Altai Republic, Russia

The Altai Republic is located in the south of Western Siberia. It borders with the republics of Tuva and Khakassia, the Altai Territory and the Kemerovo Region, and also has a federal border with China, Mongolia and Kazakhstan.

First of all, the Altai Republic is a country of mountains, glaciers, lakes, mountain rivers, and waterfalls. The republic is home to the highest mountain in Siberia - Belukha. The Katun River originates in the glaciers of this mountain, which, merging with the calm Biya, originating in Lake Teletskoye, form the third most water-bearing river in Russia - the Ob. There are many mountain ranges in the republic: Katunsky, Kuraisky, North Chuysky, Yuzhno-Chuysky, striking with the beauty of their rocks and snowfields, and attracting climbers. Stormy mountain rivers with many rapids, such as Chuya, Katun, Argut, Chulyshman, Bashkaus, attract rafting enthusiasts. The nature of Altai is very contrasting. Here you can find cold snowfields, alpine meadows, mountain taiga, desert rocky mountain tundra, and permafrost.

Gorny Altai offers recreation for tourists of varying levels of training. You can simply relax peacefully on the banks of a mountain river, enjoying the mountain air and beautiful scenery in close proximity to civilization, at a tourist base with all modern amenities. Or you can go on a long hike or horseback trip to places where people rarely set foot. You can drive along the smooth asphalt of the Chuisky tract to the border with Mongolia by car, enjoying the ever-changing landscape. Or you can take a jeep tour to the Ukok plateau, overcoming unpaved rocky passes, alpine swamps and fording mountain rivers. Mountain and climbing routes have varying degrees of difficulty, and are unlikely to leave both novice and professional climbers indifferent. Water routes also have varying degrees of difficulty, allowing both unprepared people to try this active sport, and extreme rafters to test their strength on routes of the 6th category. A variety of places and ways to spend time can guarantee that each subsequent trip to the republic will be unlike any previous one.

The Altai Republic is a country of history and archeology. Many ancient archaeological finds were made here, and the Pazyryk culture was discovered. In Altai you can see ancient rock paintings – petroglyphs – in person. There are several museums in Gorny Altai.

Tourism is one of the main industries of the Altai Republic. Up to 1 million tourists visit the republic annually. There are a large number of tourist centers, tourist sites, campsites, and hotels in the republic.



Gorno-Altaysk is the capital of the republic and the only city on its territory. Together with the neighboring village of Maima, this is the gateway to the Altai Mountains and a transit point, where there is especially no need to linger, except perhaps to visit the national museum and spend the night in comfort.





The Chuysky tract is the main highway of the republic. It begins all the way in Novosibirsk, but its most picturesque section covers the last 400 km before the Mongolian border, where the road first overcomes the high Seminsky Pass, then the picturesque Chike-Taman Pass, descends to the Katun and winds along with it among the mountains. On this section you can see a lot of interesting things without leaving the highway: gorges, waterfalls, the picturesque confluence of the Katun and Chuya and the famous petroglyphs in the Kalbak-Tash tract. Beyond Aktash, the road leads out into the harsh Chui steppe and reaches the border with Mongolia.

The Chulyshman Valley, facing the southern shore of Lake Teletskoye, is sandwiched on both sides by steep mountains, which is why it is often called a canyon. For the same reason, there are many waterfalls here that can be observed directly from the road. After spending a day hiking, you can enjoy the largest waterfall in the region, which is called Uchar in Altai. Much closer are the bizarre relief forms in the form of stone mushrooms in the Akkurum tract. The road to the Chulyshman valley is interesting in itself. It starts from the Ulagansky tract, which departs from Chuysky in the village of Aktash, and the asphalt also fades into the background, found only in a few inclusions at the very beginning of the path. Having overcome the highest asphalt pass in the republic, the Ulagansky pass (2080 m), passing near numerous lakes of the Ulagansky plateau, the road approaches a difficult and breathtaking descent into the valley - the Katu-Yaryk pass.

The North Chuysky ridge impresses with snowy peaks, two of which exceed a height of 4000 meters. Breathtaking panoramic views of the ridge open directly from the Chuisky tract - from the harsh Kurai steppe, a large intermountain basin located at an altitude of one and a half kilometers. Having reached the steppe along excellent asphalt, you can continue your journey along difficult mountain roads and get to Aktra - one of the main centers of mountaineering in the republic, where you can literally touch the glaciers, and where glaciologists have long been studying the glaciation of Altai. In the steppe itself you can see a curious geological phenomenon - a giant ripple of the current. In the vicinity of the ridge there are many hiking and horse riding routes available, the most famous of which is the path to the group of Shavlinsky lakes, in the surface of which the majestic peaks Mechta, Skazka and Krasavitsa are reflected.

