CENTRAL KAZAKHSTAN

KARAGANDA REGION

Karaganda region in central Kazakhstan occupies the heartland of Eurasia, almost equidistant between the Arctic and the Indian Oceans, and the Atlantic and the Pacific Oceans. It covers is 428 square kilometers and is home to about 1.35 million people, about one tenth of the total population of Kazakhstan. Representatives of over 113 nationalities are found in the region (oblast).

Karaganda (also spelled Qaraghandy) oblast was formed in 1932. Initially, the regional center was the city Petropavlovsk. In 1936, the regional center was moved to Karaganda. Its present borders were fixed in May 1997 when the Zhezkazgan region was added. The Karaganda region has some industrial areas and is rich in minerals and raw materials. Railway connects the region with the cities of the former Soviet Union, Germany and China. International Airport "Sary-Arka" carries out direct flights to Russia, Germany, United Arab Emirates and other countries. Good roads connect the Karaganda to Almaty and Astana.

The Karaganda region embraces the vast steppes of Sary-Arka and the most elevated central part of the Kazakhstan hills. Steppes extend from the Karkaraly mountains in the east to Lake Tengiz in the west; from Ishim in the north to Sherubai-Nura reservoir in the south. Sary-Arka, means “yellow mountain range”. The summers are hot and dry. The winters with are mostly snowless and characterized by harsh winds. Occasional snowstorms kick up. On summer days temperature can reach 37 degrees C. The coldest month is January, when temperature can drop to -40 degrees C.

There are more than 200 large and small rivers. A main artery for the region, the Nura River crosses the oblast from east to west and empties into Tengiz Lake, one of the largest lakes in Central Kazakhstan. In the south is Lake Balkash, the largest lake in Kazakhstan, known for its salty eastern part of fresh western part. Wildlife area is very diverse. The pastures of the steppes in the south and southwest attract herds of saiga antelope. There are also wolves, foxes, gazelles, argali, hares, badgers, wild boars, weasels, ferrets. The lakes and rivers team with home to carp, perch, Marina, pike, chebak and other fish.

The northern branch of the Silk Road passed through the Karaganda region. In the 1930s and 40s, the region was the site of Stalin's deportation of repressed peoples. Some people were placed in the area’s notorious Karlag. During and after World War II, German, Japanese, Italian and Romanian prisoners of war were confined in Spassk camp, which is currently open as the Memorial to Victims of Stalinist totalitarianism. According to historians, there are 5152 graves of prisoners of war of various nationalities. At the site

Karaganda City

The city of Karaganda (800 kilometers north of Almaty) is an industrial center, an important railway and air link, and a city of science and culture. Founded in 1934 to exploit large nearby coal reserves and sprawling over 300 square kilometers, it is home to about a half million people of more than 113 nationalities as well as coal mining, machine building, metalworking and food industries.

Karaganda was once Kazakstan's second largest city. Now it is the forth largest. It was developed with gulag labor brought in to work the area’s coal mines. It remains at the center of a major coal-producing area today but other industries, including its major iron and steel works, have declined and its population has dropped by more than 100,000 people. Karaganda has five institutions of higher education, including a university established in 1972.

Cultural life of the city is an interesting and diverse. Classical music is performed at the"Shalkyma" concert hall. Theater and dram can be enjoyed at the S.Seyfullin Kazakh Drama Theatre, K.Stanislavskii Russian Drama Theatre and Academic Theater of Musical Comedy. The Karaganda Regional History Museum has 134,810 exhibits. The Karaganda Regional Museum of Arts, Karaganda Ecological Museum specializes in the preservation and development of ecological culture. Cultural facilities, including the Culture Palace of the Miners, the N.Abdirov Sports Palace, the "Chaika" hotel and the circus. Within the city there are about 50 monuments. Among these are the monuments for Bukhar zhyrau, G.Mustafin, A.Baizhanov "Miner's Glory", military glory monument "Eternal Flame", the memorial honoring those who died in Afghanistan.

Mosque Kunanbaya Uskenbaeva is a small wooden two-story mosque built in 1849-185. It is 15 meters long, 11 meters wide and six meters tall. Palace of Culture of the Miners is one of the main attractions of Karaganda. It was built in 1940 and was put into operation in 1952. Virtually all important holidays are celebrated here. The palace is a symmetrical composition of three volumes. The main body consists of a theater complex with a 1000-seat auditorium. The lobby, features marble staircases with brass railings, dome painting, crystal chandeliers and beautiful furniture, carpets, paintings, and bronze sculpture groups.

