The Tien Shan Mountains
The Tien Shan Mountains, which mean "Celestial Mountains" in Chinese, make up a range of tall mountains that is located north and east of the Taklamakan Desert in the border regions of Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, and western China. They form one of the longest mountain ranges in the world, stretching about 1,740 miles (2,800 kilometers) from west to east. The tallest peak of the Tien Shan Mountains is 24,406-foot (7,439-meter) Jengish Chokusu (Victory Peak) in Kyrgyzstan.
Along with the Himalayas, the Tien Shan Mountains were formed by the collision of the Indian and Eurasian tectonic plates. The mountains are in fact a northern extension of the Himalayas, connecting with the Pamir Mountains in the south, the Altai Mountains of Mongolia in the north and east, and the Hindu Kush in Pakistan. They extend along Kazakhstan's southern and eastern borders, forming a buffer between it and China, Kyrgyzstan, and Uzbekistan.
The range of the Tien Shan Mountains that is south of Almaty (pictured here) is the Trans-Ili Alatau Mountains. Many of the peaks of that range rise to over 15,000 feet (4,572 meters), and Mount Kan Tengri, Kazakhstan's tallest mountain, rises to 22,950 feet (6,995 meters).
The areas below timberline in the Tien Shan Mountains are beautiful. Flower-filled alpine meadows are surrounded by lush forests of Tien Shan spruce, and clear rocky streams flow from blue alpine lakes.
Cold War tensions existed not only between the Soviet Union and the West, but also between the Soviet Union and China. The Soviet Union had an almost schizophrenic fear that the Chinese would invade. The area near Charyn Canyon is very close to the Chinese border, and during the Soviet era it was one of the most heavily fortified borders in the world. Nowadays, Soviet-era pillboxes that once housed machine guns remain, and are testimony to the Soviet fear of a Chinese invasion. Visitors to Charyn Canyon will see many of these abandoned pillboxes on many of the hillsides.
The Sugaty Plain
The arid Sugaty Plain lies east of Almaty. Most travelers will have no reason to visit the Sugaty Plain unless passing through on their way to Charyn Canyon. Birdwatchers, however, come here to look for raptors, sandgrouse, larks, wheatears, and other birds of arid country. The prize here is the Pallas's sandgrouse, a rare bird that is difficult to find outside of Kazakhstan.
Although the Sugaty Plain is relatively arid, it is not part of a true desert. It is one of the numerous areas within the rain shadow of the Tien Shan Mountains that receive little rainfall and are characterized by dry, desert-like terrain. However, more than two-thirds of Kazakhstan's surface area is comprised of desert, including two major deserts, the Qyzylqum and Betpak-Dala, which are located in the southwest part of the country.
The Tamgaly Archaeological Complex
Located in Tamgaly Gorge in the Chu-Ili Mountains northwest of Almaty, the Tamgaly Archaeological Complex features the ruins of ancient settlements, burial mounds, and around 5,000 petroglyphs carved on the surfaces of the area's glazed black rock.
For the nomadic peoples who lived on the open steppes, the Tamgaly Gorge offered shelter, and numerous springs and the Tamgaly River provided an abundance of water in an otherwise arid region, assuring lush growth and an abundance of game animals. For these reasons, people have settled in the valley for millenia, leaving evidence of their existence in the form of the remains of their settlements, burial mounds, and rock carvings.
The archaeological complex itself protects the 2,224 acres (900 hectares) with the greatest concentration of petroglyphs, but the surrounding 7,166 acres (2,900 hectares) also contain many rock carvings. The petroglyphs are scattered among 48 different sites, but the largest concentration is within Tamgaly Gorge, which contains about 2,000 of the rock carvings.
Most of the petroglyphs depict deer and hunting scenes, but there are also many solar images and scenes from the daily lives of the people who carved the petroglyphs. Although there are carvings from as late as the early twentieth century, most date from the Bronze Age and are about 4,000 to 5,000 years old.
Tamgaly Gorge also contains the ruins of what are believed to have been altars, suggesting that some sort of sacrificial offerings were made here.
The Tamgaly Archaeological Complex has been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Charyn Canyon is located about 120 miles (193 kilometers) southeast of Almaty, close to the Chinese border. The red-rock canyon is one of the most impressive geological formations in Kazakhstan and is the main attraction of Charyn National Park, which was established in 2004 to protect the canyon and the surrounding area. Because it resembles a smaller version of the Grand Canyon in the United States, Charyn Canyon is often referred to as the "Grand Canyon's little brother" or the "Grand Canyon of the Stans."
The canyon cuts through the Torajgir Mountains, an outlier range of the northern Tien Shan Mountains. It was carved into rock strata over the millennia by the Charyn River, and is about 50 miles (80 kilometers) long and attains depths that range between 490 and 980 feet (149 and 199 meters). The black rock at the bottom of the canyon is volcanic basalt, and is the oldest rock in the area. The red rock that gives the canyon its name was formed when layers of reddish gravel were laid down and compressed into rock over thousands of years.
The part of the canyon most often visited is Dolina Zamkov, or the Valley of the Castles, which contains impressive red-rock formations resembling large castles. The castle-like formations are situated along a one-mile (two-kilometer) stretch of the main canyon.
Many people visit the canyon for the famous rapids of the Charyn River, which offer some of the best white-water rafting in Asia. Others, like myself, visit to see birds that are difficult to see outside of Central Asia.
Charyn Canyon is very close to the geographical center of Asia, making it the one spot on the globe the farthest from any ocean.