The Chui steppe is located on the tract of the same name near the border with Mongolia. In terms of exotic landscapes, it can compete with any other place in Altai: a huge desert steppe, with squirrels of the South Chuya Range in the distance, herds of camels and sarlyks, and mountain rivers - rare green oases in this area. And here you can get to Mars, of course not the real one, but the bright multi-colored clays of the Kyzyl-Chin tract can make such an impression. The Chui steppe is the gateway to the inaccessible high mountain plateau of Ukok, famous for its archaeological find - the princess of Ukok.

Turquoise Katun is a special economic zone along a section of the Chuysky tract in the Gorno-Altaisk region, a hotbed of mass tourism on the picturesque banks of the Katun. In the surrounding area there are such signs of civilization as a chair lift, which allows you to see the beautiful Lake Manzherok from above, the Tavdinsky caves equipped for tourists, and even a casino.

The Chemalsky tract branches off from the Chuysky tract in the village of Ust-Sema and goes along the valley of the Katun, already a large, but still a real mountain river with many rapids. The mountains along the tract are still not high, but the climate of the area is mild by Siberian standards, a variety of accommodation options, from modern tourist centers to rural houses and campsites, and entertainment, from horseback riding to rafting along the Katun and helicopter excursions, makes it a good point for a gentle acquaintance with Altai . The center of tourist life is the village of Chemal, famous for the historical Chemal hydroelectric power station, the rocky island of Patmos with an Orthodox church and dangerously swaying suspension bridges. And from the neighboring village of Elekmonar begins a mountain road, or rather the direction along which off-road trucks and UAZs take tourists to the cascade of the purest Karakol lakes, located at an altitude of about 2000 meters.

Lake Teletskoye is surrounded by mountains and waterfalls. Narrow, curved and very long, it looks more like a fjord. The northwestern part of the lake, accessible by road, is entirely occupied by guest houses and tourist centers, but beyond that there is nothing of this, since the lake cannot be moved except by boat or boat. In summer, a regular ferry passes through the lake, reaching the southern shore and the Chulyshman valley, where the Ulagansky highway leads out.

Mount Belukha is the main peak of Altai (4509 m), located on the Katunsky Ridge; its conquest will require mountaineering skills. Those who don’t have them can go on a multi-day hike to Lake Akkem and take a walk in its surroundings, which offer beautiful views of the Altai four-thousand-meter mountain range. The Katunsky Range is rich in hiking and horseback riding routes: for example, the route to Belukha is often complemented by a visit to the picturesque Kucherlinskoye Lake. And in the west of the ridge there is a cascade of Multinsky lakes, which deserves a separate trip.

The Uimon Valley in the southeast of the republic is one of the most unusual places in Altai. For a long time, Old Believers who fled persecution lived here; this place was often associated with the mysterious Belovodye: a belief that was strengthened by Roerich, who visited here with the expedition. Hundreds of followers have now followed in his footsteps, having built pyramids and other strange structures in the valley, among which you can still meet Old Believers and visit several interesting museums. There are no major natural attractions in the valley itself, but there is a road along it to the village of Tyungur - the starting point for hiking and horseback riding to the main peak of Altai, Mount Belukha.



Almost throughout the entire territory of the republic, with the exception of particularly remote villages, communication in Russian is possible. The indigenous population often speaks Altai among themselves; much less often (mainly in the area from Aktash to Kosh-Agach) you can find the Kazakh language.


How to get there

By plane
Gorno-Altaisk Airport receives flights from Moscow, St. Petersburg, Novosibirsk, and sometimes other cities. There are more and more options every year, so prices are usually no higher than at neighboring airports - Barnaul and Novosibirsk. When arriving in Novosibirsk, plan a full day to travel to Altai.

By land transport
The nearest railway is in Biysk, from where you can get there by bus. Many buses travel from Barnaul or even Novosibirsk. In addition, various types of private transportation have been developed in this direction; Taxi drivers pick up passengers directly at bus stations.

By car
The main route to the republic is the Chuysky tract from Novosibirsk and Barnaul. This is a federal highway with excellent coverage, but sometimes quite heavy traffic, especially in the section from Barnaul to Biysk.

A local road comes to the Altai Republic from the south of the Kemerovo region, from Novokuznetsk through Tashtagol. After Tashtagol, the road mostly does not have a hard surface, but, in principle, it is suitable for those who are not bothered by slow driving and who want to get acquainted with the landscapes of mountainous Shoria. However, it is faster to travel from Novokuznetsk through Biysk.