Karlag Prison Camp and

Spassky POW Memorial

Karlag (in Dolinka Village, 50 kilometers southwest of Karaganda) was one of more than a thousand GULAG prison camps in the Soviet Union. Organized during the time of mass political repressions in the 1930s. A large, two-story building that housed the former Karlag’s Department Headquarter is now is a museum dedicated to memory of victims of political repression. The imposing columned building is built in Soviet Neoclassical style.

Among the places of interest are: 1) The House of Officers, which was formerly a cultural center for military men; 2) The engineering center, where the Exhibitions of National Economy Achievements were carried out; and 3) The maternity hospital building and praying house; and 4) numerous ruins of adobe buildings constructed by the prisoners themselves.

Spassky POW Memorial (45 kilometers to the south of Karaganda city) is built on the site of a World War II POW Prison Camp in Peschany, After the Second World War Stalin’s Prison Camps were filled with foreign war captives including Japanese, Romanians, Germans, Hungarians, Moldavians, Lithuanians and many others that were not set free. Many of those kept in Peschany ended up in Karlag’s “Brotherly (Common) Grave”.

At present, not far from Spassk, there are memorials for citizens of different countries who were held captive at the Karaganda Prison Camps. Among the countries with memorials are Hungary, Japan, Italy, Russia, Germany, Poland, Rumania, France, Finland, Lithuania, the Philippines and Ukraine. Here is also a monument made in the shape of Shanyrak (shan-RAK), a sign of memory to all victims of political repression in Kazakhstan.

Temirtau

Temirtau (35 kilometers north of Karaganda) is a dreary, depressing industrial town with a population of 160,000. It was established in World War II to utilize abundant coal supplies from nearby mines to make steel. Today it is the home of the massive India-owned Ispat Karmet steel mill, which employs 27,000 people. It has alcoholism and drug abuse problems and Kazakhstan’s highest HIV infection numbers. Entire apartment blocks have been abandoned by people who left the city,

Temirtau is the largest satellite town of Karaganda. Located on the left bank of the Nura River, the city was founded in 1945 on the site of the former village of Samarkand, which was renamed in Temirtau, which translates as "Iron Mountain", a nod to the Kazakh Metallurgical Plant, is popularly known as Kazakhstan Magnitogorsk. Among the industries found there today are iron and steel, metal processing, chemicals, food processing, milling, electric power and the manufacture of nonmetallic mineral products.

Temirtau is known in Kazakhstan as the city where Kazakhstan’s first president Nursultan Nazarbayev, spent much of working career during the Soviet era. Cultural institutions and tourist sights include the Theatre for Children and Youth, History Museum, City Cultural Palace, a recreation park, House of Culture of the Deaf, culture and leisure center "Aktau", two cinemas. Monument to Metallurgists was unveiled in 2001. Designed by A. Bilyk, it is made of stainless steel and bronze.

Megalithic Mausolea of the Begazy-Dandybai

Megalithic Mausolea of the Begazy-Dandybai (near Karaganda) was nominated to be a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1998, According to a report submitted to UNESCO: “The archaeological sites of the Begazy-Dandybai culture (12th to 8th centuries B.C.) are located in picturesque mountain valleys of Central Kazakhstan. They are represented by necropolis, menhirs, settlements, ancient mines and smelting places. The main monuments are megalithic mausolea by reason of their exclusive constructive and architectural character: about 18 of them have been found until now. They have square and oval plan, diameter up to 30 meters. As a rule, they consist of two or three perimeter walls made by stone masonry or by vertical stone slabs weighting up to 3 tons: they fence a central room and, covered by slabs, make a gallery around it In some sites, an entrance chamber is also built. [Source: UNESCO]

“The central chamber has a roof also made by stones and supported by up to 14 square pillars: it contains a massive sarcophagus and an earthen altar. The mausolea exist side by side with ordinary burials, showing signs of social stratification and of cult of ancestors. Not far from them, large settlements up to 10 hectares., with 35 houses, are found, kinds of prototowns. The houses too are made by granite slabs, with pillars and walls 1,5 meters. thick and connected each other by corridors. There is evidence of a wealthy economical organisation: practice of agriculture, irrigation, animal husbandry, and exploitation of the rich deposits of non ferrous metals of the region.

“Because its location quite isolated in a fertile mountain area surrounded by dry steppes, the Begazy-Dandybai culture acquired very specific characters; it had certainly been the original centre of formation, on the same territory, of the following pastoralist nomadic culture of Tasmola, and the historical link between Andronovo and Sakas cultures. Its artefacts have some similarities with thc contemporary Karasuk culture, but its megalithic architecture doesn't meet any other analogue. Unique in its gender is also the rural pottery found in the mausolea, and the bronze and golden wares that will influence the ones of the following early nomadic culture of Tasmola.”

