The Almaty Region (Oblast) was formed in 1932 and covers area is 224,000 square kilometers. Located in far southeast of Kazakhstan, it borders China to the east and Kyrgyzstan to the south. Lake Balkash define’s the region’s northwest corner. The city of Almaty is in the southwest corner. The administrative center is the town of Taldykorgan located in southeast Kazakhstan near the center of Almaty region on the Karatal river at the foot of the Zhungar Alatau northern slopes at an altitude of 570 to 630 meters. At present there are 1,334,000 inhabitants of seventy nationalities in the region.

In years past, the Almaty was called "Zhetysu", meaning “Seven Rivers”, a reference to the rivers which run through it and flow into the Balkhash Lake. Ancient Kazakh culture is reflected in monuments of the past, stone sculptures, burial mounds and ruins of ancient cities found there. In the Middle Ages Semirechie was an important agricultural and trade center, and stop of the Silk Road.

There are a number of good day trip and short excursions that can be taken from Almaty. There are some wonderful places just a short drive away. Longer trips can also be taken. The trekking is especially good. The Zaili and Zhungar Alatau mountain ranges are unique and spectacular.. Khan Tengri peak (7014 meters), located in Central Tien Shan, the highest mountain in Kazakhstan, is situated in Almaty Oblast. The mountains abound in picturesque lakes and waterfalls.

Among the popular tourist spots are the Charyn river, Kolsai lakes, Ash-tree grove, Singing Barkhan, Burkhan Bulak waterfall, Anrakai Battle place, Zhambyl's Museum, Zharkent Mosque and the small craftsmen town of Sheber Aul. The Charyn, Koksu, Karatal and Hi rivers offer rafting and fishing. Alakol, Balkhash and Kapshagai Lakes are favorite places for swimming, fishing and sailing.

The Almaty region embraces five climatic zones — from deserts to permanent snow. Various plants, grasses and trees grow on the foothills and slopes of mountains. Wild animal include snow leopards, hares, hamsters, badgers and brown bears. At the bottom belt of mountains (to 600 meters) are green deciduous forests, steppe landscapes, fruit orchards, and hawthorn thickets. At tops of mountains several species of mountain goats thrive. Among the birds are an owls, mountain daws, partridges and pheasants. It is good to visit Pribalhashe in the middle of May. At that time poppies are in bloom and vast stretches of steppe are transformed into a "a red flower carpet”.

Tamgaly Archaeological Area

The Archaeological Landscape of Tamgaly (100 kilometers northwest of Almaty) and its petroglyphswere was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2004. According to UNESCO: “Set around the lush Tamgaly Gorge, amidst the vast, arid Chu-Ili mountains, is a remarkable concentration of some 5,000 petroglyphs (rock carvings) dating from the second half of the second millennium B.C. to the beginning of the 20th century. Distributed among 48 complexes with associated settlements and burial grounds, they are testimonies to the husbandry, social organization and rituals of pastoral peoples. Human settlements in the site are often multilayered and show occupation through the ages. A huge number of ancient tombs are also to be found including stone enclosures with boxes and cists (middle and late Bronze Age), and mounds (kurgans) of stone and earth (early Iron Age to the present). The central canyon contains the densest concentration of engravings and what are believed to be altars, suggesting that these places were used for sacrificial offerings....The dense and coherent group of petroglyphs, with sacred images, altars and cult areas, together with their associated settlements and burial sites, provide a substantial testimony to the lives and beliefs of pastoral peoples of the central Asian steppes from the Bronze Age to the present day. [Source: UNESCO]

“Towards the western end of the Tien Shan Mountains in the southeast of Kazakhstan, the Chu-Ili mountain spur forms a canyon around the Tamgaly Gorge. An abundance of springs, rich vegetation and shelter distinguishes the area from the arid mountains that fringe the border of Kazakhstan with Kyrgyzstan to the south, and from the flat dry plains of central Kazakhstan to the north. The Gorge and its surrounding rocky landscape, where shiny black stones rise up rhythmically in steps, have attracted pastoral communities since the Bronze Age, and have come to be imbued with strong symbolic associations.

“The Archaeological Landscape of Tamgaly features a remarkable concentration of some 5,000 petroglyphs, associated settlements and burial grounds, which together provide testimony to the husbandry, social organization and rituals of pastoral peoples from the Bronze Age right through to the early 20th century. The large size of the early petroglyphs, their unique images and the quality of their iconography sets them apart from the wealth of rock art in Central Asia.

“The property covers a roughly circular area of 900 hectares and includes the 982m peak of Mt.Tamgaly. The Tamgaly River flows through the centre and out onto the plain below, to the north. Surrounding the property is a large buffer zone of 2900 hectares, which to the northwest and southeast of the property includes outliers of the petroglyphs, and further burial mounds and ancient settlements. The delineation of the property into a sacred core and outer residential periphery, combined with sacred images of sun-heads, altars, and enclosed cult areas, provide a unique assembly, which has maintained persistent sacred associations from the Bronze Age to the present day.”