There are no human roads to Tuva. Some enthusiasts managed to cross the mountains through the Buguzun pass (2600 m) and go along the Mongolian border to Kyzyl-Khaya, but this requires at least a prepared SUV.

The road to Mongolia goes along the same Chuisky tract through the only border crossing in Tashanta. The crossing is international, but operates only during the daytime; closed on Sundays.



Altai is one of those regions where there is practically nothing to do without a car. If independent road travel is not at all suitable for you, the geography of the trip will have to be limited to the Chemal Highway and Lake Teletskoye, where at least you can get there by public transport. In other parts of the republic, one can only rely on organized excursions of various kinds. In principle, through any tourist center you can find a local in a UAZ who will take you for a ride, but the price-quality ratio of this event is unlikely to be optimal. There are large organized tours like the “Altai Around the World” - a circular route along the Chuysky and Ulagansky tracts with the intersection of Lake Teletskoye, a trip of at least a week. This option is often resorted to by those who want to see the beauty of the “distant” Altai without driving a car.

Given enough time, some autonomy and proper composure, you can try other options. The first is to limit yourself to one area, but go through it with a backpack on your feet, organizing a mountain hike: completely autonomous, with horseback transportation, or even with an instructor. The second option is to rely on hitchhiking, which is quite possible within the main roads, although completely unpredictable in time.

By car
The main road is the Chuysky tract, which crosses Altai right through: a federal highway with good asphalt. The side roads to Ulagan and to the Chulyshman Valley, to the northern shore of Lake Teletskoye and to the Uimon Valley are worse, not paved everywhere, but, in general, no worse than ordinary roads in any other region of Russia: with some displeasure and creaking, you can drive along them on any car without damaging it.

You can see a lot of things from the roads, but the difficulty is that many other interesting objects seem to be close to the road, but not directly on it, and these 3-5 km of “exit” almost always involve a steep climb, a ford, or just huge rocks, which would be risky to drive on without an SUV, and you still need to be able to drive an SUV on such a road. In some places you can just walk, in others locals drive you in UAZs for a piece rate, but in general you need to be prepared for the fact that any exit from the main road takes a lot of time and effort, even if on the map this exit seems very short.

With the exception of the outskirts of Gorno-Altaisk, there are relatively few cars on the roads, but there are non-man-made dangers. On the highway these are domestic animals, of which there are simply a huge number, and they always strive to get out on the road: cows, horses and even camels. Off the highway there are difficult road conditions, doubly dangerous because you will have to go for a long time to get help, and then it’s unclear how to fix it: in the villages there are only tire shops, and there are no normal authorized services even in Gorno-Altaisk. The main Altai transport was and remains the UAZ car, which, as you know, does not need a car service.

There are several car rental companies operating in Gorno-Altaisk, and you can also rent a car in Barnaul or Novosibirsk. During the season, demand noticeably exceeds supply: for example, in August 2020, it was recommended to book a car as much as a month before the trip.

Taxi aggregators are poorly developed; Yandex.Taxi and Maxim operate in the area of Gorno-Altaisk and Manzherok. Further - no.

In every city or village there is a group of taxi drivers who take orders over the phone and distribute them among themselves. Usually, the phone numbers of local taxis can be found through the Yandex.Taxi application in the “partners” section.

The typical cost of a 50km trip is 1500 rubles.



Russian and Altai cuisines


Night life

There is practically no nightlife due to the absence of large cities. The center of nightlife of the Altai Republic is the Chemalsky district, where some tourist centers operate various discos.


Where to stay

The republic offers a large number of places to stay overnight, at different levels - from a place for a tent, an unheated summer wooden house, to cottages and “elite” hotel rooms. The price also varies. Often local residents rent out houses for tourists to stay. The largest concentration of civilized overnight accommodations is in the Maiminsky, Chemalsky and Turochaksky districts - here it is not difficult to find a suitable parking place at any time.



There are 4 main mobile operators in the country - MTS, Beeline, Megafon and Tele2. As of summer 2022, MTS has the largest coverage area, including most populated areas of the republic. The remaining operators cover only the north of the region (Gorno-Altaisk and the road to Chemal), plus the Chemal tract and the villages of Artybash and Iogach on Lake Teletskoye, which are popular among tourists. The situation is aggravated by the fact that, at a minimum, Tele2 does not transfer to free roaming of other operators outside the reception area - the phone simply does not pick up a signal.

Precautionary measures
Most areas of the Altai Republic are wild places, remote from populated areas. Therefore, travelers in emergency situations must rely only on themselves.