Places in Karaganda Region

Altyntobe Deposit Field (120 kilometers to the east of Karaganda) is home of a rare deposits of unique aschirite-dioptase minerals. The mineral has such purity and deepness that only an expert can differentiate it from emerald. According to the legend, Bukhara merchant Ashir discovered the deposit at the second half of 18th century and thought that it was emerald. The latest analyses show that the “stone” resembles emerald only by its view, not by hardness. Later on, German mineral scientist Abraam Gottlib Verner gave this mineral the name “copper emerald”. Aschirite-dioptase is mainly a collection stone and not good for jewelry making. However, the mineral still has great value for collectors as it is rarely found on earth.

Shabanbai-Bi Village, situated at the foot of 1,565-meter-high Aksoran, the highest peak of the Kyzylarai mountains, is one of the places in the Central Kazakhstan where ecotourism is developed based on the local community. Tourists are encouraged to lodge in the houses of local inhabitants and become acquainted with the simple way of village life; and to sample the traditional Kazakh cuisine such as besbarmak, kuyrdak, pilau (plov) and more.

The production of felted fabric has developed in this village as a means of living, since the crafts and souvenirs made from these products are of great interest to the tourists. Shabanbai-Bi is an excellent place from which you can venture off to the many different tourist attractions of The Kyzylaraisky Mountain oasis – the archeological memorial of the Bronze Age, places from both Turkic and modern times, interesting natural formations like the “Aulie” cave or the “Tesiktas” stone and, of course, Aksoran peak. And if you are lucky you may witness the sport of “Baige” or “Kokpar”, horseback contests that are still popular among Kazakh people.

Karkaraly

Karkaraly (220 kilometers southeast of Karaganda) is situated at the foot of the Karkaraly mountains. Founded in 1824 as a Cossack fortress, it is the home of the restored Kunanbai’s Mosque (named for the father of the Great Kazakh poet Abai), the Ryazanov merchant house and many wooden houses built in the 19th century. During the Russian Civil War following the October Revolution of 1917, Karkaraly became a battleground. Lavr Kornilov, one of the most popular White Guard Generals who came to be the Supreme Commander of Russia, was born here.

The mountains of Karkaraly are famous for their lakes. The Devil’s Lake, or Shattankoli, in the evil's Lake steppe hillocky area is one of these. Situated five kilometers southwest of Karkaraly, the 60-meter-long lake gets its name because of its mysterious location near the top of a mountain, 1323-meter-high Bear Mountain. A Lake in a granite monolith is called the Swimming pool. You can also visit the Museum of Nature and the house-museum of the first Kazakh cosmonaut.

Getting to Karkaraly First you need to get to Karaganda first. A trip from Astana to Karaganda takes about 2.5 to four 4 hours, depending on a transport. From Karaganda to Karkaraly is about three hours in a taxi and more on a bus. From Almaty it is easist to fly to Karaganda and then take a taxi or bus. In order to travel to Karkaraly by train you need to pass through Karaganda. Karkaraly has a railway station but not many trains go there.

Kent Settlement (40 kilometers southeast of Karkaraly) dates to the of Late Bronze Age and is situated in the Kent mountains. It is believed to be the largest ancient settlement in Central Kazakhstan. The residents of Kent were good at producing goods made from bronze. Huge furnaces, where copper and tin were mixed, are of particular interest. Scientists consider Kent to have been an important religious center. They have found a masonry sacrarium on its territory (84 x 46 meters in size) named “Great Fence”. Archeologists have also found pieces of ceramics and other artifacts suggesting a wide trade and political ties with Western Siberia, the Middle Asia, Sinkiang and Iran.

Karkaraly State National Natural Park

Karkaraly State National Natural Park was created in 1998 and covers 903 square kilometers near Karkaraly in the eastern part of the Karaganda region. About half the park is covered by forests with pine, birch, aspen and willow trees. The Karkaraly-Kent Mountain site consists of five mountain groups relatively isolated from each other: Buguly, Shankoza, Matena, Airtau and Kent. The Karkaraly mountains and Kent have steep northern slopes steeper and significantly more vegetation on their the southern and western sides. They represent the ridges, forming a November 25, 2019network of rocky ridges and peaks, separated by deep gorges, intermountain valleys and gently rolling plain. The highest mountains are Komsomol Peak (1.403 meters high), Shankoz (1,360 meters), Buguly (1,323 meters) and Koktobe (1,254 meters).