Petroglyphs in the Tamgaly Archaeological Area

Petroglyphs within the Archaeological Landscape of Tamgaly was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2004. The galleries of the rock drawings of Tamgaly was discovered accidently in 1957 by the Semirechye of South-Kazakhstan archaeological expedition of the Institute of history and archaeology of the Academy of the sciences of KAZSSR under the direction of Anna Georgievna Maksimova who was the first professional archaeologist of Kazakhstan.

There are more than 5000 petroglyphs dating back ro the 14th and 13th century B.C. All are engravings made with stone tools or metallic instruments. No images made with paint have been discovered. The galleries can be grouped according to historical epochs: 1) Paleolithic; 2) Bronze Age; 3) Late Bronze Age (the ancient Renesans); 4) Early Iron Age (Saks, Scythians and Uysuns); 5) Medieval (Ancient Turkish) and 6) the last 500 years or so (Dzungarian and Kazakh). Those from the Bronze Age are the most interesting and expressive. The images and motifs include children of sun ("sun headed"), men in a wolf mask, warriors with weapons, scene of sacrificing of animals and people, erotic scenes, chariots and different signs and symbols. The are many scenes with the oxen, kulans, horses, camels, wild boars and wolves. [Source:]

According to UNESCO: “Petroglyphs on unsheltered rock faces, which have been formed using a picketing technique with stone or metal tools, are the most abundant monuments on the property. Images have been recorded in 48 different complexes, of which the most important are five complexes, displaying about 3,000 images. By far the most exceptional engravings come from the earliest period and are characterized by large figures deeply cut in a sharp way with a wide repertoires of images including unique forms such as solar deities, zoomorphic beings dressed in furs, syncretic subjects, disguised people, and a wide range of animals.

“The Petroglyphs within Archaeological Landscape of Tamgaly still keeps its pristine character and essential natural and cultural features intact. The main elements of the cultural landscape are the petroglyphs of the different levels of visibility (from bluish black ones of the Bronze and Early Iron Age to the light grey carvings of the latest time), the low stone-earth mounds and stone tombs hardly visible on the surface, the ruins of stone dwellings and enclosures. Despite of the fact that some parts of the rock massifs have traces of ancient destruction (Groups II-3rd) and modern graffiti (Groups 4th-V), as a whole the gallery of petroglyphs preserved its integrity and representativeness.

“The main threats to the physical integrity of the property come from weathering in combination with the geological formation of the rocks. Water ingress and stratification of the bedrock parallel to the surface make the rock face vulnerable to exfoliation. The high water table and its salinity also affect the bones and artefacts (grave goods) that can be found in the burials. These decay factors are also exacerbated by the extreme variation in temperatures daily and seasonally. There is also a threat of earthquake activity in the Almaty region, and fires in the steppes. In terms of human factors, uncontrolled visitation and graffiti pose a threat to the integrity of the component parts.”

Kapchagay and The Handwritten Rocks

Kapshagay (50 kilometers north of Almaty) is a town in located on the Ili River that was built along with the construction of Kapshagay Dam on that river in the 1960s. The dam has formed Kapchagay Reservoir (Lake Kapshagai), a popular weekend destination for Almaty residents. It has a population of about 40,000.

Kapshagay town, as of 2008, had 12 shops, eight cafes, a restaurant, pub, two hairdressing salons, seven beauty salons, a fitness club, three baths-saunas, two cinemas, one disco and one 1 casino. The Kapshagay territory covers 3600 square kilometers and has two rural districts and 11 settlements. It is home to 54,000 people, of which 14,000 live outside the town in rural areas.

On the river Or, in a city district of Kapchagay, there are some 2,200-year-old rock drawings of Buddhas. They are referred to as the “Handwritten Rocks,” "Written stones" and "Red rocks". The central image of the Three Buddhas dates to 2nd century B.C. The other two images date to the 16th and 17th centuries. The central images looks like images of Buddha found in northern India and demonstrates how far Buddhism traveled to the west on the Silk Road.

Altyn-Emel National Park

Altyn-Emel National Park (90 kilometers northeast of Almaty and 30 kilometers east of Lake Kapshagay) contains rock painting, many animals and large sand dunes. The famous singing Barkhan is a 300-meter-high sand hill that creates a whistling, humming noise when the wind blows through it. Among the animals found here are wild donkeys, antelope, camels and golden eagles.

Altyn-Emel National Park sprawls over a large area of central-southern Kazakhstan. Created in 1996, it covers about 4600 square kilometers between the Ili River and the Ak-Tau mountain range, near Lake Kapchagai, and consists mostly of desert and rocky terrain. Among its attractions are the Singing Sands, an old tree that witnessed Genghis Khan’s warriors, and the Stonehenge in the Kazakh Steppes.

Altyn-Emel National Park was nominated to be a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2002. Of particular historical interest is Tamgaly Tas, a site of ancient rock carvings, petroglyphs that date back to the 16th to 14th centuries B.C.. Among the images from later periods are mysterious gods and Buddhistic inscriptions of Indian origin. Archaeologists suggest that there used to be a Buddhist temple or praying area used by local people here. In addition, There are also Turkic runic inscriptions from A.D. 8th and 9th centuries, perhaps produced by Kipchaks.

