in outstanding people. The village of Sirozki in Biysk district is the birthplace of Vasily Shukshin. Tourists visit the museum-reserve and the house where the famous writer lived. There is a monument to Shukshin on Mount Piket. Interesting is the sculpture park “Freaks”. The prototypes for the funny wooden figures are the characters of Vasily Shukshin’s stories.
Monument to Vasily Shukshin in Syrostki
416 km. Isha River. On the shore there are excellent places to rest. Since the current is smooth, you can swim and sunbathe on a sandy beach. Fishermen are waiting for excellent fishing.
453 km. Maima. The settlement is an access road to Gorno-Altaisk, the capital of the Altai Republic. The most ancient monument of the Lower Paleolithic Epoch is the Ulalinskaya site of ancient man, discovered in 1961. It is located within Gorno-Altaisk. Ancient findings from this place are stored in the local local history museum. Here, for example, you can see stone knives and arrows that were made tens of thousands of years ago.
Near the village of Nizhne-Kayancha, which is administratively part of Altai Krai, there is a tourist complex “Biryuzovaya Katun”. There is a water park, an artificial lake, ski slopes, hotels and recreation centers. The complex is located near Gorno-Altaisk.
511 km. From the village Ust-Sema, which is on the Chuysky tract, you can go to the district center Chemal. In these places on the banks of the Katun River, the so-called Chemalsky tupik is formed. The largest Altai recreation area stretches from Chemal to Souzga village. It includes camping sites, hostels and hotels where you can stay for a night or for a long vacation.
530 km. Cherga. In the village you can sell original ceramic souvenirs. There is an opportunity to fly a hang-glider.
652 km. Ongudai. To these remote places go lovers of extreme entertainment. Ongudai, Kosh-Agachsky and Ulagan districts are especially popular. There are hiking trails along the Northern and Southern Chui Ranges.
686 km. Chike-Taman Pass. This beautiful place is between villages Khabarovka and Kupchegen. There is a viewing platform at the pass, where you can enjoy the panoramic view. There is a cafe where you can have a nice lunch. Fragments of the old road, built by prisoners of the SibLAG, are preserved around the pass.
691 km. Kupchegen. Near the ancient village, archeologists dug out an ancient settlement. The complex was called Kor-Kechu. Among the natural attractions of these places is Ilgumensky rapids. This is a favorite place for extreme rafting enthusiasts.
710 km. River terraces on the Katun are considered another natural hit.
722 km. Inya. Not far from the village there are a large number of ancient mounds. A well-known archaeological site is the Ininsky steles, which are about two meters high. No less impressive is the Ininsky suspension bridge across the Katun. It was the world’s first double-chain suspension bridge.
731 km. Chuya River, which gave its name to the tract. The place where it merges with the Katun is popular among tourists.
744 km. On the legendary route you can find monuments to unusual characters. Here, for example, the hero of an old song called “There is a road along the Chuisky Tract” is immortalized. The words to it were written by the Altai poet Mikhail Mikheev. It is dedicated to a simple chauffeur, Kolka Snegirev, who drove an AMO truck. He was passionately in love with a girl Raya. She was also a chauffeur, but she drove a Ford. The song became a hit of the 1930s. They even based it on the movie “Two Chauffeurs Were Driving”.
A monument to the chauffeur Kolka Snegirev
In the 1970s, a monument to the legendary driver was erected near the Bely Bom rock in the Ongudai region. The money for it was raised by the friends of the real-life shofer Nikolai Kovalev, who served as the prototype for the hero of the song. The memorial plaque had its lyrics engraved on it. It is believed that this is where Snegirev crashed. In 2014, a new monument was erected, and the old one was moved to the Chuysky Tract Museum.
865 km. Kyzyl-Chin Landscapes. In the Chui steppe, on the outskirts of Chagan-Uzun village, there are unusual multicolored mountains resembling the Martian landscape.
942 km. Tashanta. The finishing point of the Chuysky Tract. There is a border checkpoint in the village. Russian-Mongolian border is crossed here. Near the village, there are petroglyphs of primitive people.
From ancient times.
In Altai, on the outskirts of the Chuisky Tract, there are many places of worship built by the hands of ancient people. For example, near the village of Tigirek, Krasnoschekovsky district, there is the so-called Lev Mountain. It got its name from the rock that resembles an Egyptian sphinx. On the tops of nearby mountains, archaeologists found flat worked stones. Apparently, they played the role of altars.
Altai is also known for its kurgans. They are attributed to the so-called Ur Ur culture. In some of the graves, mummies have been found – just like in Egypt! The age of some burial mounds exceeds 5000 years! They are older than the Egyptian pyramids. Equally interesting are the step pyramids, which are about one and a half meters high. They are set right on top of the mounds. They were found in the Charyshsky area on the bank of the river Sentelek.
Sometimes in these regions surprising things are found. They tell a case when near the village Pokrovka a boy fell underground. His mother soon found a piece of gold, which was clearly made many centuries ago. Word of the find quickly spread around the county, and soon archeologists arrived in the village. They used excavators and shovels to remove the topsoil where the child had fallen. A statue of an Indian deity turned up in the earthen niche. The “Golden Buddha” weighed 25 kg!
A place of power
The Altai Mountains are famous for numerous caves. One of them – Scary – is on the river Inya in Krasnoschekovsky area. A seven-meter cultural layer has been found there – ashes, bones, objects made by the ancient inhabitants of these places. Archaeologists have been studying the place for a long time.
On the Inya River there is another, no less amazing, cave. It is in a crater, on top of a large mountain that has a pyramidal shape. At the bottom of the crater is a large lake. That is where the entrance to the cave is located. They say that no one has ever been able to go through it to the end.
The beauties of Altai Mountains
And also Altai is considered a “place of power” . Mounds, rock paintings, stone steles – all this can be found in the mountain valleys. In these parts have preserved many ancient religious buildings. Perhaps, in the future, the region will become the center of sensational discoveries. So far, the barrier to its study is the inaccessibility of some areas. But Altai is patiently waiting for its explorers!