The park also embraces wide river valleys, prirodnikovyh meadows, lake basins and area of smoothed hills. The climate is dry with harsh winters, cool summer, significant fluctuations of daily and annual temperatures, and frequent recurrence of drought, hot winds and cloudy days in a year. Flora includes sphagnum smooth birch Kirghiz, poppy thin, adonis spring, orchis Fuchs, maidenhair Venus hair, blue anemone, black eyes of the ordinary, honeysuckle Pallas, St. John's wort, Dracocephalum foreign, Viburnum opulus, Zaleski, feather, feather pinnate, spatter-dock yellow water lily chistobelaya, Epipogium leafless, bracken ordinary Artemisia smooth, liquorice, sphagnum sleek three-blade meadowsweet, drooping tulip, everlasting sand, wood fern male, Silene dubia and Melampyrum Karkaraly, cloves coniferous, spurge tree, wind-flower, blue anemone, wood anemone, alpine Circe, violet cut, the rank of a squat, forget-me-Asian, poppy gentle and some others.

Among the animals found in the park are argali, black stork, golden eagle, eagle, dwarf eagle, steppe viper, and Ignatova minnow. The area is particularly rich in rodents: red-cheeked ground squirrel, gray marmot, prairie Birch Mouse, large jerboa, jerboa-jumper, Phodopus hamster, Eversmann's hamster, Hamster, Vole Streltsov, red vole, muskrat, and steppe lemming, water vole, wood mouse, house mouse, and baby mouse. Among the predators are wolf, fox, badger, light ferret, ermine, weasel, manul and lynx. Before have not been seen since 1940. The largest mammals are ungulates: wild boar, Siberian deer, Siberian roe deer, elk and argali.

Shunak Meteorite Crater

Shunak Meteorite Crater (40 kilometers to the west of the Mointy railway station in southeastern Karaganda Region) is a meteorite impact crater in that is 2.8 kilometer (1.7 miles) in diameter and estimated to be between 35 and 55 million years old. The crater is exposed at the surface but is not as deep as the one in Arizona. It is estimated that when the Shunak meteorite collided with the Earth it destroyed all living things for several thousand kilometers around it.

Shunak Meteorite Crater is two and a half times bigger than the famous Arizona crater. It's ground-level ring-shaped mound (shaft) and deplanate (compressed) bottom covered with clay (sediments) are clearly seen but not as dramatic as the Arizona crater. The crater is rather deep, at around 400 meters and has rim around its circumference. Some people say the crater is the of strange, mysterious energy source..

Tasmola Culture Barrows with Stone Ranges

Barrows with Stone Ranges of the Tasmola Culture are located in Karaganda, Akmola and Pavlodar regions and were nominated to be a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1998. According to a report submitted to UNESCO: “The relics of the Tasmola culture belong to the Scythian Saka period (7th to 3rd centuries B.C.) and most of them are located in the same area of the precedent Begazy-Dandybai culture, in picturesque valleys surrounded by mountains, in Central Kazakhstan.

“The main monuments of the culture are stone complexes having as dominant characters: one up to four stone barrows, accompanied by menhirs, single or in group, and by two curved stone ranges ('moustaches') 50-200 meters. long, departing from the barrows and going east. This last element is an exclusive feature of the Tasmola culture. The barrow, when single, contains always pottery, traces of fire and horse skeletons, but never human remains. The beginning and the end of the stones' ranges show alignments with equinoctial, solstitial and / or midsummer sunrise points.

“The monuments are often located near barrows with burials of noblemen and priests, but also near burials of ordinary people, settlements and mines, so their function doesn't seem to be specifically funerary. Their main elements suggest the possibility that they have been ritually built by the first steppe nomads during grandiose celebrations and horse sacrifices. The new religious syncretism between sun, horse, fire and hero-ancestors is the ideological reflection of the socio-economical changes that happened in the steppes at the beginning of the I degrees millennium and that survived until our century: the establishment of the pastoralist nomadic way of life based on horse riding and long-range annual transurnances, and its social regulation by tribal confederation and aristocratic stratification. The barrows with stone ranges of Tasmola are representing the first turning point of this immense historical process.

“About 300 barrows with stone ranges have been found in Kazakhstan. Only few of them have been archaeologically excavated. The 75 percent are concentrated in the territory under consideration; the others spread in every direction in the other regions of the country, showing the power of diffusion of the Tasmola culture.”