The petroglyphs of Terekty-Aulie were produced on flat rocky granite during the Bronze Age in the second millennium B.C. There are many pictures of animals, especially horses as well as camels and bulls. The drawings reflect the Nomadic life of ancient man. Images of hunting wild animals as well as drawings about worship of the Sun can be found here too. What is interesting here, is the technique of drawing itself, where ancient human beings first marked the contour and then pressed the image with gravel.There are plenty of legends connected with Terekty-Aulie petroglyphs, which is why pilgrims and amateur mystics seek out the site.

Katutau and Aktau are unique natural landscape of the park. The former is famous for its unique appearance, which was probably created by small volcanoes that erupted and immediately cooled down several thousand years ago. The unique shapes include holes of all forms and sizes, grooves, cracks, gyrus and ones that resemble shelves, cups and thrones. Aktau mountains boasts colored slopes that are red, green, pink or even pale blue. Archaeologists have discovered dinosaur bones in the mountains of Aktau.

Altyn Emel is rich in unique plants: A total of 634 species of plants grow in the park. Of these 41 are rare and 27 are endemic, growing only in this region. An enormous-sized elm tree is more than 700 years old. Eight people need to join their hands in order to fully embrace it. It is so old that it was probably witnessed Genghis Khan’s warriors, who perhaps drank water from a nearby water There is also a tree with extremely hard bark, which was used by people to cut arrows in ancient times. This tree is called the ‘stone tree’.

A total of 56 species of animals and 40 species of birds live in the Park are listed in the Red Book of Kazakhstan. These are snow leopard (Panthera uncial), wild Pallas’s cat, also known as Manul (Felis manul), Middle Asian river otter (Lutra lutra), and Stone marten (Martes foina). The Ili river and Kapshagai are rich in fishes such as grass carp, sheat-fish and bream.

About 700 Turkmen koulans live in Altyn Emel. Sandy banks of Ili river are ideal for sunbathing and swimming is possible in the river. A great view or red rock formations can be seen from these banks. Horse and camel rides are offered. One can also sample the Kazakh national drinks of shubat (fermented camel milk) and kymyz (kumys, fermented mare milk).

Singing Sand Dune of Alnyn-Emel

The famous singing Barkhan is a 120-meter-high sand hill that creates a whistling, humming noise when the wind blows through it. The Singing Dune, or Signing Sands, is a popular attraction in Altyn-Emel. The dune is about three kilometers long The singing is created when the weather is dry, which is usual in this region of Kazakhstan. The ‘song’ of the dune can be heard several kilometers away.Why do dunes sing? Some say the sound is produced when very small grains of sand rub against one another with gusts of wind gives making audible squeaks and strong gusts, generating more intense and expressive sounds, which some claim resembles the sounds of an organ. But if this is true how do you explain that in calm weather one can hear sound from the Dune.

“Singing” sand dunes are found various location around the globe. Sand dunes can “sing” at a level up to 115 decibels and generate sounds in different notes. The dunes at Sand Mountain in Nevada usually sing in a low C but can also sing in B and C sharp. The La Mar de Dunas in Chile hum in F while those at the Ghord Lahmar in Morocco howl in G sharp. [Source: New York Times]

The sounds are produced by avalanches of sand generated by blowing winds. For a while it was thought that the avalanches caused the entire dune to resonate like a flute or violin but if that were true then different size dunes would produce different notes.

In the mid 2000s, American, French and Moroccan scientists visiting sand dunes in Morocco, Chile, China and Oman published a paper in the Physical Review Letters that determined the sounds were produced by collisions between grains of sand that caused the motions of the grains to become synchronized, causing the outer layer of a dune to vibrate like the cone of a loudspeaker, producing sound. The tone of the sounds depended primarily on the size of the grains. The scientists said that the dunes in Oman produced a “very pure sound” and were “really singing” while those in China hardly sang at all.

Another mystery about the Dune at Altyn-Emel is that despite the unfixed nature sand, the dune does not travel, and has remained where it is now for several thousand years. Legend among the local people says, the great Genghis Khan and his faithful warriors are buried under these sands. So the Dune sings when the soul of the Khan, exhausted by the spiritual unrest, tells his descendants about his victories.

Besshatyr Burial Ground: Kazakhstan’s Stonehenge?

Besshatyr Burial Mounds (western part of Altyn-Emel National Park, on the right bank of the Ili, River in Shilbyr hole.near the Terekty Petroglyphs) is a 5th – 4th century B.C. Iron Age site comprised of 31 Scythian kurgans (ritual burial mounds), believed to be final resting places of tribal leaders and distinguished warriors. The largest is 17 meters high. The kurgans were excavated in the 1950s, and their weaponry, bones and pottery now sit in museums.

Besshatyr means ‘Five Tents’ in Kazakh, a reference to a complex of five royal burial mounds found there which look like natural hills, about 20 meters in height. According to historians, Semirechye Saka (Scythian) rulers of the 5th to 4th centuries B.C. are buried there. Forty-five solid blocks of stone, carved with images of animals, are lined up along the burial mounds. According to tourists visiting this place, these stones can be compared with famous Stonehenge in England.

