Northern Kazakhstan is a vast area of steppe. For centuries it was the domain of Scythians, Mongols, Kazakhs, other nomadic horsemen, sheep, wolves, and antelope. All that changed when the Russians and later the Soviets tried to make it into the breadbasket of Central Asia.

A million or so Russian, Ukrainian and Slavic peasant moved into the area in the late 19th century. More arrived, along with Tatars and ethnic Germans, during the Stalin purges in the 1930s. More came to work in gulags, mines and factories. Hundreds of thousands or more came in the 1950s and 60s as part of the Virgin Lands campaign, a Soviet scheme to bring agriculture to the barren steppe.. While all this was happening hundreds of thousands of Kazakhs died or fled during the forced collectivization and purges in the 1920s and 30s.

Not surprisingly, northern Kazakhstan is the most Russian and Slavic part of Kazakhstan. In addition to an influx of Russians coming to what is now Kazakhstan, northern Kazakhstan was further Russified when Soviet leaders had the border redrawn to dilute the Kazakh population in the 1920s. Despite the many shortcomings of plans to develop the area for agriculture, northern Kazakhstan is an important wheat-growing region and Kazakhstan’s breadbasket. Astana Oblast covers 121,000 square kilometers (46,700 square miles). It has the largest Russian population of any Kazakhstan province.

North Kazakhstan Oblast

The North Kazakhstan oblast (region) is located in the north of Kazakhstan (Sary-Arka). Covering an area of 98,040 square kilometers that occupying 3.6 percent of Kazakhstan, republic territory, it is comprised of some of the southern part of West Siberian plain and a part of Kazakh low hills. Most of it is occupied by the West Siberian plain, whose elevation generally does not exceed 200 meters, and the Neogene basin, a vast between the valleys of the Tobol and Irtysh rivers.

The total population is about 580,000 people and heavily Russified, with the distribution of Russians and Kazakhs varying considerably between rural and urban areas. Large urban Petropavlovsk is 60 percent Russians while more rural Ualihanovsky is 86 percent Kazakh. The largest Polish population in Kazakhstan lives in the area.

Petropavlovsk is an administrative centre of the region. Home to about 200,000 people, it is located on the right bank of the Ishim River, a tributary of the Irtysh River. The region borders Russia. to the north, Akmola Region to the south, Pavlodar Region to the east and Kostanay Region to the west.

North Kazakhstan is not all steppe. There are also mountain and forests. There is a chain of depressions with salt lakes — Kalibek, Ulkenkaroy, Teke and Seletyteniz — in the northeastern part of the region. Hundreds archaeological, historical and architectural monuments are under state protection. The most interesting of these located in the floodplains of the Ishim, Chaglinka and Iman-Burluk rivers and include Eneolita in Botaj district, and the Iron Age site of "Ak Iry". Large deposits of tin and some diamonds have been found in the region.


Petropavlovsk(470 kilometers north of Astana and 50 kilometers form the Russian border) is Kazakhstan’s northernmost city. An important railroad junction not to far from the Trans-Siberian Railroad, it is a heavily Russified city of 200,000 with tsarist-era buildings and Orthodox churches and an extremely cold winter. Worth checking out are the art museum, history and local studies museum, central park and a cathedral. During the Soviet-era it was a closed city. The defense plants that once employed many people are now closed. About 60 percent of the city’s residents are Russian.

Petropavlovsk (also known simply as Petropavl) is the administrative centre of the North Kazakhstan area and was founded in 1752 when St Peter's fortress, the major outpost on of the Presno-Gorkovskaya line of outposts, was established at the location of the today’s modern city. A town grew up when peasants seeking food settled around the fortress and soldiers and dragoons were given the right to build their own houses outside the fortress. The town grew a great deal when during the period of the resettlement of peasants from the European part of Russia and the building of the Siberian Railroad.

The position of North Kazakhstan on a joint of two major trunk-railways — Trans-Siberian and Transkazakhstan — the presence of large industrial bases such as Kuzbas, Ural Mountains and the Central Kazakhstan to the east, west and south of the region, and also a developing oil and gas complex of the frontier Tyumen region of the Russian Federation all helped the town grow industrially and population-wise. In recent years, Petropavlovsk became the centre of the largest grain sowing and grain producing region of Kazakhstan, where more than 3 million hectares of land are sown with crops, and the gross grain makes 25 percent of Kazakhstan’s crop yields.

Ornek Medieval Settlement

Ornek Medieval Settlement (75 kilometers southwest of Petropavlovsk) dates to the 8th-13th centuries and was in inhabited by Karluk, Chigil and Yagma. It is situated six kilometers south of settlement called Ornek on the Altynsu river, in Solutor gorge, 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: “The central part of the ancient settlement represents the quadrangular platform oriented by corners to the four winds. The sizes of an area on a crest of a roll surrounding it are 155x160 meters. The roll was preserved with the height to 5 meters with width of the basis of 11-15 meters. On corners and on perimeter of walls the hillocks can be noticed, where the towers were supposed to be located: there were 7 of them on the northeast wall (angular also), 6 of them on the northwest wall, 9 on the southeast wall, and 9 on the southwest wall. Each of the four sides has gate (entry) with the shape of ruptures in a roll. Entrances were connected by the roads crossing in the center. [Source: UNESCO]

In the center of an ancient settlement, closer to a northwest wall there are round foundation pits for three water reservoirs connected with each other. Diameters of two of them are 30 meters and the third is 15 meters in diameter. The central ruins are adjoined by the territory surrounded with the roll with towers. The roll is at a distance of 90 meters from a southwest wall, in 40 meters – from the southeast wall, in 90 meters — from northeast wall and in 100 meters – from northwest wall.

