The movie Borat is as provocative as it is hilarious but it is about a fictional country using only Kazakhstan's name and flag - that's it (also Kazakhstanis don't like that movie). The real Kazakhstan is stunning and diverse. It is a whole wealth of culture, history, and attractions to see and explore. Its attractions range from the mountains peaking at 23,000 feet on its southern border to the ancient city of Turkistan, to the Soviet/Russia space launch center, to the unending steppe of Central Asia, to central Central Asian foods, to horse trekking and so so much more. And of course its famous petroglyphs.
Kazakhstan: The Facts
Capital: Nur-Sultan (formerly Astana)
Largest City: Almaty
Size: One Million Sq Miles (Nineth Largest Country In The World)
Official Language: Kazakh And Russian
Population: Around 19 Million
Petroglyphs Of Tamgaly: An Introduction
Kazakhstan has five UNESCO World Heritage Listed sites - One of which is the petroglyphs. There are around 5,000 petroglyphs at Tamgaly and they are located around 170 km or 105 miles from the main city of Almaty so easy to see in a day excursion.
Number Of Petroglyphs: Around 5,000
Oldest Petroglyphs: Around 4,000 Years Ago
Entrance Fee: 1500 Tenge (Around $3.50)
When To Go: Anytime But Winter Will Be Cold - Later Spring Is The Best
The Tamgaly petroglyphs are from four different epochs including the Middle Bronze Age, late Bronze Age and transitional period, the early Iron Age, and the Middle Ages and modern times. While the Iron Age petroglyphs are the most numerous, the Middle Bronze Age petroglyphs are of the greatest interest.
These petroglyphs are considered to have the greatest aesthetic and cultural value. They range in size from 25 - 30 cm or 10 to 12 inches. They are mostly engraved into the rock and tend to depict naturalistic images being of anthropomorphic, zoomorphic, and syncretic nature.
Scenes Depicted In The Middle Bronze Age glyphs
- Armed Warriors
- Mature Scenes
- Birthing Women
- Animals (donkeys, horses, bulls, camels, wolves, and more - some of these species are extinct today)
- Human And Animal Sacrifices
How To Get To The Petroglyphs
The main gateway to Kazakhstan is the southern city of Almaty and is home to the country's largest airport. While most of Kazakhstan is a flat steppe, Almaty is situated on the foot of massive and stunning mountain ranges. From here you can either hire a car by yourself to explore the petroglyphs or you can hire a driver to take you there. There are likely to be organized tours there as well, but in Kazakhstan, these tend to be informal. To join these it's often best to inquire at the larger hostels in the city.
Visa Requirement: Kazakhstan Is One Month Visa Free
Tamgaly-Tas Petroglyphs And Movie Set
The Tamgaly Petroglyphs are not to be confused with the Tamgaly-Tas petroglyphs. These are an easy drive from Almaty with the oldest being Tibetain petroglyphs from the 17th century. If you have time, these are also worth visit. There is also a motorboat on the river to take you across to see them.
As a bonus, you can see the "Krepost Nomad" movie set just across the river. This is a sunning motive set made to replicate a traditional fortified Central Asian city. It is in awesome condition and a stunning and remote location. It's trippy how much it feels like the real deal.
Other Things To Do In Almaty
Hiking! The mountains are utterly spectacular around Almaty. The mountains around here have hiking trails for everyone, from leisurely strolling to hardcore mountaineering. There is also a major ski resort just up the mountain from Almaty and in the summer you can take its massive cable car to be high and deep in the unspoiled mountains.
Fun Fact: Apples Are Native To These Mountains In Kazakhstan
When To Go Hiking: Mid Or Later Summer (Earlier And The Snows May Not Have Melted Higher Up)
While in the city, be sure to visit the public city baths and sauna (called a "Banya"). During the Soviet Union, the Arasan Wellness And Spa of Almaty was one of the very best in the nation. The Russian sauna is incredibly hot and when it is unbearable you jump into the cool pools or plunge into the ice-cold barrels and then repeat. The sauna is separated into men's and women's parts and people bathe completely naked.
- Admission Fee: Varies Depending On Hours And Duration Of Stay But Max $10-15
In Amalty you can try some of the best of Central Asian food. Remember that the history of the Kazakh is nomading across the Steppe like the Mongols. Consequently, the horse is central to their culture, history, and cuisine. In Kazakhstan, the horse is seen more like a stock animal like a sheep or cow than a pet as in the West. The food includes:
- Samsa - A Type of Central Asain Meat Pie
- Shashlik - BBQ'ed Meat on a Stick
- Beshbarmak - Boiled Horse Meat With Boiled Lasagna
- Horse Milk And Camel Milk - Caution the Camel Milk is Strong
- Lagman - A Noodle Soup
- Manti - Large Dumplings
In summary, if you come and see the Petroglyphs Of Tamgaly you will be spoilt for plenty more to see and do in this massive and picturesque country that is so often ignored.