Contacts with the local population from remote isolated villages are not recommended due to the increased crime risk. It is recommended to stay overnight either in places specially organized for this purpose (tourist bases, campsites, hotels, etc.) or at a distance from populated areas. When organizing a parking lot, you must be extremely careful about the mowing areas. This is especially true of the Ulagansky and Kosh-Agachsky districts (everything after Aktash), where there is very little grass, and almost every piece of greenery is important for survival in winter.

Ticks are very common in the Altai Republic. Therefore, it is recommended to take appropriate precautions:
Get vaccinated in advance of your trip
buy insurance against tick bites
stock up on anti-tick repellents before your trip

When traveling by car, it is highly recommended to follow traffic rules. Most road signs and markings in the Altai Republic are designed in accordance with the danger of road sections, and they should not be neglected. It is worth paying attention to the abundance of livestock (cows, sheep) roaming freely along the roads. Their behavior on the road is completely unpredictable, so when approaching, you should reduce your speed until you come to a complete stop.

The climate of the Altai Republic is characterized by sharp temperature changes, as well as a rapid change from sunny to rainy weather. Therefore, when traveling around Altai, it is better to take several sets of clothes for any weather. It is worth considering that in some mountainous areas, snow can fall even in the middle of summer, and the temperature at night can drop below zero.



At the multi-layer Paleolithic site of Ust-Karakol in the Ust-Kansky region, archaeological and paleontological materials from alluvial sediments forming the base of the section date back to the second half of the Middle Pleistocene (282-133 thousand years ago), the industry of the Kara-Bom variant belongs to the first half the Upper Pleistocene (120-50 thousand years ago), and the Ust-Karakol industry - to the Upper Paleolithic (50-40 thousand years ago).

The multi-layered Kara-Bom site in the upper reaches of the Ursul River existed 77-33 thousand years ago. Inventory from the Late Paleolithic layers (according to Derevianko and others) belongs to the so-called transitional industries: cores of Levallois appearance for obtaining large blades, cores for removing microblades, numerous retouched blades with notches, various scrapers and burins. Late Paleolithic layers are dated by radiocarbon dating methods to a time of about 40-30 thousand years ago. The Maloyalomanskaya cave on the left bank of the Maly Yaloman River, 12 kilometers from the village of the same name, was inhabited 38.5 thousand years ago (without calibration: 33.3 thousand years). The Tytkesken-8 site dates back to the Upper Paleolithic era. The so-called artifacts from the so-called Lower Paleolithic site “Ulalinka”, presented by A.P. Okladnikov and A.P. Derevianko as tools, are products of natural forces (geofacts), and not man-made tools.

Altai, due to its geopolitical location in the center of Eurasia, united different ethnic groups and cultures in different historical eras. Altai is considered by some scientists to be the ancestral home of the Turkic language family, but linguists have not yet come to a consensus on the origin and classification of the Turkic languages. This led to the appearance in linguistics of the conventional term “Altai family of languages”, which is the study of Altaic studies.


As part of ancient empires

In the VIII-II centuries BC. e. Altai was inhabited by the Pazyryk Scythians, the creators of the Altai animal style. The surviving elements of this style in the traditional art of modern indigenous people confirm the connection of the Altai tribes with the rest of the ancient peoples of the entire Eurasian continent.

The first state on the territory of Southern Siberia arose in the 4th-3rd centuries BC. e. Ancient Chinese chronicles called its inhabitants Dinlings (Chinese: 丁零), and the state was called Dinling-guo (丁零国). Dinlins lived on the western shore of Lake Baikal. Around 201 BC the state of Dingling-guo was defeated by the troops of the Xiongnu (Chinese: 匈奴; Xiongnu) - an ancient nomadic people, from 220 BC to 2nd century AD inhabited the steppes north of China (considered the ancestors of the Huns). Then, in the 2nd century AD, the Xiongnu lands were controlled by the Mongol-speaking Xianbi tribe.

In the 4th-6th centuries, the territory of the Altai Mountains was part of the Mongol-speaking Rouran Khaganate. After the defeat of Dinling-go by Xiongnu troops, the Turkic-speaking Kyrgyz tribe moved south from the Khakass-Minusinsk basin. Since the 6th century, the Turkuts have become the rulers of Central Asia, creating the enormous Turkic Khaganate. In the 6th-7th centuries, the Kyrgyz and their subordinate taiga peoples formed a peripheral fief within the Kaganate, headed by a governor, Elteber. From the 6th century AD  the proto-Turks spread further throughout Central Asia.