The external roll looks like a rectangle with length of the sides: southwest side is 330 m; northwest side is 290 meters, northeast side is 300 meters, and the southeast side consists of two sectors closed at an obtuse angle with a length of 200 and 160 meters. In the middle of a northeast part of a roll a rupture can be seen – the remains of a former pass.

Around the fortification, mainly behind the external wall, to the south and the southeast along Solutor gorge there are sections with rectangular, square and irregular shape are fenced off from each other by stone boulders. The sizes of sections range from 250-300 square meters. to 1000-2000 square meters. Inside the sections, usually in a corner, there are hillocks, the remains of the construction-house. The massive of these sections goes upwards on banks of Solutor for 4 kilometers and with 1.2 kilometers of width. Its total area makes about 500 hectares. It is impossible to distinguish visually any system in arrangement of these sections, but sometimes "the roads" can be noticed and they somehow organize the general unsystematic building.

Arabian route guides (in particular, made by ibhn Khordadbekh and by Kudama) testify that Kasribas, Kulshub and Dzhulshub towns were situated between Taraz, Nizhniy Barskhan and Kulan (their location now is rather accurately defined). Most likely, Ornek corresponds to Kulshub which, as well as Kasribas, belonged to Karluks and was the settlement (“stavka”) of one of feudal lords.

Topography studies of Ornek ancient settlement (and it is dated by 8th-12th centuries) and its excavations provide some idea about the center of settled way of life and about the crafts. At the same time, the presence of powerful fortifications and cathedral mosque evidences that the ancient settlement represents the remains of a town which was formed on the basis of the settlement (“stavka”) of nomadic possessors.

Ornek ancient settlement is included into the group of the monuments of “tortkol” type. Mainly, it is related to Turks-cattlemen that changed their life to settled way of life. Such ancient settlement presents in Zhetysu, in the south of Kazakhstan, in Tuva, Mongolia, on Don. Ornek ancient settlement is one of those where the excavation were conducted providing an idea about the way of development of the central part, about character of farmsteads concentrated around the central ruins. The thing is that important is that Ornek ancient settlement provides an idea about the process of development of a town on the basis of stops.

Buildings and Excavations at Ornek Medieval Settlement

According to a report submitted to UNESCO: “Archaeological materials of Ornek excavation allow assuming that “stavka” has appeared at a place of constant settled settlement, probably, at the territory of spring-autumn pastures. It in turn, has served as a kernel around which the town was gradually creating. And this was happening not without the influence of international trade along the Silk Road. [Source: UNESCO]

Excavation on the territory of an ancient settlement has partially opened the rectangular construction with sizes of 40x20 meters. With its sides on external contour of the walls it is directed to the four winds. Their bases are made from stone cobble-stones. The walls themselves were pise-walled with the width of about 1 meters. Entry of the construction has been constructed with two ledges of a wall which forms the area. The length of ledges is 3.5 m; the width of the entry is 8m.

A system of stone bases of columns was found out on the surface of the floor which was cleaned in some separate areas. Two of them represent the blocks cut out from massive boulders. The first, with the sizes of 0.5x0.5x1.3m, with the bottom part slightly rounded and the facets removed from two corners, one side of it is decorated with the procarved ornament represented by double line. The figure with the shape of a vase leg is painted on it; it has a leaf with two curls originating from the cutting. The second trapezoid block with a ledge on it has a height of 10cm. Facets are removed from the two edges of it; two sides have images of anthropomorphous beings on them. The third base looks like the two-level block and the sizes of the lower step of it are 1.3x1.2m of 1m height, the top step is 0.85x0.9m, with the height of 0.4m.

The rest 11 bases (together with those 14 described) represent massive boulders, flattened on top with the sizes of 0.8x0.8m. They form regular rows with 3-3.5 meters distances from each other. Thus, at the total area of the construction yard there should be either 55, or 66 bases of columns 11 of which 11 were located by length of construction and 5 or 6 of them were located by width.

According to the lay-out and presence of columns bases this was a rectangular construction with flat overlapping which, probably, was based on a great number of columns. Some of the bases were specially cut out from boulders and decorated with a procarved ornament, others represented large raw boulders. Most likely, the construction remains belong to a mosque of the “pillar type”. Such mosques are usual for early stages of development of Muslim religion. The mosque is dated by 10th-12th centuries. Constructions of “pillar type” are also known in Central Asia.