Big Almaty Lake
Located about 18 miles (29 kilometers) south of Almaty, Big Almaty Lake is the main attraction of Alatau-Eliy National Park. The alpine lake is high in the Tien Shan Mountains at an altitude of 8,238 feet (2,511 meters). It is fed by the Almaty River and covers the bottom of the Big Almaty Gorge, which is surrounded by towering mountain peaks. The lake is about one mile (two kilometers) long, one-half mile (one kilometer) wide, and 131 feet (40 meters) deep. Its deep bluish-green color is caused by minerals that are washed down from the mountains and suspended in the water. Because Big Almaty Lake is at such a high elevation, its waters are frigid, and do not get warmer than 46 degrees Farenheit (eight degrees Celcius), even in July.
The Kazakh Steppe
In addition to deserts and mountains, a significant percentage of Kazakhstan is made up of the Kazakh steppe, which is a vast region of open grassland in the northern part of the country and adjacent areas in Russia. The steppe is a semi-arid grassy plain that gradually changes to true desert in the south. Stretching about 1,367 miles (2,200 kilometers) from the Caspian Depression in the west to the Altai Mountains in the east, and covering 310,619 square miles (804,500 square kilometers), the Kazakh steppe is the largest dry-steppe region on earth. It is here that many of the semi-nomadic Kazakhs tend their flocks of sheep or herds of horses in the summertime.
Most of the water that falls on the steppes comes from violent thunderstorms in the summer that can cause flash flooding, and snows that cover the ground during most of the winter. In early May, millions of wild poppies bloom and turn the steppes red from horizon to horizon.
Ancient rock art
Tamgaly Tas is a deep ravine with the walls covered in petroglyphs dating back thousands of years through to the Bhuddistic 16th century CE. Amazing scenes of mammoths,cattle, deer, horses, mountain sheep, men hunting and, in the "Sanctuary" a group of sun-headed gods and worshippers, all in an empty landscape that is so quiet and still the agelessness of the place is palpable. This is a UNESCO World Heritage site
Self-driving isn't really an option in Kazakhstan, so getting to Tamgaly Tas will involve some sort of organization -either a day tour organized through a tourist agency, or a car and driver for the day.Related to:
Most of Almaty was razed to the ground by the earthquake of 1911. Subsequently the city became a Soviet satellite, full of massive buildings and vast blocks of flats, but a small pocket of of the old-style Almaty can be found in the Tartar district in the streets behind the zoo. Small wooden houses; often unpaved streets; lots of trees and vegetable gardens; lethal (overhead!) gas piping and a little mosque with its new madrassa, which we were shown with great pride, where classes are held for women and girls as well as men and boys as the community tries to regain their Muslim heritage.
Posted by leyle
An extremely insane place by the Caspian Sea where only one of the citys streets actually have a name (the rest are just just numbered 'microrayons')...Must be nice during summer when you can have a drink by the sea as you're watching the oiltankers glide by...The train ride here from Aktöbe offers some of the most depressing sights you'll ever sea (except from the area around Aralsk)...
Visit wonderful Semipalatinsk
Stroll down the dusty streets towards the river and spend half an hour by the polygon memorial, if you're lucky you might stumble across a wedding group going there to get their pictures taken (mostly on fridays)...
The Tien Shan Astronomical Observatory
The Tien Shan Astronomical Observatory is set amid the Tien Shan Mountains at an altitude of about 9,000 feet (2,743 meters), and is 19 miles (30 kilometers) south of Almaty. Constructed during the Soviet era, the Russians lease the observatory from the Kazakh government and still operate it, mainly in the autumn and winter when the sky is at its clearest.
The observatory features two Richi-Cretien-Coudet telescopes, two Cassegren telescopes, an HSFA horizontal solar telescope-spectrograph, and an ACU-5 horizontal solar telescope.
Visitors, usually those on birdwatching or trekking tours, can stay in the observatory's very basic twin rooms, with a toilet and shower shared between two rooms.
The observatory's dome and radar dish can be seen among the spruce trees below the high peak (best seen by enlarging the picture).
Turanga is a species of poplar tree that is endemic to the steppes of Kazakhstan, meaning that it grows nowhere else in the world. The trees grow in groves, or turanga forests, along the rivers and inland deltas in the steppe region. Many of these forests are endangered from local people cutting them for firewood or from overgrazing. The turanga forests provide oases of green in the semi-arid, treeless steppes, and are home to many species of reptiles, amphibians, mammals, and insects. More importantly to me, several species of birds that are hard to find outside of Kazakhstan are relatively common and easy to find. I visited the turanga forest near the Ili Delta, where the Ili River flows into Lake Balkhash, and found the birds I was looking for.
Visit the old Gulag from Karaganda
When in Karaganda a thought provoking trip is to visit the Karlug (Karaganda Gulag). A few km away are the villages that gre out of the old Soviet prison camps. We were given a tour by the local Akim (chief administrator) who is getting a museum together and said that he is very keen for visitors. Such a trip will provoke much reflection, so do be in the right frame of mind.
Big Almaty Lake
The gorge leading up to Big Almaty (Bolshoe Almatinskoe) Lake is a beautiful, green wild area starting just 15km outside Almaty. A bus will take you to the a village (Kok-shoky) near the entrance to the gorge and from there it is a long hike up to the lake - a good 5-6 hours.
The gorge rises to a large bowl in the mountains where the lake sits at 2500m.
We set out to drive up there in early June - the lake is still frozen at that time of year - but the road defeated us and we turned back after about 10km. We should have checked the road conditions by calling the number given below.
Furmanov Str. 164, Almaty, 050021, Kazakhstan
Good for: Families
Sarky Arka 4, Astana, Kazakhstan, 010000, KZ
Good for: Couples
Best and most expensive business Hotel to stay in Atyrau. However this is not saying much. This...more
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