Besshatyr is part of The Silk Road in Kazakhstan, which was nominated to be a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2012. According to a report submitted to UNESCO: The site “consists of 81 barrows. Depending on sizes of embankments barrows of the burial ground are subdivided into big, average and small. Diameters of the big barrows vary from 45 to 105 meters, their height from 6 meters to 18; and average accordingly — 25-38 meters and 5-6 m; small — 6-18 meters and 0,8-2 meters. Besshatyr barrows provided dated material (dagger, spearheads), new types of monumental gravestone constructions. [Source: UNESCO]

The Big Besshatyrsky barrow with diameter of 104 meters is notable, it has a height of 17 meters. Embankment has the shape of the truncated cone, diameter of flat top is 32 meters. Stone covering of a barrow, at the basis densely laid in some layers, makes an impression of a socle upon which the embankment bulk is based. Round it, on distance of 5-7 meters there is a stone roll in width of 2 meters. Near to an embankment there are ring constructions made of large stone columns (menhirs) dug into the earth, and the big boulders, shaping the "fencings". In total there are 94 of such fencings around the Big barrow. They are located round the embankment. On some vertically standing stone columns of fencings “tamgi” are stamped.

In the northeast from a barrow there are seven more such fencings extending from the southeast to the northwest. Fencings had a cult intention: they were connected with a cult of fire and a sacrifice ceremony. Three big barrows have been dug out in Besshatyre: the First, the Third and Sixth, three medium and all of the small barrows.

Tombs and Burials at the Besshatyr Burial Ground

According to the reported submitted to UNESCO: “During excavation of “a 14barrow” the new type of a funeral design was found. A basis of a funeral construction of a barrow — the walls erected from the earth with an impurity of small rubble. Two ceilings made of logs were from Tien Shan fur-trees on the walls overlapping from three numbers of the logs lay, and the top number – from “dzhida”. The roof consisting of sixteen alternating layers of a stone, a bush and saxaul runaways was based upon timbered overlapping cupola-shaped forms. The tomb had sub-square basis and roundish cupola-shaped roof.

“The tomb had an entry from East side, at both sides there were two pairs of vertically driven columns. Pair logs incorporated with each other by pegs hammered into cut through apertures, but for more durability of a log they have been still connected with thick “chievyi” ropes. The double layer of cane was above the entry also tied up by “chievyi” ropes. Entry of funeral chamber had the stump of thick log. The floor chamber had separate human bones.

The chronology of Besshatyr is based on findings in one of small barrows. Under its embankment in the big hole oriented by its long axis from the West to the east the skeletons of two buried persons were laying (hole sizes are 3. 50x2). Skeletons lay close to each other in the straight position, on their back, with heads directed on the West. Each buried persons had short iron daggers-akinaki from their right side, and from the left side – the remains of quivers with bronze tips of arrows (in total there were 50 petiolar and socket tips of arrows of twelve different types inside the quivers). Daggers have butterfly-shaped crosslines, tops are destroyed. The northern skeleton had an iron “umbon” from the left side and, apparently, the rests of a wooden board. A belt iron buckle was found here. Four cornelian beads were found among the bones (in the field of cervical vertebras of the buried persons) and on the rests of a quiver of a southern skeleton there were two beads made of soldered gold grains hollow inside.

Mehirs and Cult Practices at the Besshatyr Burial Ground

According to the report submitted to UNESCO: “The embankment on all barrows of the Besshatyr burial ground consists of a stone and large chip, top flat (in a cut — a trapeze), stones at the basis are densely laid. Design features of the big barrows are deep cavities on slopes of embankments. Probably, cavities indicate the entry into vaults of barrows. Most likely, sometime after fulfillment of a ceremony of a burial place and a construction of a barrow the entry in a vault remained opened for commemoration, worship and sacrifices, and then it was filled up by collapsing of a part of an embankment of the barrow located above the entry.

Each Besshatyr barrow as an architectural complex consists of two kinds of constructions: external and internal. External constructions represent a conic embankment. With the flat top, as though standing on a socle made of stones laid densely and a chain of menhirs and boulders around an embankment. All it testifies that Sak tribes even before building of cult constructions of Besshatyr had developed architectural and building skills for construction of monumental constructions quadrangular and round in the plan, a method of a laying from a stone, skills of processing of wood and building from a tree, ability to use and combine at building a tree, a cane, a stone.

In an area where huge imperial barrows of Besshatyr are located, throughout the centuries Saks came here to worship, they brought numerous victims, made funeral feasts and various cult ceremonies, arranged commemoration. Places of such religious celebrations and ceremonies have been marked by a construction of grandiose fencings from menhirs and boulders.

Difference Between the Besshatyr Burial Ground and Issyk Necropolis

According to the report submitted to UNESCO: “The burial ground of Issyk has some distinctive features in comparison with known monuments in Kazakhstan of Sak time. For example, Besshatyr burial ground which also entered the nomination as an object of The Silk Road is located on the right coast of the river Ili at a foot of Zhelshalgyr mountains, 170 kilometers to the east of Almaty.