In the 8th century in Altai there was a separatist region led by its own beks and inals, claiming the dignity of khan (see Bars Kagan). In the 9th century, Khakassia became the center of the Kyrgyz Kaganate - a new aggressive steppe empire with the deified Kagan family. In 840, this state destroyed the Uyghur Khaganate (745-847) and extended its power not only to Altai, but also to Tuva. Pursuing the remnants of the Uyghurs, the Kyrgyz fought their way to the Irtysh and Amur, and invaded the oases of Eastern Turkestan. Until the 13th century, the Kyrgyz retained two main areas of their settlement: 1) Upper and Middle Yenisei; 2) Altai and Irtysh. Subsequently, the ethnic paths of the Yenisei Kyrgyz and Tien Shan Kyrgyz diverged.

In 1206, the territory of the current Altai Republic became part of the Mongol Empire. According to Aristov, from the Tamir and Orkhon rivers to the Irtysh, the territory of settlement of the Mongolian Naiman tribe extended. The Naiman state occupied lands to the west of the Kereits, in what is now Western Mongolia, the southern part of the Altai Republic and Eastern Kazakhstan. In the 14th century, the Mongol Empire broke up into separate states. The modern territory of the Altai Republic remained part of the Mongol states (Northern Yuan, Dzungar Khanate) until 1758.

As part of the Russian Empire
For a long time, Altai was part of the Dzungar Khanate. Russian pioneers called the Altaians White Kalmyks. The southern Altaians (Altai-Kizhi, Teleuts and Telengits) were under the rule of the Dzungars until 1756, and then, after the fall of the Dzungar state, they voluntarily became subjects of the Russian Empire. Northern Altaians (Kumandins, Tubalars, Chelkans) paid yasak to the Russian Tsar at least from the end of the 17th century.

Gorno-Altaisk arose on the site of the village of Ulala, where until 1824 there was a small settlement of Teleuts. The growth of the settlement is associated with the resettlement of Russians here from Biysk and the development of the Altai spiritual mission. In 1831, the main camp began work in Ulal, where missionaries and clergy gathered, called upon to convert local residents to Christianity. Over the course of several decades, Ulala turned into a large shopping center in the Biysk district of the Tomsk province.


Soviet time

In February 1918, a council of peasants' and soldiers' deputies was elected in Ulal. The first chairman of the council was I. I. Nekoryakov. On February 22, the Council decided to establish the Karakorum-Altai district government as a national government under the chairmanship of the famous cultural figure G.I. Gurkin. On July 14, the village was occupied by the White Guard detachment of Captain Satunin. On December 30, 1918, the Gorno-Altai district (Karakorum) was formed with its center in Ulal[28]. Soviet power was restored on December 18, 1919, when the partisan detachment of F.I. Usoltsev occupied the village.

After the Civil War, the Oirot Autonomous Region was formed. By decree of the All-Russian Central Executive Committee of June 2, 1922, the village of Ulala was proclaimed the administrative center of the new region. After 6 years, by a resolution of the Presidium of the All-Russian Central Executive Committee of the 13th convocation (protocol No. 45) dated February 27, 1928, the settlement was transformed into a city.

On June 1, 1922, the Oirat Autonomous Region (the capital is the village of Ulalinskoye) was formed as part of the Altai province. On March 2, 1932, the Oirat Autonomous Region was renamed the Oirot Autonomous Region (the capital is the city of Oirot-Tura), which on January 7, 1948 was transformed into the Gorno-Altai Autonomous Region. She was awarded the Order of Lenin (1967) and the Order of Friendship of Peoples (1972).


Modern period (since 1990)

On October 25, 1990, sovereignty was proclaimed and the status was upgraded to the Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic.

On July 3, 1991, the Supreme Soviet of the RSFSR introduced an amendment to the Russian Constitution that transformed the Gorno-Altai Autonomous Region into the Gorno-Altai Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic within the RSFSR. This amendment was submitted for consideration by the Congress of People's Deputies of the RSFSR.

On February 8, 1992, the Supreme Council of the Gorno-Altai SSR adopted a resolution to rename the republic to the Republic of Gorny Altai.

On April 21, 1992, the Congress of People's Deputies of the Russian Federation introduced a provision on the Republic of Gorny Altai into the Constitution of the RSFSR. The amendment came into force upon publication on May 16, 1992 in Rossiyskaya Gazeta.

On May 7, 1992, the Supreme Council of the Altai Republic adopted a resolution to rename the Republic of Gorny Altai to the Altai Republic. No changes were made to the Constitution of the Russian Federation in force at that time, and the new name of the republic was reflected only in the Constitution of the Russian Federation of 1993.

Currently, the republic has its own constitution, adopted on June 7, 1997, and state symbols - a flag and coat of arms. The official languages in the republic are Altai and Russian. The Kazakh language is the official language in areas where its speakers live densely.