Bektau Ata is a mountain tract 70 km to the north from Balkhash. The highest point is 1213m above sea level. Entire massif covers an area of about 4000ha, with a radius of about 6 km. It splits into several ridges: Bektauata, Sarykulzha (Yellow argali), Konyrkulzha (Brown argali) – with Apar Su pass between them, Karashoky, Zhaltas. The mountains, which attract with their amazing volcanic forms, are surrounded by poplar and juniper groves. During rainy periods and in early spring, the cascades of small lakes appear on the slopes. Here you can find cranes and waders, rare argali and gazelles.
The geological history of Bektau Ata seems to be a volcanic thriller. If we consider these mountains separately, all their charm will fade in the boring definition of "Triassic granite massif that rose to the surface in the Cenozoic". It will be much more interesting to learn that Bektau Ata is only part of the Balkhash-Ili volcanic belt, which also includes the Ketmen ridge, the northern spurs of the Trans-Ili Alatau, the southern spurs of the Altyn-Emel and Jungar Alatau ranges, as well as Karkaraly mountains and the coast of lake Alakol. This belt began to form in carbon (350mln. years ago), when the hard earth's crust was split from the inside by a powerful ascending granite layer. Red-hot magma came to the surface through deep faults, and in early Permian period (295 million years ago) began to erupt, forming volcanic plateaus on the surface with large circular depressions. For 16 million years, hot melts rose from the depths of the earth and formed cone-and shield-like paleovolcanos on the surface. However, even after the eruptions stopped (250 million years ago), the intrusive granite masses continued their way up, melting and lifting the frozen outer layers. Over time, the fragments of the extruded surface layer were washed away, and the granite mountains of Bekatu Ata, Bayanaul and Karkaraly appeared to the world.
Reference: intrusive rocks are those formed in the depth of the earth's crust (including granite, of which Bekatu Ata mountains consist). In contrast to the surface lava, these rocks have time to crystallize to the state of minerals under the influence of underground temperatures and time.
By the way, Bektau Ata for a geologist is a visualized masterpiece of the process called "Intrusive magmatism", because here, as nowhere else, it is clearly visible how hot granite masses pushed apart the strata, with the formation of so – called "dikes". Dikes, meanwhile, are those long ramparts (as retaining walls) that surprise everyone who walks on local slopes for the first time. They look like concrete spikes, and cross the rocks in a bizarre, as if man-made pattern. Although in fact, dikes are just cracks filled with magma.
Unique natural phenomena, and especially such oases in the middle of the bare desert as Bektau Ata, have always attracted not only researchers, but also ordinary people: these places are often revered as shrines and overgrown with beautiful legends. Most of the legends are associated with the amazing Aulie Tas cave, located on the south-western slope of the Western Bektauata massif. The entrance to the cave is located at an altitude of 600 meters, in front of it there is a flat area measuring about 5 by 7 meters. At the entrance, the height is 3 meters, but then it decreases, the width of the 15-meter corridor also narrows as you move deeper. The descent ends near a lake with cold fresh water. At the very beginning of the path leading to the cave, there is a famous stone "Kyz Aulie" (Holy virgin) of triangular shape – here you can see a large number of white ribbons on the branches and coins. Beneath the slope the ruins of ancient buildings, which the locals call "Aulien shoshalasy" (Holy Closet) are also visible. These are ancient places of worship, where for centuries the suffering and women came, begging for the birth of a child.
One of the "freshest" legends of the Soviet time connects the cave with the name of Amangeldy Imanov, who hid in it from the White guards – but, most likely, it has little in common with the real history. Many of the ancient legends that have come down to us are associated with the miraculous story of the salvation of two Holy elders Bektau Ata and Begazy, who were able to wait out the attack in a secluded cave, with an inexhaustible supply of clean water. Others speak of Atabek, who also took refuge from the enemy in the cave of Aulie, where, by the will of the Almighty God, a spring appeared - that prevented him from dying of thirst.
Much more interesting are the legends, which were kept in songs, and left a trace in the names of these places. For example, there is a beautiful story about Saint Atabek, the defender of these places. Two of his soldiers - sons – Sarykulzha and Konyrkulzha, who were surrounded during one of the battles, were turned into two mountains by him - their names are now the names of arrays, and their souls still live among the peaks. Many legends also associate the name of the tract with the name of Khan Bektau Ata, who lived in these places and was in love with Begazy - the daughter of a neighbouring Khan. According to it, a girl Begazy joined the ranks of soldiers in battle with the enemies who attacked the country of his beloved.
The history of these places can be traced not only by legends: generations of people who lived here have left much more visual evidence. The Bektau Ata oasis seems to have been inhabited since the Neolithic period, as evidenced by rock paintings found on the slopes. Since ancient times, people who wintered in Bektau went to djailau (pastures) along the Saryolen in the summer. In the Bronze Age, ore was mined here, which was supplied to India and China, Persia and Egypt. During the heyday of the Silk Road, the Bektau Ata oasis became a kind of beacon on the way of trade caravans going north through the Balkhash region (the highest peak in good weather is visible from behind the surface of the lake). Ore deposits, trade, and, of course, the amazing nature (very different from the surrounding steppes and deserts), gave rise to the formation of tribal associations. The periods of prosperity and decline, as well as the wealth of the local rulers, can be judged by the mounds located at the foot of the mountains. Huge Royal barrows of the Scythe (Saki) era (the early iron age), chains of barrows of the early middle ages (the Turkic period). In the Huns 'era, the oasis was considered a sacred place: the Huns' priests made sacrifices in the Aulie Tas cave, negotiations, horse and camel races were held in Bektau Ata. This area of the Balkhash region remained an important point on trade routes until the end of the 19th century. With the advent of Soviet power, communications were carried out in Bektau Ata, and pioneer camps were built (most of them do not function at the moment – some are used as guest houses). Now Bektau Ata is a popular place of rest and pilgrimage.