“Comparing Issyk and Besshatyr burial grounds, we will notice that the Besshatyr burial ground has arisen before a burial ground of Issyk and is dated by scientists as of 5th and 4th centuries B.C.. There are differences in architecture of construction of barrows. In a number of barrows at a burial ground of Besshatyr there are the fencings forming a circle from vertically standing stones (menhirs). Menhirs are not typical for barrows of the Issyk burial ground.

Speaking about the internal device of barrows of these burial grounds, it is necessary to note available similarities, directly — in a construction of the funeral chamber constructed in the shape of a felling from Tien Shan fur-tree. In the same time erection of the funeral chamber on an earth surface is characteristic for barrows of Besshatyr, instead of the dug out foundation ditch as it can be tracked in a barrow of Issyk. Except this, there is such architectural element as platform at Besshatyr barrows along with “dromos” and the funeral chamber.

Kolsay Lakes

Kol-Say Lakes Saty (near Saty, which is 300 kilometers from Almaty) is one of the most beautiful places in Kazakhstan. Surrounded by steep forested slopes, the three lovely lakes are located along the Kol-Satt River at elevations of 1800, 2250 to 2700 meters. The lakes are a few hours hike from the village of Saty which can be reached by a five hour bus ride form Almaty. From the lakes hikers can cross the Kungey Alatau at 3274-meter-high Saray-Bulak Pass and descended to Lake Issyk-Kul in Kyrgyzstan.

The river that feeds the three lakes — Top, Mynzholki and Lower — originates on a ridge of Kungey-Alatau. During the summer period the water temperature is 10 degrees C. Above 1800 meters there are high meadows. Fir forests of Tien Shan occupy the northern slopes. The fur-tree does not form the considerable areas of large forests and more often grows in big groups. The Tien Shan fir tree reaches a height of 40-50 meters and is up to 2 meters in diameter. The coniferous wood belt reaches to 2700-3000 meters. Characteristic inhabitants of all three natural zones are: bear, wolf, lynx, hare, Siberian goat, snow leopard, wild boar and badger.

The area is good for camping, trekking, horse riding and mountain biking. The first lake, which is located at the height of 1818 meters, is about one kilometer long and 300 meters wide. The middle lake is located at the height of 2552 meters, five kilometers up the trail from the first lake. It is big and extraordinary picturesque, and looks like a bowl from turquoise crystal in palms of mountains. Top Kolsay Lake is 4 kilometers further and 600 meters higher than the middle lake. Beyond it, six kilometers furthe on the trail, is the border with Kyrgyzstan through at Sary-Bulak Pass (3278 meters). From here can see bright a blue Issyk Kul in Kyrgyzstan.

The route from the lakes to the pass and further to Issyk Kul can be done in one day on horses; trekking takes two to three days. Horses can be rented in village Saty, which has some guest houses and guides. At the first lake is the “Zhibek Zholy”guest house. At lakes two and three there are tents.

Charyn National Park

Charyn Canyon (200 kilometers east of Almaty) has been called a “Little Grand Canyon” of Kazakhstan. Reached by helicopter or four wheel drive, it is a 150- to 300-meter-deep canyon carved by the Charyn River into a flat, barren steppe. It features interesting and colorful rock formations and caves,

Charyn State National Park extends from the bridge around Kurytogay village in the south, to the beginning of the river estuary in the north and embraces a strip of foothill plains and intermountain hollows on either side of the river. The park is situated in territory of three regions of Almaty oblast – Uigur, Rayimbek and Enbekshikazakh regions. [Source:]

The Charyn River is a mountain river and is the largest tributary of the Ili River in Kazakhstan, with the length of 393 kilometers. The park is rich not only in unique natural objects and complexes, but also in historical and cultural heritage, such as burial grounds and barrows. Barrows are underground or above ground burial places, constructed in a shape of barrows.

The park is attractive at any time of the year. In the spring the air is filled by aroma of blossoming medicinal herbs and bushes. In the summer you can shelter yourself from the sun under a shade of a relic ash-tree. In the autumn you can admire the bright indescribable colours of ripe barberries. And, in the winter you can observe ice floats in dark blue water of the river against a backdrop of the snow-capped of “the Valley of Castles”.


Taldykorgan (250 kilometers northeast of Almaty, accessible by road and train from Almaty) is the administrative center of Almaty Region. Located in southeast Kazakhstan near the center of Almaty region, it sits on the Karatal river at the foot of the Zhungar Alatau northern slopes at an altitude of 570 to 630 meters. Taldykorgan is a green city with many parks and gardens and was founded by the Russians in the late 19th century in an area that lies along the Silk Road. The Russian name for the region was Semirechye or Zheytsu

The population of Taldykorgan is around 118,000 people, representing 70 nationalities and ethnic groups. The climate is sharply continental, with severe cold and strong winds in the winter and hot summers. There are battery, fruit-canning and machine-building plants and relatively small sewing, shoe and furniture factories.

The city has a university, 15 national cultural centers, two museums — the literary museum of the poet Ilyas Zhansugurov and the Museum of Local Lore — and an art gallery. In 2002, a large water park opened on the embankment of the Karatal River.

Transport in Taldykorgan is taken care of by buses and minibuses. A taxi service is also available. Taldykorgan railway station is serviced by trains that leave from Almaty 2 station in Almaty. Taldykorgan has a second class airport that can handle helicopters and aircraft weighing up to 87 tons.

