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Exploring Tourism in Kazakhstan
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Kazakhstan Popular Places to Visit

Mount Sherkala & The Valley Of Balls

There are 2 very special natural wonders close to the town of Shetpe in West Kazakhstan. The first one is Sherkala, also called Lion Rock, a 200-meter high mountain in the middle of a flat desert. Another thing that makes this mountain so special is that looks different when you look at it from different points of view. On one side it resembles a yurt, from the other side a lion’s head.

There are many legends told about this mountain and old local people won’t recommend you to climb this mountain or go inside its caves as they believe that spirits dwell there.

Another natural phenomenon close to the town of Shetpe is the Valley of Balls. This Valley earned its name thanks to the numerous ball-like rocks that are spread across the valley. The balls range in size from tiny marbles to huge boulders the size of a car.

You can only reach these places by car. Mount Sherkala is about 22km North West of Shetpe while the Valley of Balls should also be near. 

Shetpe, Kazakhstan

The Lost City Of Sauran

Sauran, also known as Sawran or Sawran, an ancient city about 45 km north from Turkistan city along the road to Kyzylorda. The original walls surrounding the old town are still in excellent conditions, almost intact, and in some places, it is even possible to climb to the top and enjoy the view.

The first historical reference of Sauran dates from the tenth century, but the ruins we see today were established between the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries.

It gained fame to be one of the most magnificent castles of Kazakhstan, having escaped the Mongol destruction and having even served as capital to the Horde of the White Mongol. Later, Sauran became a fortress of Timur. It was from Sauram that the building materials of the famous Yasavi Mausoleum came. It was abandoned gradually, and consequently entirely desertified by the year 1515.

You can get to Sauran from Turkestan by taxi. 

Turkestan, Kazakhstan

Turkestan

Turkestan was one of the most important commercial centers of the Silk Road. The city was founded over 15 centuries ago and is now the historical center of Kazakhstan’s culture.

Turkestan is now known for the Mausoleum of Khoja Ahmed Yasawi, a Turkic Sufi saint who was the first man to introduce the Islam religion in Central Asia. His mausoleum attracts yearly thousands of pilgrims. It was designed by Amir Timur, who also has other spectacular architectural creations in Uzbekistan.

Turkestan is about two hours away by mashrutka (minibus) from Shymkent. Here’s a detailed description on how to get from Shymkent to Turkestan by public transport.

Turkestan, Kazakhstan

Arystan Bab Mausoleum

Legends tell that the mystic Arystan Bab was the mentor of Khoja Ahmed Yasawi and by tradition, a pilgrimage to Yasawi’s mausoleum in Turkestan should be preceded by a visit to the mausoleum of Arystan Bab.

It’s an impressive building, originating from the 14th-century. It’s framed by two domed minarets and the carpet-draped tomb of Arystan Bab is in a small room to the left of the entrance. The room is constantly filled with praying believers and pilgrims.

The mausoleum is surrounded by hundreds of tombs of devout Muslims who wished to be close to Arystan Bab. It’s important that when you visit the site, you stay quiet and respectful and you should dress modestly (no shorts or tops).

The Mausoleum is close to the village of Kogam but you can only get there by car. If you don’t have your own vehicle, you could take a taxi from Shymkent or Turkestan or try to hitchhike.

Shymkent, Kazakhstan

The Aisha Bibi Mausoleum

The Aisha Bibi is a beautiful 11th or 12th-century mausoleum in the village of Aisha Bibi. It is the only monument in Central Asia that is fully covered with carved terracotta tilework and is admired for its unique construction and decorative art.

Aisha Bibi is the subject of a popular legend in Kazakhstan. An ancient ruler constructed the monument for a young woman named Aisha with whom he fell in love. She was killed by a snake while attempting to go against her parents wishes to be with him. It’s basically a ‘Romeo & Juliette’ story.

This mausoleum became the local monument for faith and eternal love and is seen as a sacred talisman. Many young couples come here on their wedding day to attract good luck and eternal love in their lives. If you visit the mausoleum, you’ll see many wedding couples being photographed here.

Aisha Bibi is located at 8km from Taraz, on the main road to Shymkent. You can take the minibus from Taraz to Shymkent and tell the driver that you want to stop in Aisha Bibi or you could take a taxi.