Ancient Sites in North Kazakhstan

Ak Iry is (near Dolmatov Village on a joint of Ishimsky plain and the Western-Siberian lowland) is an Iron Age hill fort The site covers 25,000 square meters and was given the rather romantic name “Ak Iry” (meaning “a white paradise”) by archaeologists, who the fortifications belonged to the steppe Saki (Scythians), who worshiped fire and were the adherents of Zoroastrianism. This religion started its development in the steppes of Eurasia during the Bronze Age and took roots in the beginning of the 1st millennium B.C.

It is surprising, that the characteristic of the Japanese and Mediterranean Sea cowrie shells, were found on the territory of the site. Possibly they carried out a function of money, and hence, the Saki had wide enough geography of external relations. Another interesting detail is that elm was used as a waterproofing material in the rampart base. The kilns intended for clay firing and metal melting were also found there. These finds allow putting forward a hypothesis about the tribes occupying this territory and having deep roots in cultures of previous historical stages.

Bekteniz (on left bank of the Ishim River, near the Sergeevsky reservoir) is an archaeological site comprised of 10 low hills organized in a chain on the river bank. The site was named after a small aul Bekteniz. The majority of the excavated mounds belong to the Bronze Age.. Excavations have revealed bronze mirrors, altars and female ornaments and burial area for people belonging to a special social group, perhaps priests. In the ancient times mirrors were believed to possess magic powers and were as an obligatory possession of Sarmatia priestesses. Mirrors were put in a tomb together with stone altars and ornaments. Sarmatians lowered purposely-broken mirrors into tomb. Some of them were exposed to fire.

Akmola Region

Akmola Region located in central-northern Kazakhstan. Its capital is Kokshetau. The national capital, Nur-Sultan (Astana), is enclosed by the region, but is politically separate from Akmola Region. It and Karaganda Region are Kazakhstan's only two regions which don't touch the country's outer borders. Akmola Region borders North Kazakhstan Region in the north, Pavlodar Region in the east, Karagandy Region in the south, and Kostanay Region in the west. Some gold and coal mining occur in the area.

Akmola Region covers an area of 146,219 square kilometers (56,455 square miles). It is home to 715,000 people of which 157,000 live in Kokshetau. The region is very sparsely populated. The population density 4.9 people per square kilometers (13 per square mile). Ethnic Kazakhs make up 53.4 percent of the population, compared to 33.7 percent for Russians according to the 2017 census,.

The climate of the region is severely continental. Summers are short and warm, sometimes very hot. Winters are is long-lasting, with strong winds and occasional blizzards. The minimum in the winter is - 40 degrees С; the maximum in the summer is 44 degrees C. Most of the landscape is steppe, with steppe grass and bushes. In the northern part of the region there are some mountains and pine-birch forests. Agricultural is an important sector of the economy. The region is Kazakhstan’s fourth largest wheat producer.

Botai Culture: The World’s First Horse People?

Botai Culture Site (on the Iman-Burluk River, a tributary of the Ishim River, in the Shalkar district of northern Akmola Region) is the home of an archaeological culture that lived from 3700 to 3100 B.C. Some archaeologist believe that the people that lived here were the first to domesticate horses.

The oldest Botai sites are Paleolithic (Stone Age) sites the in the Ishim, Krasny Yar, Iman-Burluk river valley that belong to the Atbasar culture that lived in 7000 to 4000 B.C. Eneolithic settlements (4000 to 3000 B.C.) include Botai, Krasny Yar, and Kenotkel.

Botaian dwellings were made of stone, wood and clay and were circular in shape. With a smoke hole on the ceiling, it strongly resembles the shape of a Kazakh yurt. More than 60,000 thousand pieces of bone and stone, stone axes, arrowheads and spearheads, stone knives, bone needles and fragments of pottery have been found in the Botai cultural layer:

A replica of Botai house with the exact dimension of the originals, constructed using materials used by the Botaians, was built on the shore of Lake Shalkar in the Botai region. A small museum is also here. Lake Shalkar is one of the largest lakes in the Ajyrtau region. It covers 32.41 square kilometers and is 12 kilometers long. 3.3 kilometers wide at its , the greatest width with a maximum depth of 15 meters.

Modern Botai Horsemen

On the people that live in the Botai region today, Sandra L. Olsen wrote in Natural History magazine, “Nazar and I were perched on the edge of a thirty-foot river terrace, gazing down at his herd of horses on the opposite bank of a shallow river. They were drinking and grazing in total harmony, heads bobbing and tails switching as if to an unheard melody. Beyond stretched the velvety, sage-green steppe, interrupted by the occasional peak or dark patch of pines. Botai’s inhabitants had the same food preference as modern Kazakhs—horsemeat and perhaps mare’s milk—and they herded horses to survive. Indeed, unlike the modern herders, they ate little else. [Source: Sandra L. Olsen, Natural History magazine, May 2008]

“Admittedly, Nazar’s people have lived in this region for only about 1,100 years: the Kazakh language and culture likely originated farther east, in Siberia. However, they are part of the larger tradition of horse pastoralism, which extends across most of the Eurasian steppes, from Ukraine to Mongolia. Years of excavating the Botai culture great deal about how horses and humans forged their enduring bond. The sites’ configurations and artifacts speak volumes if you can figure out how to interpret them. To do that, I had to fall back on the experience of my Kazakh friends and crew. I watched the herders and their dogs rounding up the horses, the local women milking the mares to make “koumiss”, a mildly fermented beverage that is a community favorite, and villagers preparing horsemeat in various dishes.