The Istoriko Museum of Local Lore of M Tynyshbaeva has 27,454 exhibits. The Palace of culture of I.Zhansugurova was built in 1962 and named after the Kazakh poet Iljasa Zhansugurova. Zharkent Mosque was built in the 19th not from a brick, but from Tien Shan trees without any nails. It looks a little like Chinese temple with a roof that curls up at the ends, A gallery with cylindrical pillar goes around building.

Petroglyphs of Eshkiolmes

Petroglyphs of Eshkiolmes (27 kilometers South of Taldikurgan, right bank of Koksu river) was nominated to be a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1998, According to a report submitted to UNESCO: “The Eshkiolmes mountain range, a 30 kilometers long western spur of the Dzungar Alatau system on the north of the Koksu river, houses numerous archaeological objects from Late Bronze to Middle Ages. The main group is located in the middle part of the valley: settlements, burials and petroglyphs of Late Bronze and Early Iron epochs belonging to the same cultural complex. [Source: UNESCO]

“The petroglyphs are the most remarkable remains: more than 4000 well preserved engravings spanning from the very beginning of the nomadic society to the Middle Ages. The specificity of the petroglyphs of Eshkiolmes, if compared with other large petroglyphs' sites, is the big variety of techniques, topics and styles, and their analogy with other artistic performances of the nomadic cultures, as castings, applications, bones' engravings, etc. Remarkable is also their detailed attention in the representation of clothes, arms and tools, obtained by the use of graffito techniques, so that the comparison of their representations with other archaeological findings permitted the dating of petroglyphs' groups and the individuation of stages in their execution.

“Being that the most important part of them corresponds to the Early Iron epoch, the petroglyphs of Eshkiolmes represent an exceptional testimony of arts, culture and way of life of the early nomads of Semirechie, and of the imitative tradition that followed during the I degrees millennium B.C.”

Antonovka Settlement and Medieval Kayalyk

Antonovka Settlement (190 kilometers northeast of Taldykorgan) was the home of Kayalyk (also spelled Kojlyk), a medieval Silk Road town dating to the 8th to the end of 13th centuries. Located in the Sarkand area of Almaty region on the banks of Ashi-Bulak river, it is part of the Silk Road in Kazakhstan, nominated to be a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2012.

According to a report submitted to UNESCO: “Medieval Kayalyk (Kaylak) is the biggest settlement of Ili valley. Outwalls made of cob represent slipped down shaft with 11-13 meters of width, and preserved height to 2-3.5 meters, they surround a square area with length of 1290 meters, depth of 840 meters. Behind the wall there is a clearly seen ditch with width of 1017 meters, depth of 1-2 meters. Entries into ancient settlements were organized in the northwest, northeast and southeast parts. Inside the settlement the whole vast ground territory of the settlement is covered by numerous hillocks and hollows – these are traits of previous development. In the center of the above-mentioned quadrangle the central part is standing out, with the size of 241x225 meters, angles oriented to the four winds. [Source: UNESCO]

“The city was known in the sources of 11th to-beginning of 13th centuries as the capital of Karluk dzhabgu – this is an independent property of Turks-Karluks in Karahanids’ Kaganate. In the middle of 13th century the city has been visited by Guillaume de Rubrouck, an ambassador of Louis 9th while he was going to Mongol Khan Munke. He described the city as a big trade center. According to him, there were temples of “idolaters”, a mosque and Christian church nearby.

“Antonovka ancient settlement is one of the best studied monuments in Kazakhstan. Archaeological explorations of the ancient settlement started in 1964. Works were recommenced in 1998 within the scope of South-Kazakhstani Archaeological Complex Expedition of the Institute of Archaeology of the Ministry of Education and Science of the Republic of Kazakhstan, during which the object identified as “Buddhist Temple” was dug out, and the dwelling farmstead at the citadel of ancient settlement was explored.

“In 1999-2000 the works were conducted in the “farmstead of a wealthy man” which located in the southeast part of the ancient settlement. In 2001 the bathhouse of “hammam” type was revealed, it was made of burnt bricks; in addition, the mausoleum constructed at the territory of the ancient settlement during the period of its desolation was investigated. From 2004 the works on “Cultural Heritage of Kazakhstan” are being conducted at the ancient settlement. During past time the Muslim mausoleums of 13th and tekke of the same period, Friday mosque, Sogdian quarters, Manichean temple and other objects have been dug out.

“The ancient settlement has some similarities with such ancient settlements of this time as Talgar and tortkols of Semirechye, South Kazakhstan, Tuva and Mongolia, Povolzhye. It is the most close to ancient settlements of Golden Horde: Selitrennoe, Vodyanskoye, Mongolian ancient settlements of Crimea. For example, the mosque that was dug out in Antonovka ancient settlement has almost no differences in layout and construction technique, interior design from the mosque of Voznesenovka ancient settlement (Beldzhamin city). Heating system of “kan” type in the houses of Golden Horde settlements and Kayalyk are similar.”


