Kazakhstan: the Seven Wonders of Nature
Kazakhstan encompasses endless steppes, hot deserts and sky-scrapping mountains. Visitors from any part of the world can find a place in Kazakhstan that will remind them of their home countries. Some will enjoy slopes and peaks, and others will feel like home, travelling across the vast steppe. These unique, breathtaking landscapes feature rich plant and animal life. The country is proud to be home to numerous natural wonders, and now we will tell you about the seven most amazing ones.
In 1856, when the famous Russian explorer Petr Semenov (later known as Semenov-Tyan-Shansky) first arrived at the Zailiysky Alatau, he exclaimed: "What a powerful beauty!"
The northern end of the Tien Shan system, the Zailiysky Alatau comprises a number of peaks, intermountain troughs and a tract of plain. The Zailiysky Alatau extends eastward between the Chu and the Charyn for 380 km. The range proper has a length of 130 km and a height of 4,000 m above sea level. There are 22 peaks with a height greater than 4,500 m. Special mention is given to Mount Talgar, which is higher than Europe’s highest peak Mont Blanc (5,017 and 4,807 m, respectively).
The Zailiysky Alatau is a place of great charm, and is one of the most promising areas in South Kazakhstan in terms of tourist industry development. Scarlet poppies and tulips, emerald green grass, blue firs, snow-white peaks and myriads of huge stars at night all make the local landscapes recognisably distinct. As you climb to 2,000 m above sea level or higher, you will be fascinated at the breathtaking view of the plain below and clouds curling at your feet. The vast sun-dried steppe creeps up on the mountains forming so-called "cabinets" on the slopes. From the plain, the mountains look like a wall hiding half of the world, their peaks cut-off by low clouds and soaring freely in the sky. It is indeed an unforgettable spectacle.
Zailiysky Alatau is a place of many natural and cultural treasures. In order to protect them and promote tourism, the Ili-Alatau National Park was founded there.
Everyone who has happened to see Charyn says that it clearly deserves visiting. The site is named after a small river that originates from the glaciers of the Zailiysky Alatau and empties into the Ili River. However, this calm area has its zest that attracts thousands of tourists.
Charyn is famous for its magnificent canyon which is second in size only to the Grand Canyon in Arizona, USA. The fantastic panorama of the Charyn Canyon would make you feel like you are a space traveller exploring another planet.
The canyon’s walls, up to 300 m high, have been exposed to wild winds, heavy rains and extreme temperatures for thousands of years. These climatic effects eventually carved numerous surreal formations in the rock. You can see there the ruins of ancient fortresses, mythical creatures, and even armies ready for battle, hence the fancy names given to these places: "the Valley of Castles", "Witch Ravine", "Devil’s Ravine", etc. The special air of Charyn’s solitary world evokes unknown emotional experiences, and some say it helps see one’s own life in a different way.
The reserved grandeur of the rocks suddenly changes into the mild beauty of an ancient ash grove. Apart from the famous Charyn ash-trees, you can see Lombardy poplars, giant Ili oleasters and other rare plants. Over 300 birds, 20 amphibians and over 800 arthropods inhabit Charyn.
As you enter the Kokshetau Heights after travelling a thousand kilometres across the steppe, a landscape will appear that you probably will call a marvel.
In the middle of the steppe is a large oasis filled with the fragrance of splendid grass and forests. Sometimes urban people who come to these places for the first time fall unconscious as they breathe in the purest, freshest air of Burabai. The backbone of Burabai’s "oxygen factory" is the evergreen pine forests that cover the hills. The oldest of these giant trees are about two hundred years old.
The "eyes" of this land are the beautiful blue lakes: Burabai (Borovoye in Russian), Schuchye, Grand Chebachye and Minor Chebachye. Pine-trees are joined by asps, various shrubs and "dancing birches" with gracefully bent trunks and branches. Mushrooms and berries are abundant, and the animal life includes deer, elk, bears, wolves, squirrels and about two hundred species of birds. Burabai is sometimes called "the Kazakh Switzerland", and rightly so.
For about two centuries these places have been famous for their healing power. In the summer, the forests and lakes provide pleasant coolness, and in the winter Burabai is safely sheltered by rock walls from the chilling steppe winds. The mild climate, fresh air, picturesque landscapes, therapeutic mud, mineral water and virgin wildlife all create an atmosphere of a paradise. Burabai is an excellent recreational place in any season. A number of superb spas have been built there, and the Kokshetau National Park has been established to protect wildlife.
National Park Altyn-Emel is a place where the diversity of the local nature is best seen. With an area of more than 520,000 hectares, the park is the largest in the country. It stretches from the Jungar Alatau in the north across the plain to artificial Kapchagai Lake in the south. The animal life is unique, with 56 species protected by the state. There you can see herds of the graceful jeyran antelope and, with a little luck, encounter a swift mountain goat, tau-teke, or a timid wild horse, kulan. The latter endangered species is being restored in Altyn-Emel. The plant life is just as rich and distinct. Of the 1,800 local higher plants, 21 are protected and 60 are classified as endemic or rare.