“Gradually I came to understand that those traditions illuminated the lives of their predecessors in the Copper Age, when people made tools of stone, bone, and more rarely, copper, but not yet of the bronze or iron. could see that Nazar and the one other herder from his village led a quiet life, with little human interaction. They were shy and hesitant in the company of the archaeological field crews. But the two men would emerge confident and powerful when mounted on the tall gray Russian stallions they rode to oversee their herd of 250 smaller, bay-colored Kazakh horses. The herders’ life may seem tranquil compared with the stresses of urban dwellers, but it is quite arduous. The herd must be taken out to graze on natural vegetation, and tended through the night, even in the dead of winter, here where temperatures often plummet to a bracing —50 degrees Fahrenheit. (That does not include the wind chill factor, which takes on new meaning when one rides a horse at full gallop!)

“It might seem unduly cruel for the horses themselves, having to scratch through the winter ice and snow to find enough of the sparsely spaced, shriveled “Artemisia” and feathergrass to survive, until you realize that wild horses thrived near the Arctic Circle during the last glacial maximum of the Pleistocene epoch, the Ice Age that ended about 11,500 years ago. Horses, it seems, are quite well adapted to cold, dry environment.”

Pavlodar Region

Pavlodar Region is situated in northern, slightly eastern Kazakhstan and covers 124,800 square kilometers (48,200 square miles). It borders Russia to the north, and in Kazakhstan, Akmola Region to the west, East Kazakhstan to the southeast, North Kazakhstan to the northwest, and Karaganda to the south. Pavlodar is the main town and capital of the region. It has a population of about 360,000 people.

The population of the region was 755,000 people, about half of which live in Pavlodar. The population has declined in recent decades. Over 800,000 lived in the region in 1999. About hald the residents are Kazakhs and about 30 percent are Russians. There are also Ukrainians (six percent), Germans (three percent), Tatars (two percent), Belarusians (0.5 percent), Moldovans (0.39 percent), Ingushes (0.25 percent), Chechens (0.25 percent), Azerbaijanis (0.25 percent), Bashkirs (0.20 percent) and Others (1.75 percent). Many people, especially Ukrainians, descend from people who migrated to Pavlodar in Nikita Khrushchev's Virgin Lands Campaign.
The Irtysh River, which flows from the Altay Mountains in China to Russia, passes through the region; the Irtysh–Karaganda Canal crosses the western part of the region, taking some of the river's water to Ekibastuz and Karaganda. The main tourist destination is Bayanaul National Park, about 100 kilometers from Ekibastuz.

The Pavlodar oblast is an industrial centre in Kazakhstan, with electrical and fuel energy production, oil processing, mechanical engineering, food-processing and building materials industries. The largest the metallurgical companies are Aluminium of Kazakhstan, Kazakhstan electrolises and Aksu factory ferrosplav — branch of Kazhrom. Development of the region has been closely associated with the exploitation of a large coal deposit near Ekibastuz. Аksu iron alloy based in Aksu is a leader in iron alloy manufacturing. Its factory can produce one million tons iron alloy per one year.


Pavlodar (300 kilometers northwest of Semipalatinsk) is the main town and capital of Pavlodar Region. It has a population of about 360,000 people and is located in a fertile farming region that was developed during the Virgin Land Campaign in the 1950s and 60s. Since the mid-1960s it has developed into a major industrial center with several heavy industries and an oil refinery.

Pavlodar is one of the largest industrial centres of Kazakhstan with a variety of industries connected to the processing of petroleum, mechanical engineering, construction, power, chemicals and metallurgy. In addition there are аbout 7000 small and medieum size enterprises of engaged in things like foodstuffs and consumer goods.

Bayanaul National Park

Bayanaul National Park (100 kilometers from Ekibastuz, southeast part of Pavlodar oblast) is a picturesque area in a region semi-deserted steppe with mountains, lakes and a variety of plants. Bayanaul village is located near Sabyndykol Lake in the foothills of the Bayanaul Mountains. Bayanaul National Park was established in 1985, main attraction of which is nature.

Bayanaul village is a very beautiful place, with the population of 4472 people. It is a popular resort area near three main lakes: Zhasybay, Sabyndykol and Toraigyr and a range of beautiful mountains, forests, lake beaches, caves and rock formations. Every year tourists from all over Kazakhstan, and southern Siberia too, come to this place to swim in the Lakes and participate in various recreational activities.

The park has a large number of sanatoriums and recreational areas. However, most of these areas are equipped with only the most primitive of infrastructure, and living conditions are not up to modern standards. In particular, there is no sewage system, and the cottages have no source of drinking water or wash basins. But that doesn’t stop the tourists from coming, an enjoying activities like swimming, hiking, rock climbing and mountain biking. The main attractions of the park are "holy cave", the "stone head" and the rock "masculine dignity." The most popular place for swimming is Jasybay Lake. There, it is possible to rent catamarans, as well as row boats and motor boats.

