On Kazakhstan’s southern border high in the Tien Shan Mountains lies an enchanting paradise home to rarely seen petroglyphs, majestic ibex, brown bears and a myriad of wildflowers that carpet the land as far as the eye can see.
Aksu Zhabagly National Nature Preserve is the oldest in Central Asia having been established in 1926. Covering an area larger than England, it is one of Kazakhstan’s hidden touristic gems.
In late April and early May, the wild tulips are the thing to see. There are over 34 varieties in Kazakhstan and it can rightly be claimed that tulips originated here.
In June and July, the variety of wild flowers increases and there are meadows of purple, yellow and white. Each small microclimate supports its own species.
With such abundant plant life, it is no surprise that the park is home to a wide variety of insects, birds, reptiles and amphibians. Below the snow line, pools are filled with tadpoles and in the evenings, frogs and toads can be seen along the side of the mountain streams. Small lizards bask in the sun on flat black rocks and scurry off into the alpine blooms.
It takes three days trek on horseback over uneven ground, which may fill you with some apprehension but the horses are in the capable hands of trained rangers. It is also possible to hire a guide such as Svetlana Baskakova, director of Wild Nature who has excellent English. Svetlana is also a botanist with amazing knowledge of the park. The apprehension will soon pass as the surroundings envelop you to be replaced with excited expectation about what is around the next corner.
The area also includes wildflower meadows high above the snowline towards the 3,000-metre peak of Kaskabulak and the Bronze and Iron Age petroglyphs. They were discovered in the late 1950’s and since then, only around 300 people have actually visited them and they are still waiting to be formally catalogued and fully studied. Often large herds of ibex feed on the rocky slopes and the calls of the snow cock and horned lark can be heard around the glaciated valley. Large Himalayan griffon vultures are also often seen overhead. Black rocks reflect the sun and the ancient images of ibex, hunters and dogs or wolves are clearly visible. They are scattered randomly over the floor of this bowl-shaped area and there are estimated to be around 3,000 of them.
Visitors to the area also have the opportunity to pass through wild juniper forests and patches of apple trees. A recent group of visitors also had the fortune to see a brown bear in the wild.
The region around Zhabagaly is an exciting and vibrant place with Shymkent to the West, Taraz to the East and Tashkent to the South. The park sits on the Silk Road and is not only a nature lovers dream but is also becoming an important ecotourism centre.
Organisations such as Wild Nature can arrange home stays and will arrange all of the permits and provisions needed for your visit to the nature preserve. To contact Wild Nature email [email protected] or www.wildnature-kz.narod.ru.