Lake Balkash (250 kilometers northwest of Almaty) is Kazakhstan’s and Central Asia’s largest lake, if you exclude the Caspian and Aral Seas, and the 13th largest in the world. Located on the Kazakh steppe in eastern Kazakhstan, it covers 17,400 square kilometers and is very shallow (its deepest point is only 26 meters deep) and marshy. The eastern half is salty. The western half is largely freshwater. Pollution from copper smelters has damaged the lake. Enough fish survive to support a fishing industry.

Lake Balkash is shrinking due to over irrigation on the rivers from China that feed it. The level of the lake has dropped over a meter and half (5 feet) and receded for its coastline, leaving behind a salty strip of land eight kilometers (five miles) wide in some places. Some people worry that it may suffer the same fate as the Aral Sea.

Lake Balkash was the site of the yurt capital used by the Mongol khans who controlled Central Asia. The lakeside town of Balkash is dreary and industrial. The southern part of the lake, accessible from Taldykorgan is nicer. Along the side of the road that skirts a 80 kilometer section of the lake’s western shore, people set up stalls to sell the giant catfish caught in the lake. The fish are smoked and dried and hung in displays. Some of these monster are more than two meters feet long.

Lake Balkhash lies at an altitude of 340 meters above sea level and has a crescent shape. It covers 16,400 square kilometers and has 2,385 kilometers of coastline and an average depth of 5.8 meters. The Ili, Karatal, Aksu, Leps and Ayaguz Rivers flow into it. Peninsula Saryesik naturally divides Lake Balkhash into two almost equal parts. The different mineralization of the western and eastern parts of the lake is the result of the two parts of the lake being virtually separated. Only a narrow strait connects them. The western part of the lake receives plentiful fresh water from the Ili and other rivers and is thus mostly fresh water. The eastern part has less inflows of fresh water and high rates of evaporation and is thus salty. The climate in the region of Lake Balkhash is dry and desert-like, with temperatures often exceeding 30 degrees C during summer. Winters are relatively warm for Kazakhstan. The average January temperature is -14 degrees C. . Lake Balkhash is around 600 kilometers in length and from 3.5 to 44 kilometers wide. Its deepest places reach 26 meters. The lake is located in three regions of Kazakhstan: Almaty, Zhambyl and Karaganda. Vast Kazakh hills stretch to the North of the lake and Betpak Dala stretch to the West, and Chu-Ili mountains, Taukum sands and Saryesik-Atyrau are located to the South of the Lake. About 120 species of birds, including 12 species included in the Red Book, have been spotted there.

Tourism and Getting to Lake Balkash

In addition to Saryesik there are several large peninsulas in Lake Balkhash such as Baygabyl, Balay, Shaukar and Kentubek, Korzhintobe. There are 43 islands of them on the lake covering a total area of 66 square kilometers). The largest of them are Basaran and Tasaran. Lake Balkhash is navigable. The navigation period is 210 days. Ships moving across the lake are mainly used for fishing or transporting fish, as well as transportation of construction materials. The lake is home to 20 species of fish, including: Ili and Balkhash bluehead fish, perch, barbel, spike, pike, carp.

The largest town on the shore of the lake is city of Balkhash (380 kilometers from Karaganda) and is home to 75,6000 inhabitants. The city was founded in 1937 and contains a large copper smelting plant. The lake and surrounding attractions such as Bectauata mountains and riparian forests attract many tourists. In the lake itself people enjoy Russian-style beach tourism and and water sports such as sailing, rowing, canoeing and sport fishing. On the coast of Lake Balkhash are nine relaxation zones of large industrial enterprises of the region and private entrepreneurs. Resort hotels and holiday villages on the shore of Balkhash lake are mainly located not far from Balkhash city, about 6 to 12 kilometers away, in villages of Chubar-Tubek and Torangalyk. These villages can be reached by a taxi from Balkhash.

The Bectauata mountains are north of Lake Balkhash. The highest peak is 1000 meters high. From the top there are excellent views for 100 kilometers. There are also a variety of cliffs and canyons in the area. "Auliye" Cave contains a fresh water spring, which is considered holy and healing. Trips to remote locations around the lake are remembered as real adventure. One destination for such a trip is the Baigabyl Peninsula, which is situated 140 kilometers to the east of Balkhash city, in the salty part of the lake. The water' here has a striking turquoise color.

Getting to Balkhash Running along the western shore of the lake is part of the Almaty — Ekaterinburg highway From Astana: The distance between Astana and Balkhash is 600 kilometers. In order to get from Astana to Balkhash, one can use a car, a bus or a train. It should be noted, that a trip from Astana to Balkhash on a train takes more than 20 hours. Getting to Balkhash on a bus will take about 9 hours. There are no direct flights from Astana to Balkhash, a flight, offered by Zhezkazgan Air three times per week, can be taken from Karaganda (a city in 2-3 hours drive distance from Astana).

Karamergen Medieval Settlement

Karamergen (southern Balkhash lake, 200 kilometers northeast of the village Bakanas) is a Oghuz Turk settlement dated to 8th to 13th century beautiful three kilometers north of the confluence of the dry riverbed of Ortasu. It is part of the Silk Road in Kazakhstan, nominated to be a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2012.