Of special interest to the tourists at Bayanaul are the large rocks and stones that have taken on bizarre shapes due to many centuries of erosion by wind and water. They often resemble animals, people, and other objects, such as a truck coming down the mountain. Among these is the sculpture known as the "stone head". When viewed from a certain angle, it truly resembles the head of a bald toothless old woman with a treacherous grin. Another equally well known creation of local nature is the rock called "masculine dignity," resembling the head of a penis. Among other rock forms are a camel, the heads of a mammoth and a gorilla, a flying saucer, a dinosaur, a dove, a horse head, and many others.

Another of the local attractions is the "holy cave." According to superstition, if someone enters the cave, places their palm on the wall and makes a wish, then leaves without turning their head around to the exit, their wish will come true. Another superstition exists, that the cave helps infertile parents conceive a child, for which there is a special ritual. Although this may not be true, the stream of tourists to the cave on the days that its open to the public continues. It is located at a considerable height and requires a walk of more than a kilometer to reach. In recent years, a wooden staircase has been built for the last section of the route, which is particularly steep.

Getting to Bayanaul: From Astana to Bayanaul is about 450 kilometers. In order to get to Bayanaul from Astana, you need to change a transport either in Pavlodar or Ekibastuz. These towns are easily reached from Astana by train or by bus. Also a flight can be taken to Pavlodar. Further, in order to get from Ekibastuz or Pavlodar to Bayanaul, one can take a regular bus to Bayanaul or a taxi. From Almaty: flight can be taken from Almaty to Pavlodar or Karagandy. Further, a regular bus or a taxi can be chosen to get to Bayanaul. There is no railway station in Bayanaul. If you decided to travel to Bayanaul on a train, tickets should be bought to Pavlodar, Ekibastuz or Karaganda Railway Stations. The distance between Pavlodar and Bayanaul is 220 kilometers, between Ekibastuz and Bayanaul is about 100 kilometers, and between Karaganda and Bayanaul is 195 kilometers.

Kostanay Region

Kostanay Region is a region in central, northern Kazakhstan with an area of 196,001 square kilometers (75,676 square miles), making it the sixth largest region (oblast) in Kazakhstan. Near the Ural Mountains, it borders Russia to the north, and the Kazakh regions of Aktobe Region to the southwest, Karaganda Region to the south, Akmola Region to the southeast, and North Kazakhstan Region to the northeast. The Tobol (Tobyl) River, a tributary of the Irtysh River, starts in and flows through the region on its way to Russia. Its administrative center and capital is the city of Kostanay. The population of the region is 900,300, with 207,000 people living in Kostanay city. is 207,000 [3] which is equivalent to 23% of the region.

Kostanay region (also spelled Kostanai and Kostaney) has 16 rural districts and five cities: Kostanay, Rudny, Lisakovsk, Zhitikara, Arkalyk. The region's territory is characterized by relatively flat relief. The northern part of the region is in of the southeastern outskirts of the West Siberian lowlands. In the south is the Torgay plateau. In the west is an undulating plain plateau. In the southwest is the Saryarki steppe..

The climate is continental, with a pronounced alternation of four seasons. Average temperature in January -18-19 degrees C; in July +19 to 22 degrees C. In winter temperature often drop to -30 degreesC. In the summer up to 30 degrees C. The annual rainfall of 300-350 millimeters in the north region; 240-280 millimeters in the south.

Kostani City

Kostanay City (600 kilometers northwest of Astana) is a god-forsaken place in the north with freezing temperatures in the winter and smelly factories and iron smelters. It was established to distribute wheat grown in the region and process iron ore found in nearby deposits.

Kostanay was first settled in 1879 on the left bank of the Tobol River. Russian and Ukrainian peasant immigrants were the city's founders. At the beginning of 20th century the city was a major trading center and an important stop on the travel route between Asia and Russia. At the time, Kostanay city had a big fair, was made up of two-story wooden house and was known for its dusty air. At this time Swiss man named Lorets (Lorez) established a beer brewery that was very successful. In 1950s the population of the city increased markedly due to the Virgin Lands campaign. In the postwar period to date in the Kostanay region has continued to produce huge harvests of cereal crops. On the eastern edge of town, on the Tobol River, is an area with five-meter-high numbers that number of tons of grain harvested, updated on a weekly basis.

The older section of Kostanay retains some charm. now. Many old merchant houses still exist. Among those that have become tourist attractions are the houses and shops of the Yakushev, brothers and the merchants Voronov, Voischev, Senokosov and Lorentz. Different businesses and institutions occupy these buildings now but they can be admired from the outside. . Mainly belonging to the sphere of culture — museums, libraries and theatres. Many people consider Kostanay to possess a rather original architectural style, containing the traditions of both Moscow and Siberia.