Ulytau

Ulytau (700 kilometers west of Karaganda city ) is a mountain range in central Kazakhstan that is very close to the hearts of the Kazakh people. The home of the ancestral spirits, the source of legends, and the subject of songs and poems, it was a favorite retreat of the khans of nomadic tribes and the place where Zhoshy Khan, the legendary founder of the Kazakh clans and Genghis Khan's eldest son, started his conquests to the east. Mausoleums for Zhoshy Khan and Alasha Khan and burial place of the Golden Horde leader Amir Edyge are all in the Ulytau mountains. And, then there is the secret of "burial mounds with a moustache"

Ulytau was nominated to be a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1998. According to a report submitted to UNESCO: “The cultural landscape of Ulytau is situated in the semi-desertic zone of Central Kazakhstan and it shows all its typical natural features: low mountains, conical-shaped hills, plains, river valleys and lakes. It includes places of exceptional natural beauty, natural habitats of rare species like relict plants, local botanical and zoological varieties, migratory routes for waterfowl (some of them on the red book like the Black Stork and the Pink Flamingo). [Source: UNESCO]

“The region is on the main north-south vegetation corridor of Kazakhstan and has been inhabited from the earliest times: around 4500 B.C. it has been colonized by Neolithic cultures coming from south and attracted by its riverine and lacustrine habitats; during the Bronze age charioteers from the west came looking for metals; possibly an important center of formation of nomadic cultures during the iron ages. Its political and historical importance reached its peak during the Middle Ages, when the region became a main corridor of migrations of tribes and got its present name (Ulytau is a Turkish name and means 'great mountain'): during the Turkic period it has been the core of the Dasht-i-Kipchak steppes and the political center of the Ogouz--Kipchak Khaganates; under the Mongols it has been a secret burial place of the Gengis Khan descendants and of the Golden Horde khans, second in importance only to the burial area of Burkhan-Kaldun in Mongolia; and then it became a political centre of the Uzbek and Kazakh khans.

“The archaeological remains of the Ulytau landscape show full evidence of all the phases of the human history and of the human interaction with the natural environment: ancient mines, settlements, burials, petroglyphs, anthropomorphic steles, hillforts and towers, medieval towns and mausolea. The mausoleum of the mythical first khan of the Kazakhs, Alasha khan, is located here; and so the only three preserved mausolea of the Golden Horde, the ones of Jochi-Khan, Ayak-Khamir and Balgan-Ana. The ethnographic period is represented by necropolis and living buildings of the Kazakh nobility. Ancient nomadic traditions of horse-breeding, folklore and handicrafts have been preserved till today.”

Mausoleums for Zhoshi Khan and Alasha Khan

Alasha-Khan Mausoleum (on the right bank of the Karakengir River in Ulytau Mountain) honors Alasha-Khan, batyr, bi and ruler who is renowned for establishment of the three Kazakh Zhuzs. Alasha Khan is perhaps more legendary than historical. No one knows exactly if he really existed. His name means “variegated or colorful” and he is considered to be an ancestor of all Kazakh people. Alasha-Khan is mentioned not only in Kazakh legends, but also appears in the legends and traditions of Turkic people. Historians believe was most probably a worship symbol from the time when nomads of the Eurasian steppe united.

The Alasha Khan mausoleum was most likely erected in the honor of one of the steppe governments during the 11th — 12th centuries. This structure is made of different colored bricks and features ad complicated dome cover and a powerful pylon (tower) in front. Its external walls are decorated with bricks forming the shapes of squares, rhombus and triangles. The main facade is decorated with terracotta.

Zhoshi Khan (also spelled Dzhuchi, Zhoshy and Jochi Khan) was the eldest son of Genghis Khan and reputed ancestor of most of the Kazakh Khans. It is said he loved the Sary-Arka steppes and set up his headquarters very close to the Ulytau mountains. There Khan’s headquarters became a big administrative and cultural center. Not far from the ruins of the headquarters is the Zoshy Mausoleum. It is a square building, made of red bricks with a blue dome and a portal with an arrow-shaped arch. The Mausoleum is believed to have been built in the 14th or 15th century by one of Zoshi’s descendants. Some say ot was built in 1227, the year of the Khan’s death). According to legend, Zoshi died somewhere in the Ulytau area while hunting. It is said he was attacked by a wounded koulan, or dziggitai, a type of wild horse of the Asiatic plains that pulled khan from his horse and bit off his right hand.

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: Kazakhstan Tourism website (visitkazakhstan.kz), Kazakhstan government websites, UNESCO, Wikipedia, Lonely Planet guides, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Bloomberg, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Japan News, Yomiuri Shimbun, Compton's Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Updated in August 2020

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