ASTANA — In the heart of the Turkistan Region, thousands of eager travelers embark on pilgrimages each year, drawn by the promise of healing and spiritual balance offered by sacred places. Among these mystical sites is the Baidibek Depression, a mesmerizing natural wonder also known as the Akmeshit (White Mosque) cave, nestled at the foot of the southern extremities of the Karatau ridge. Unveiling its secrets requires a journey of 90 kilometers from Shymkent.
The hidden gem: Baidibek cave’s mysterious entrance
“The Baidibek cave presents an entrance with a modest diameter of 30 meters. What makes it truly captivating is the nearly invisible entrance from a distance. Surrounded by mountains on either side of the road, the opening becomes apparent only as one ascends the path, revealing its expanding diameter closer to the entrance. The moment tourists descend into the cave, an inevitable ‘Wow!’ escapes their lips, setting the stage for an awe-inspiring experience,” wrote Kazinform news agency’s reporter who visited the site.
Upon reaching the bottom of the cave, visitors are greeted by a colossal hall spanning an impressive 200 square meters. Beyond is a hidden underground garden adorned with trees and shrubs, bathed in sunlight penetrating through the fault above.
Remarkably, despite the absence of trees for kilometers on the surface, a unique carpet of sand, bird droppings, feathers, and dust, formed over centuries, provides a springy and soft terrain. The air inside the cave carries a distinct quality, offering coolness in the scorching heat and warmth during severe frost, a phenomenon attributed to the mysterious seepage of water through the stones.
Myth and legend: Tales of Akmeshit cave
The Akmeshit cave, similar to many natural and architectural wonders in southern Kazakhstan, is steeped in legends. One ancient tale suggests that the cave was once the dwelling place of a fearsome dragon, terrorizing the land until the arrival of the prophet Suleiman. Another local narrative weaves a historical account of the cave serving as a refuge during the Dzhungar invasions, sheltering villagers for months or even years.
“Supposedly, the cave housed elderly individuals, women, and children for extended periods—potentially months or even years. The brave men, all of whom were courageous warriors, stood guard outside, ensuring the safety of those within and providing sustenance. The origin of the provisions remains a mystery, given the impossibility of engaging in agriculture or livestock farming,” writes Kazinform.
Historian Serik Dzhunusbaev challenges these stories, asserting the absence of concrete evidence to support the cave’s historical use as a sanctuary. He notes that no historical records indicate any battles with the Dzhungars in the vicinity, and the cave shows no signs of habitation.
The guardian of Akmeshit: Caretaker’s tale
Although Akmeshit does not attract archaeologists, many people believe in the sacredness of this place and its miraculous power. Sick people come here to ask for healing. Women facing infertility issues ask saints to help them experience the happiness of motherhood.
For over two decades, Askar Rustembekuly has assumed the role of the keeper of the Akmeshit cave. Offering prayers and recounting the numerous legends associated with the Baidibek depression for a modest fee, Rustembekuly stands as a beacon for those seeking solace and miracles within this sacred space.
Despite the skepticism of historians, the flow of pilgrims to Akmeshit continues to increase, a testament to the enduring belief in the transformative power of faith. Whether driven by tales of dragons, historical refuge, or a quest for healing, the cave remains an enigma waiting to be explored, offering solace and spiritual rejuvenation to those who dare to venture into its depths.