Along the Ili River

At 1439 km, the Ili is the longest river in Jetysu. Its source is in Almaty region; on its way back from China it forms the Kapchagai reservoir, eventually flowing into Lake Balkhash. Long ago the Ili was busy with traffic to and from western China. Today it is a popular destination for adventure holidays, especially rafting to Balkhash. Some call Kapchagai a sea; it is 22 km at its widest point and 45 m deep and covers an area of 1847 sq.km. Along its shores are health spas, guest-houses, beaches and fishing boats. Just a short journey from Kapchagai, on the bank of the Ili, is a place that will transport you far back in time. In the early Middle Ages there was a ford across the Ili at its narrowest point – the Kapchagai Gorge, at Tamgaly-Tas. For centuries, an image of Buddha has gazed into the sky from an enormous rock on the right bank. This is Tamgaly-Tas, 20 km down-stream from the reservoir and 120 km from Almaty. The sunblackened cliff-faces have preserved many petroglyphs (rock paintings), images of mysterious deities and late Buddhist inscriptions whose meaning has yet to be unraveled. There are about a thousand different rock drawings ranging from deer-hunters to the Buddha. The Sanskrit text under the drawings reads “Om mane padme hum”, meaning “A snow-white pearl in the lotus flower” or, in another translation, “Blessed be the one born from the lotus”. These inscriptions and drawings date back to the 12th century. Nearby is another rock with writings in an ancient Turkic runic script dating back to the 8-9th centuries. These were presumably left by Kypchak tribes, although scholars have yet prove this. Tamgaly-Tas is also very popular with Almaty¢s rock-climbers, who gather here in spring and autumn. Despite its desert and semidesert landscape, the Ili river valley is one of the most picturesque places in the Almaty region. You can step into a different world by visiting the Ili tugais, Altyn Emel¢s very own “jungle” – dense thickets of weeping willows, Asian poplars and Ili barberry that have spread along the river-bank. The many pheasants and hares feel at home in the tangle of trees and bushes. You may come across roe deer, wild boars, and sometimes jeirans.

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