Altyn-Emel’s claim to fame is the so-called Singing Dune, which can be seen from a distance as a giant goldish spot in front of brown mountains in the Ili Valley. This dune, 3 km wide and 80 m high, was named for its ability to produce a powerful buzzing sound resembling that of a jet. Another special feature about the Singing Dune is that this huge "sand pile" has retained its distinct shape for centuries despite strong, permanent winds.
Visitors should also see the famous sandwich-like mountains of Aktau (Kazakh for "white mountains"). These lifeless, oddly incised rocks, painted white, pink or red, look like the pieces of a giant pie and impress a newcomer at once.
The father of history, Herodotus, wrote that behind the steppes populated by nomadic tribes there lay mysterious mountains, the homeland of the Griffons guarding gold. The Altai have always been closely associated with the religious beliefs of Turkic peoples who treated these mountains as sacred. Only a portion of the Altai range is located in Kazakhstan, the other parts extend into Russia and China.
The Altai is the most eastern point of Kazakhstan. At various heights, there are deep coniferous forests, rich Alpine meadows and eternal ice. The wildlife of the Altai is remarkably diverse. At higher elevations, you can see the argali (protected by the government of Kazakhstan) and the Siberian mountain goat, tau-teke. Forests at lower heights provide a habitat for wild boar, bear, lynx, elk, Siberian deer, roe-deer and musk-deer, the smallest in the family. Rodent species are represented by the famous sable, chipmunk, glutton, the badger and others. If you are lucky, you will see a bearded vulture in the sky, a huge bird with a wing span in excess of three metres. It is also worth mentioning the beautiful Himalayan snowcock, the Himalayan griffon, the golden eagle (the favourite hawking bird in Kazakhstan), and the legendary Alpine chough, "bluebird of happiness". Game birds include the wood grouse and the hazel hen. On the shores of Lake Markakol, there are nesting places of endangered birds such as the fish-hawk and the black stork, and the lake itself provides a habitat for the Markakol lenok. To preserve these natural treasures, the Markakol and West Altai reserves have been established.
The highest point of the Altai is the mysterious Mount Belukha (4,506 m). Serving as a natural "boundary post" between Russia and Kazakhstan, it symbolizes the spiritual unity of the followers of various religious confessions, and is a place of pilgrimage. According to ancient beliefs, Belukha is the Shambala, the land of gods to which the Buddha has made his pilgrimage, and one of the ends of the energy bridge that connects the earth with space. In recent years, thousand of pilgrims have visited Belukha.
According to Kazakh tradition, after the Creator had endowed each land with natural wealth and beauty, he generously gave the remainder over to a single place, Bayanaul. This amazing hill country is located in the northeast part of the Sary-Arka steppe.
In Kazakh, Bayanaul means "rich, happy mountains". It is a combination of fantastic rocks, mysterious caves, mountain lakes abundant in fish, pine forests with mushrooms and berries, and crystal springs. Bayanaul is not only one of the most beautiful places in Kazakhstan; once this land was the scene of many legends and important historical events, and is sacred to the Kazakh people.
As you come to Bayanaul, you will understand why this land is so celebrated. The everlasting change from cold to hot, strong winds and geological processes created beautiful natural formations. Some of them are true granite "sculptures": "the Stone Head", "the Dove", and others. There are also numerous simpler formations that impress the visitor with the perfect union of animate nature and rocks. The lakes of Jasybai, Sabandykol and Toraigyr quietly lay in intermountain troughs, just like mirrors in the precious rim of the mountains.
A few years ago Bayanaul received the status of a National Park, so the beauty of this land will be preserved for generations to come. However, this precious gift of nature serves humans. For centuries, people celebrated the healing climate of Bayanaul in poetry; many children’s recreational camps and rest homes have been built on the shores of its lakes.
The amazing Ustyurt plateau is located in the western part of Kazakhstan. Like the famous Charyn Canyon, Ustyurt is an absolutely extraterrestrial scene that makes the visitor think of the transient and fragile nature of life outside this kingdom of eternal rocks and sand.
The surface of Ustyurt is perfectly flat, as if it was sliced by a gigantic knife, with steep ledges on the edge (up to 400 m high). It is an unforgettable experience to walk across this vast plain and suddenly see the land in front of you literally collapsing hundred of metres down.
Ustyurt stands like an unassailable fortress guarding the western steppe between the Caspian and the Aral Seas. These solitary places with a harsh climate are the habitat of some endangered animals such the Ustyurt mouflon. Also known as the urial, this species of the argali easily survives in these seemingly lifeless rocks, subsisting on scarce vegetation and salt water. The other animals inhabiting Ustyurt are the honey badger, the hedgehog, the caracal and the sand cat. The rarest animal of Central Asia, the cheetah, sometimes can be seen there hunting jeyran and saiga antelopes. There are also numerous desert species of birds, including the black-bellied sandgrouse, the Pallas sandgrouse, the chat and the skylark.
The unique wildlife of Ustyurt is protected by the government. The staff of the Ustyurt reserve care for rare animals and valuable steppe plants.
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