Travelling around Almaty: 8 best places of Almaty region
Almaty is considered one of the most beautiful cities in Kazakhstan, and the Almaty region remains the most attractive for tourists in terms of natural and historical riches. I was born in Almaty and have been working as a guide for over 15 years, so I know the geography of the region quite well. And most importantly, I love my city very much, with its mountains, lakes, steppes and historical sights.
Based on my experience, I present to you the 8 best places in the Almaty region that you must visit, whether you are a native of Kazakhstan or a tourist:
1. Turgen gorge
Turgen is one of the most beautiful gorges of the Trans-Ili Alatau mountains. Wide, comfortable, and, perhaps, the most accessible one from Almaty: an excellent asphalt road leads to the very confluence of the Turgen and Kishi-Turgen rivers near Batan forestry. If you don’t stop at the fork and continue your way up the dirt road, you will find yourself right in the heart of the country of nomads – on the Assy plateau…
The Turgen region is famous for its natural wonders: grapes have been grown in the lower reaches of the valley since time immemorial (one of the best in the country, as evidenced by new wine brands that have appeared on sale in Almaty). Strawberry fields, Trout Farm, Sievers Apple Reserve, Assy with yurts and countless herds of horses, and of course the famous waterfalls!
In total, there are seven waterfalls in the Turgen River valley, but the most famous of them are Bear and Kairaksky. The Bear waterfall is the closest to the road and the most visited one: from the Ak-Bulak cafe, it takes 20-25 minutes to get to it. However, the real attraction of Turgen is the Kairaksky waterfall - the height of the water fall in it is almost 70 meters! You can reach Kairaksky on foot: from the fork behind the village of Batan to the waterfall about 5-6 hours walk (round trip). The one-way journey takes 3 hours (8 km) along a wide forest path, and the time is worth it - a stunning coniferous forest, the famous Chim-Turgen moss spruce forests, strawberry thickets, a stormy mountain river and crystal air will be an excellent bonus to a good mood and pleasant fatigue from walks.
The waterfalls of Turgen almost never dry up, but the best time to visit them is summer - the period of glacier melting, when the rivers are full of water. It is advised to come to Turgen for more than 1 day - there will be enough things to see and do. You can stay at our comfortable Trekking club campsite in the upper reaches of the gorge: from here is the shortest road to the Kairak waterfall and the Assy plateau.
2. Singing Dune
Those who have heard about Kazakhstan, have probably heard about its singing sands. Dunes that make sounds are located in the Altyn Emel National Park in the Almaty region. The park is huge, and in addition to walking along the knife-sharp ridge of the Singing Dune, you definitely need to explore:
- multi-colored clay mountains of Aktau with their Martian landscapes
- ancient volcano Katutau
- a real desert oasis with a lake and a 700-year-old Willow
- the life of rare wild animals that live here under protection - Persian gazelles, kulans (wild Turkmen donkeys), camels, Przewalski's horses, vultures.
3. Kolsay and Kaindy lakes
Another great attraction of the Almaty region. Kolsai is the name of a cascade of three lakes in the Kungei Alatau mountain range. The lakes are beautiful at any time: incredibly clear water, changing color from dark blue to turquoise, virgin forest around and stunning nature fascinate. This is a great place for hiking and horseback trekking, for example, by this route from the First to the Second Lake. In the lakes there is a local trout - osman. On the First Lake there is an infrastructure for living, boating and catamaraning.
Kaindy is another lake located in the neighboring gorge. This is exactly that turquoise pond with trees, sticking out of the water, that you can see in the pictures about Kazakhstan. The history of the phenomenon is simple: in 1914, during a strong earthquake, a landslide came down to the bottom of the gorge and blocked the flow of the Kaindy River. A lake formed, flooding the dense forest at the bottom. The trees seemed to be preserved in cold water - their white skeletons with branches remained above the water, and the lower part of the crown was overgrown with algae - this gives the underwater part of the forest the appearance of a real green thicket.
4. Charyn Canyons
The canyons of the Charyn river valley are one of the attractions of the Almaty region and a must visit place. Fanciful winding grottoes, cut by the waters of the ancient sea, invite attention with their fantastic shapes and colors. There are several canyons, but the most famous is called the Valley of Castles. It really looks like a set from a fantasy movie with its red and yellow "towers", "fortress walls" and boulders-animals scattered here and there. The Valley of Castles, by the way, is called the little brother of the Grand Canyon in California. In Charyn you can also see an amazing tree that survived the ice age - a relic Sogdian ash.