Saryarka Hills, Lakes and Steppes: Vast UNESCO World Heritage Site

Saryarka (Kazakh hills) is located in northern and central Kazakhstan (Karaganda region and Akmola region). It stretches 1,200 kilometers from west to east and a width that varied width of the hill region varies 900 kilometers to 350 kilometers. The average height of the hills is 500 to 600 meters. In Saryarka borders the West Siberian Plain the north, Lake Balkhash in the south, the desert of Betpak Dala, in the east,, merging with the mountain system of Saur-Tarbagatai, and adjoins the Turgay plateau in the west. Among the highest hills and mountains are: Aksorgan (1565 meters), Karkaraly (1403 meters), Chingiztau (1305 meters) and Ulytau (1133 meters). Shuchinsk-Borovoe resort zone is a developed tourist area set among lakes and mountains that has long been popular with tourists from the CIS countries.

Saryarka – Steppe and Lakes of Northern Kazakhstan was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2008 According to a report submitted to UNESCO: “Saryarka — Steppe and Lakes of Northern Kazakhstan comprises two protected areas: Naurzum State Nature Reserve and Korgalzhyn State Nature Reserve totalling 450,344 hectares. It features wetlands of outstanding importance for migratory water birds, including globally threatened species, among them the extremely rare Siberian white crane, the Dalmatian pelican, Pallas’s fish eagle, to name but a few. These wetlands are key stopover points and crossroads on the Central Asian flyway of birds from Africa, Europe and South Asia to their breeding places in Western and Eastern Siberia. The 200,000 hectares Central Asian steppe areas included in the property provide a valuable refuge for over half the species of the region’s steppe flora, a number of threatened bird species and the critically endangered Saiga antelope, formerly an abundant species much reduced by poaching. The property includes two groups of fresh and salt water lakes situated on a watershed between rivers flowing north to the Arctic and south into the Aral-Irtysh basin. [Source: UNESCO]

“The property contains substantial areas of steppe and lakes with largely undisturbed associated biological and ecological processes. The seasonal dynamics of the hydrology, chemistry and biology of the lakes, with the diverse flora and fauna of the wetlands have evolved through complex wetting and drying cycles, and are of global significance and scientific interest. The wetlands of Korgalzhyn and Naurzum State Nature Reserves are key stopover points and crossroads on the Central Asian migratory bird flyways and are of outstanding importance for migratory waterbirds on their way from Africa, Europe and South Asia to their breeding places in Western and Eastern Siberia. The property also contains over 200,000 hectares of Central Asian steppe, more than half of which is pristine, and which is part of the temperate grassland biome.

“Korgalzhyn and Naurzum State Nature Reserves protect large areas of natural steppe and lake habitats that sustain a diverse range of Central Asian flora and fauna and support vast numbers of migratory birds, including substantial populations of many globally threatened species. The Korgalzhyn-Tengiz lakes provide feeding grounds for up to 15-16 million birds, including flocks of up to 2.5 million geese. They also support up to 350,000 nesting waterfowl, while the Naurzum lakes support up to 500,000 nesting waterfowl. The property’s steppe areas provide a valuable refuge for over half the species of the region’s steppe flora, a number of threatened bird species and the critically endangered Saiga antelope, a once abundant species much reduced across its range by poaching pressure.”

Naurzum Nature Reserve

Naurzum Nature Reserve (on the road from Kostanay to Karamendy) is one of the oldest nature reserves in Kazakhstan. Founded in 1931, it covers 19,400 square kilometers and belongs to the Naurzum and Auyelikol rayons of the Kostanay oblast. It is part of the Saryarka – Steppe and Lakes UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Naurzum Nature Reserve consists of three parts: Naurzum, Tersek and Sypsyn, which represent the full range of the region's ecological diversity. Alongside the Western-Turgai plateau there is the chain of the patches of the Tersek pine-forest, the peculiarity of which is relict hills formed by differently colored horizontal Miocene sediments and cobble areas with savin juniper (Juniperus sabina) and stunted pines trees. The slopes of the Western plateau are punctuated with clumps of birch and aspen forests and numerous springs which provide a habitat for sedges and red osier dogwood. On the dry spots juniper springs up, and here and there, on the sands, coming to the surface as a result of the erosion, groups of pine-trees grow. Down the desert type of vegetation sagebrush (Atrplex cana) and wormwood (Artemisi spp.) prevails.

The flora of the reserve numbers 687 species of vascular plants. This is three times higher than average for the steppe zone. Zonal vegetation is represented by the steppe formations. The bottom of Turgai valley has complex steppe vegetation and shallow freshwater and saline lake systems that are surrounded by haloxerophytic shrub communities and grassy, spring fed meadows. The wind-blow sand deposits in the valley support the largest forested area of the reserve – the Naurzum pine forest – which is 16,000 hectares in size. This unique fire- maintained ecosystem is composed of patches of pine, birch ad aspen trees, interspersed with open steppe and numerous shallow saline lakes. Boreal elements and southern forms occur in the nature reserve far from the borders of their natural habitat making unusual combinations: oleaster, tamarisk, clematis, traveler’s joy, and salt tree, grow at the edge of the pine-forest. In addition on the waterlogged birch on the slopes of the eastern plateau and in Naurzum forest, ferns can be found. Motley – grass sandy feather grass steppes prevail on the light clay-sand soil of the Sypsynagash valley, the appearance of which is formed by the feather grass.