According to a report submitted to UNESCO: “Karamergen ancient settlement can be referred to as a “tortkol” type monuments widely known in Zhetysu, South Kazakhstan, Tuva, Mongolia and in Tien Shan. These are remains of towns, towns-shelters, settlements and caravanserais. Karamergen is a city on the route of the Silk Road and this is evidenced by findings of imported beads made of lazurite; and the main proof is that it is situated on the section of The Silk Road going from the main line across Pribalkhashye to Sary-Arka.

“The settlement is rectangular in shape (115x120 meters) with the corners oriented to the four winds directions. The walls are well preserved, even now they reach three meters in height. “Round, projecting towers with 4.5 meters height are situated in each corner. Northeast and southwest sides have two more towers with 3.5 meters height. Entries into the ancient settlement can be noticed in the middle of northwest and southeast walls. Their structure is rather complex. They are flanked with L-sector of the wall, the corners of this sector have two more towers and the southeast entry is fixed with overhanging roll with preserved height of 1.5 meters. [Source: UNESCO]

“Twenty kilometers to east of south tower there is a trapeziform construction surrounded by slid down roll with height of half a meter. Southeastern part of the ancient settlement has a main channel of 0.8-1 kilometers taken out from the bed of one of the channels of Ortasu river which has no water now. The second channel is situated 2 kilometers to west of Karamergen, its bed is going from southwest to northeast, to the bank of Balkhash lake. The preserved length of the channel is 10 km; the bed width is 8-10 meters.

“According to the opinion of some of the researchers the settlement fit to Gorguz al-Idrisi. Ceramics that were gathered during excavations at Bakanas ancient settlements and collected at the surface of the abovementioned monuments dates to the 9th to 13th centuries. These are cauldrons, table and water jugs, mugs, bowls, big vessels for storing of water, grain and flour – “Houma”. Most of the vessels were made at potter’s wheel, of compact, well mixed paste, with admixtures of fine sand and chalk. Ceramic crafts were fired in potter’s ovens and paste was becoming of dark-red or dark-brown color.

“Some of the vessels are decorated with trite ornament, but its elements are of the same type – usually it is a row of ring-shaped impressions with triangles. This pattern is well known in ceramics of Semirechye towns. Jugs of all abovementioned shapes are usual for stratums of 9th to 13th centuries in Semirechye towns. The closest parallels in shape and in ornaments can be noticed in materials of Antonovka, Talgar towns. Slip ceramics in materials of Bakanas towns is represented only by few small fragments of bowls – “piala” and “kese” type. Several fragments of glass vessels of white and brown colors with large content of air bubbles inside can be related to the 9th to 13th centuries.”

Aktobe Stepninskoye Medieval Site

Aktobe Stepninskoye (south of Lake Balkash) is a medieval settlement dated to the 7th-13th centuries and occupied by Karluk, Chigili and Yagma. The site is situated at both sides of Aksu river, not far from its falling into Chu river, in the steppe zone of Semirechye and is part of The Silk Road in Kazakhstan, which was nominated to be a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2012.

According to a report submitted to UNESCO: “Central ruins that gave the name to the whole monument are situated on the left bank of Aksu river. Citadel looks like high subdirect square hill with height of 15 meters. Sizes of the hillock are 120x100 meters at the base. Citadel is attached by shakhristan having subdirect square contours with 240x210 meters in size. Citadel and shakhristan are surrounded with walls which are now look like slid down rolls. The territory of handicraft and agricultural areas is close to central ruins, it is surrounded by two rows of rolls. The length of the area downstream the river from southeast to northwest is 9.5-10 kilometers at the external circle of the walls and 5.5 kilometers at the internal circle of the walls. [Source: UNESCO]

“The settlement is defined as big centre of trade and craft in compound of western turk Kaganate. Starting from 1974, ancient settlement is being excavated by expedition of Kazakh State National University of Al-Farabi. From 2008 the works are being conducted on the program of “Cultural Heritage of Kazakhstan”. During excavations at the ancient settlement the residential communities, separate farmsteads were found, fortification was explored. Crafts made of ceramics and glass, metal crafts and jewelry, bronze vessels and big amount of coins were gathered during excavations.

“Aktobe ancient settlement was situated on important section of the Silk Road leading from China across Zhetysu to Central Asia This is first of all certified by archeological materials in the ancient settlement. This is certified first of all by coins: Chinese Tan dynasty, Torgesh coins, Tukhus coins, Samanids and Karakhanids coins. Bronze handicrafts were found – jugs from Iran and Central Asia, central-Asian ceramics. Aktobe ancient settlement can be recorded into the list on 3rd category, because it is an exclusive evidence of cultural tradition or civilization, existing or disappeared.

“Aktobe ancient settlement belongs to a large group of so-called “ancient settlements with long walls”. They are mainly concentrated in Chu and Talass valleys. Also, there are some in the south of Kazakhstan – Ispidzhab, Budukhist, Karaspan. They are usually connected with routes of the Silk Road. Aktobe relates to the number of those which are notable for big sizes and which are well studied, which are notable for presence of wealthy archeological material gathered during the exploration of many years.”

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: Kazakhstan Tourism website (, 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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