Irtysh River

Irtysh River

Irtysh is a river that runs in three countries: Russia, China and Kazakhstan. Irtysh sources are in the Mongolian Altai, in Szhugaria and in the Northern part of Xinjiang in China, close to the border with Mongolia. In the Eastern slopes of the Altai Mountains the river is called the Black Irtysh, where the elevation of the source is 2500 meters above sea level. Irtysh – Ob river is the seventh longest river system in the world.

Due to rapidly fall from such a height, Irtysh erodes its banks and perhaps that is why in translation from the Turkic, “Irtysh” means “earth-moving”. After reaching the territory of Kazakhstan, the Black Irtysh flows into Lake Zaisan which is a rather large lake, but not a very deep one. After Zaysan the waters of Irtysh stop for a while in the Bukhtarma reservoir. Numerous smaller rivers also flow into the lake meaning that after the Zaysan lake Irtysh becomes much stronger and lives more up to its name. From here onwards, the river flows towards northwest in a mountainous landscape but is frequently interrupted by a cascade of large hydropower plants.

After making its way out of the mountains, Irtysh flows along the dry and almost boundless Kazakh steppe and meanders heavily. After reaching the already Russian city of  Omsk, Irtysh is already flowing through the taiga forests, until near Khanty-Mansiysk, it confluences with the Ob River which finally then flows to the Arctic Sea, first passing the Russian Siberia. 

Irtysh wetlands in Kazakhstan
Irtysh erosion in Kazakhstan

Irtysh sights

Irtysh is frozen for about half of the year but when unfrozen it can be used for transportation and also for touristic purposes which is nowadays the main mean of transportation here, in contrast to the Soviet times when the river was filled with cargo ships. The river passes through several Kazakh cities like Semey, Oskemen and Pavlodar. In Northern Kazakhstan, the meandering valley of the Irtysh river is a green haven in the middle of the otherwise fairly dry steppe. The wetlands created by the river are amazing places for bird watchers and the Soviet era towns and cities with dilapidated harbor infrastructure offer views to tourists interested in them. Irtysh is best observed by a river boat.

Sights & destinations along Irtysh River in Kazakhstan

Page updated 29.12.2022

Scroll to Top