The steppe is most colorful in spring. At the end of April blossoming Pulsatilla flavescents here and there are making dense carpet, on the forest meadows bright-yellow adonises, and on the argillaceous spots several types of tulips break into bloom. At the beginning of may magnificent Shrenk's tulip appears, down in the hollows the bushes of steppe almond blossoms out in its soft-pink color, blooming of the iris and other species starts. At the end of May the steppe looks totally different, silvery waves of feather grass stretching to the skyline and swaying under the eddy wind remind heavy sea. On the forest edges, along the river beds and in the steppe hollows, spiraea and honeysuckle bushes blossom. In the second half of June specks of speedwell and multicolor of astrogalus dominates in the pattern of the sandy steppe.

There are 47 species of mammals, 279 species of birds, 10 species of reptile and amphibious animals and 10 species of fish reported in the reserve. In addition more than 1000 species of invertebrates are found. Typical mammals of the steppe zone are steppe polecat, corsac fox, common fox, wolf, long-eared hedgehog, European hare and several rodent species like bobak marmot, large-toothed souslik, red-cheeked souslik, little souslik common hamster, jerboas as well as several species of voles and lemmings. The forests are inhabited by elk, Tartarian roe deer, Eurasian lynx, badger, ermine, weasel, pine marten, raccoon dog, red squirrel, European hedgehog and blue hare. Mainly along rivers one can also find wild boar. Among the species, which can be found occasionally in the deserts and semi deserts of the reserve is the rare saiga antelope.

Korgalzhyn State Nature Reserve

Korgalzhyn State Nature Reserve(130 kilometers to southwest of Astana) is a nature reserve in Aqmola and Karaganda regions of Kazakhstan that is part of the Saryarka - Steppe and Lakes of Northern Kazakhstan UNESCO World Heritage Site and Biosphere Reserve. The reserve 5432 square kilometers of lakes, steppes and semi deserts.

The biggest lake is Lake Tengiz. This lake and other bodies of water in Korgalzhyn State nature are important stops on the Indian and Siberian-East African migration routes of migratory birds and is a vital wetland not only for Kazakhstan, but also for the whole of Asia. The reserve extensive waters provide t living space for the largest Asian population of wetland birds.

It is no surprise then that Korgalzhynsky Park is an excellent place for bird watchers. Tengiz, the Lesser Lake, is a particularly remarkable for its abundant bird life and accessibility. A variety of birds nest there, including pink flamingos, which nest there from May until October. Korgalzhynsky is home to the most northern population of flamingo in the world. More than 300 different types of birds have been spotted. Among the more interesting are the curly pelican, gerfalcon or merlin and white-headed savka.

Tengiz is located in the central part of the Kazakh hills. The area of the lake is 1,590 square kilometers. The maximum depth is eight 8 meters. The Nura and Kulanutpes rivers flow in Lake Tengiz. Even so, the water is bitter and salty. There are is no fish in Lake Tengiz. Despite this, the lake is a habitat of many water birds.

At the park administration office located in the settlement of Korgalzhyn, you'll find a visitors centre where there is plenty of information about the marshland and its ecosystem. Guest houses to accommodate the visitors can be found as well. The visitor centre houses a museum and environmental-education facility.

Getting to Korgalzhyn is not difficult since it is situated in 130 kilometers to Southwest of Astana, the capital of Kazakhstan. The trip between Astana and Korgalzhyn takes two to tw and half hours by a bus or a taxi.In order to get to Korgalzhyn from Almaty, one should first get to Astana, then travel from Astana to Korgalzhyn, as described above. Many types of transport can be chosen in order to get from Almaty to Astana: flights, trains, buses.


Aktobe Region is a sparsely populated region of Kazakhstan that covers 300,600 square kilometers, making it the second largest region of Kazakhstan, after Karaganda Region. Aktobe Region borders Russia (Orenburg Oblast) to the north and Uzbekistan (Karakalpakstan) to the south, and also borders six other Kazakh regions: the Atyrau Region to the west, the Mangystau Region to the south-west, the Karaganda Region to the east, the Kostanay Region to the north-east, the Kyzylorda Region to the south-east, and the West Kazakhstan Region to the north-west. The Ilek River, a tributary of the Ural River, flows through the region.

Aktobe Region has a population about 900,000 people. Aktobe city, the regional capital and main city, is home to about 340,000 people. The name "Aktobe" comes from Kazakh words for “white” (Ak) and “hill” (tobe); supposedly, Aktobe's initial settlers were able to see white mountains far to the north. About 80 percent of the population is Kazakhs. There are also Russians, Tatars, Ukrainians, Germans, Koreans, Moldavians, Jews, Armenians, and Chechens.

Aktobe Region is rich in minerals. The Koktau mining concentration industrial complex is capable of producing 240 thousand tons of copper concentrate per year has been put into operation. It took a little over a year to build this complex in the bare steppe. Its second production line, scheduled to be put into operation in 2008, is able to produce 47 thousand tons of zinc concentrate per year. . Chromium is also be mined and processed in the region.