Taraz, Kazakhstan

Aksu- Zhabagly Nature Reserve

Aksu-Zhabagly Nature Reserve, which is the oldest nature reserve in Central Asia. It is named after the river that runs through it—the Aksu—and the Zhabagly mountain range. The park offers gorgeous golden fields, steep gorges, crystalline blue waters, and some interesting rock formations.

“Aksu” means “white water” in Kazakh, so named for the blue glacial water fueling the river. The river is icy cold most of the year, but brave souls can find places to swim if they so choose.

The park is quite large, and it’s possible to visit for several days. If you want to attempt this, though, it’s best to do so with a guide; there are no well-marked trails.

You can get from Shymkent to the park by taking a mashrutka (minibus). They leave once a day in the morning (around 9am) from the Aina Bazaar in Shymkent to the village of Zhabagly.

It’s a 2-hour ride and you’ll arrive near the entrance of the park. However, you can’t enter the park on your own.

Shymkent, Kazakhstan

Shymkent

Shymkent is the gateway to the heartland of Kazakhstan’s spirituality: Turkestan. Although Turkestan’s Mausoleum of Khoja Ahmed Yasawi is the main draw for most people, Shymkent offers a surprisingly pleasant stopover for people willing to linger. Lacking major tourist sights itself, incredibly friendly locals define Shymkent.

To see, walk through the main bazaar. Once word gets out that foreigners are afoot, jolly ladies will pull you into their stall to ask you a million and one questions. Beware, these ladies can be cheeky (in a good way).

You can reach Shymkent by plane from Almaty or Astana and by (overnight) bus or train from any city in Kazakhstan. 

The bus is the cheapest way of getting around but I’d say that the train is the most comfortable way to travel in Kazakhstan. You can check the train schedules and book train tickets here.

Shymkent, Kazakhstan

Nomad’s Land

Nomad’s Land is an area in the middle of the Kazakh steppe that sits along the Ili River. From photos and at first glance, people may not realize what the place is as it looks like a historical find in the middle of the barren landscape, but it is actually a film set that was left abandoned from the Kazakh/French movie “Nomad”.

It isn’t easy to reach, on the other hand. You will need private transportation (or an organized tour) and an off-roading vehicle to get out to it. Once you arrive, there is a small tent selling plov and other local delights and someone who charges for entrance to the film set. The fee is minuscule and worth paying.

Almaty, Kazakhstan

The Sacred Sanctuary Of Tamgaly- Tas

Tamgaly-Tas was an open-air sanctuary where religious rituals were held. People used to come here to recharge themselves with energy and health and it was also a sacred place where Buddhists came to pray and meditate.

Tamgaly-Tas means ‘written rocks’ and is named after the series of rocks and boulders that are carved and painted with incredibly beautiful images of Buddha, bodhisattvas and Tibetan scriptures. 

The Buddhas of Tamgaly-Tas can’t be mistaken with the petroglyphs of Tamgaly, a historical site with ancient carvings from the Bronze Age. The Tamgaly Petroglyphs can be found 150km west of Almaty while Tamgaly-Tas is located 170km to the northwest of Almaty.

It’s a 4-hour drive to get from Almaty to Tamgaly-Tas. However, you can’t get there by public transport. You can only reach the place with your own (off-road vehicle), by renting a car and/or driver or by booking a tour.

Almaty Region, Kazakhstan

Lake Kaindy

Lake Kaindy is at an altitude of 2000m and geologically very young. This 400m long lake was formed in 1911 after an earthquake triggered an enormous limestone landslide, which formed a natural dam in the gorge that was covered by spruce trees. Water started flooding the basin and submerged the forest. 

The dried-out trunks of the trees rise above the surface of the water, looking like the masts of sunken ships. 

The lake is almost 30 m deep and if you look underwater, which is very easy because the water is very clear, you can still see the needles on the submerged trunks. Due to the cold temperatures, the trees were naturally frozen and well preserved in the water. 

You could go diving in this lake to see its unique beauty, but brace yourself for the cold! The temperature of the lake is maximum 6ºC in summer!

Lake Kaindy is only 36 kilometers away from the Kolsai Lakes National Park so you can visit both if you have your own transport. There’s a designated camping spot near Lake Kaindy. If you don’t have a tent, you could stay at Guesthouse in the nearby village of Saty. 

Almaty, Kazakhstan