5. Zharkent moscue
A beautiful and very unusual architectural monument, which is definitely worth seeing. The Zharkent mosque is located in the Panfilov district of the Almaty region, in the center of the town of Zharkent. Its area is more than 1.5 thousand square meters, the main building material in the construction was wood. According to some sources, nails were not used during installation.
The mosque was designed and built by the Chinese architect Hong Pike - it is noticeable that the mosque has the shapes of a Buddhist temple. It was built on donations from the townspeople (mostly Uighurs who migrated from Kulja). The prayer hall of the mosque can accommodate up to 1000 people. Both outside and inside the building is decorated with a large number of wood carvings and paintings. The painting is dominated by plant motifs, it is very colorful.
In 1910, the mosque was damaged during an earthquake. After the restoration, an architectural and art museum was created on the basis of the mosque complex, which demonstrates the clothes and household items of the inhabitants of this border region of the last century.
6. Tanbaly petroglyphs
The Tamgaly open-air gallery (sometimes also called Tanbaly) is located 170 km from Almaty. The complex consists of more than 5000 petroglyphs (rock paintings) dating from the second half of the second millennium BC to the beginning of the 20th century.
The place was discovered in 1957 by an archaeological expedition of the Kazakh Historical and Ethnographic Institute in the course of investigative work to compile the "Archaeological Map of Kazakhstan".
Most of the drawings are located in the place where the river (now dry) Tamgaly flows from a small canyon into the valley. The slopes of the hills on both sides of the river seemed suitable for rock work. Like many other places of rock art in Kazakhstan and Central Asia, the petroglyphs of Tamgaly were made by different generations. Around the sanctuary, settlements and necropolises were discovered. The oldest drawings were made in the Bronze Age: these are large figures of “sun-headed” people and zoomorphic creatures, shamans, ritual dances, etc. As a rule, engravings with ritual scenes are located in a prominent place and are associated with the cult of the Sun in the era of shamanism. The images of chariots, horses and hunting scenes are characteristic of the same era. There are several images of a human foot and a series of erotic episodes.
The early Iron Age is represented by carvings made in the famous "Scythian-Siberian" animalistic style. These are images of deer, pigs, goats and other animals in an expressive pose. It is also interesting to see some engravings of the Turkish era, made over ancient petroglyphs: for example, the image of a standard-bearer or some well-armed "steppe knight" - the most common image of the Middle Ages in Kazakhstan.
7. Touyuk-Su glacier
The mountains that give Almaty a special charm and a completely “postcard” look are part of a huge mountain system called the Tien Shan. We are located in its northern part and the ridge that we see from any part of the city is called the Zailiysky Alatau (or Trans-Ili mountains). The highest point of the ridge is Talgar Peak 5017m. This is a huge peak, accessible only to climbers. However, to be in the zone of eternal glaciers and rocks, it is not at all necessary to be an athlete. Almaty provides excellent opportunities for anyone to visit the glacier at an altitude of 3500 meters in just 1 day, starting from the city center.
Plan a trip to the Tuyuk-Su glacier, and then, in addition to a great mood, you will have photos of a real moraine lake and shining peaks, each of which exceeds 4000 meters in height.
The track starts from the Shymbulak ski base, where you can easily get on the eco-bass or cable car from the Medeo skating rink. You can find a description of the route here.
8. Assy plateau
The best way to find out how nomads live is to come to the Assy (Assy) plateau, one of the largest djailau (summer pasture) in the Almaty region. The Asy Plateau is located just 100 km from Amata to the east: it can be reached through the Turgen Gorge or from Lake Bartogay.
The plateau begins behind the Assy pass (approx. 3000m) and descends for the next 40 km to the east. The valley ends with the Bartogai reservoir on the Chilik River.
A beautiful view opens from the plateau: an immense green valley with yurts scattered here and there, herds of horses and sheep. It also offers panoramas of the snowy peaks of the Northern Tien Shan.
Assy is rich in history: nomads have been using this plateau for thousands of years. Different cultures and eras are closely intertwined here, and, not far from residential yurts, you can often see dolmens of the Bronze or Stone Age facing the giant burial mounds of the Scythian era. There are places with amazing rock paintings, sacrificial altars made of stones and funerary pyramids that are still waiting to be discovered.
The Asy Valley is part of the National Reserve, it is also famous for its wildlife: eagles, vultures and falcons, foxes, wolves and marmots live here. Another attraction of the Assy plateau is the Turgen Astronomical Observatory - one of the largest in Kazakhstan, its dome is visible from anywhere in the valley.
Author - Asya Burambayeva, guide
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