Aktobe City

Aktobe City(about 100 kilometers from the Russian border) is a dreary industrial town with about 370,000 on the main rail line between Kazakhstan, Russia and Central Asia. Some people get stuck here when they change trains. The city is located on the Ilek River and is the administrative center of Aktobe Region There are museums and markets and only stationary planetarium in Kazakhstan. There are some cheap places to stay near the train station.

The city had been formed in 1869 as one of numerous fortresses intended to protect the peace of the Russian Empire in the southeast. The fortress had been built on the two nearby hills, with a Muslim burial place, made of the white stone, on top of one of them. Hence, the name Ak-tobe (meaning White Hill). In less than a decade, the borders of the Empire were moved far to the south. From this strategically important place Aktobe became a regular settlement, which many immigrants rushed to, from the other regions of the Empire. Ten years later, in 1891, Aktobe became a city. A great deal of fighting during the Russian Civil War (1918-1920) took place around Aktobe.

Being close ro Russia, Aktobe City has traditionally been very Russified and was very industrial. After Kazakhstan's independence in 1991, things changed dramatically. Older heavy industries have declined and been replaced in importance with the energy sector. The city has continued to expand with new construction and with many Kazakh immigrants moving to the city from the surrounding countryside. In 1999, the official name was changed from Aktyubinsk to Aktobe by presidential decree, as part of a nationwide effort to support the Kazakh language. In May 2011 Aktobe was the site of one of Kazakhstan's first terrorist attacks. A suicide bomber blew himself up in the headquarters of the local national security services. Some analysts have interpreted this as a sign of increasing instability in the oil-rich, but socially unequal, region. Further attacks by suspected Islamist militants occurred in June 2016.

There are two theaters in Aktobe, as well as the Children's Palace theater. There are also two museums in Aktobe: the Regional Museum, dedicated to the natural and human history of Aktobe Region, and the Aliya Moldagulova museum. There is also a geological exhibition. There are two Russian Orthodox churches, three mosques (the newest of which was completed in 2006), Catholic church and a Pentecostal church. There are a large number of outdoor bazaars and indoor shopping malls. One shopping mall and entertainment center has been combined with Nurdaulet mosque. The city sent a bandy team to the Spartakiade 2009 and is home to football club FC Aktobe.

The memorial is devoted to the victims of political repressions of 1930s – 1950s was erected in 1990. An inscription on the memorial reads; “To the victims of repressions of 1930s – 50s from thankful descendants. Your death is guiltless. Memory about you is imperishable.” The Friendship Regional House, located in a three-story building with a basement, was founded in 2008. This building houses a concert hall and a celebration hall with 300 seats, a conference room, rehearsal rooms, a museum, a computer class, workrooms for the leaders of national cultural centers, as well as a dining room for 200 seats, and a recording studio.

Aktobe maintains international rail service with Moscow (via Saratov), Bishkek, and Tashkent, as well as daily domestic service to Aktau, Atyrau, Almaty and Astana. Aktobe Airport offers flights to Moscow, Almaty, Astana and Aktau. Bus service connects Aktobe with villages in Aktobe Region and major cities in northern Kazakhstan and across the border with Russia.

Zhamanshin Meteorite Crater

Zhamanshin is a meteorite crater (southeast Aktobe Region, about 400 kilometers southeast of Aktobe City) is 14 kilometres (8.7 miles) in diameter and estimated to be around 900,000 years old. It is believed to be the most recent meteorite impact event of the magnitude that could have produced a disruption comparable to that of nuclear winter, but it was not sufficiently large to have caused a mass extinction. [Source: Wikipedia]

Preliminary papers in the late 1970s suggested either Elgygytgyn, or Zhamanshin, as the source of the Australasian strewnfield ( the youngest and largest of the tektite strewnfields, with recent estimates suggesting it may cover 10 to 30 percent of the Earth's surface. A strewnfield indicates the area where meteorites from a single fall are dispersed.

Zhamanshin meteorite crater’s depth is approximately 300 meters The catastrophic meteorite impact that occurred here produced an explosion equivalent to the simultaneous detonation of scores, maybe hundreds, of nuclear bombs. The impact was so string it turned over all surrounding geological formations. This is the reason that some surface materials found here are usually found much deeper in the earth..

Zhamanshin is quite a unique place where fossilized molluscs and corals can be found right under foot. Tektites — glass-like formations of either black or dark green color — can be found here as well. Scientists have been debating their origin for more than a century. Some argue that the tektites appear to be a terrestrial rock melted upon the meteorite's impact, while others believe them to be of extraterrestrial origin, claiming that the substances appear to be the compound elements of a comet's core. Either way, the tektites are considered to be among the most mysterious stones on the Earth, because they do not resemble any well-known terrestrial or extraterrestrial substances in their chemical composition.

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

This site contains copyrighted material the use of which has not always been authorized by the copyright owner. Such material is made available in an effort to advance understanding of country or topic discussed in the article. This constitutes 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner. If you are the copyright owner and would like this content removed from, please contact me.