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Bigfoot and argali. What will surprise the visitors of the oldest Aksu-Zhabagly Nature Reserve?

25 March 2021

This reserve got its name from two rivers – Aksu and Zhabagyly. Rock paintings have been preserved here since ancient times, and here you can enjoy a walk, watching herds of argali and admiring the flight of golden eagles and vultures. In this article, we will tell you about the Aksu-Zhabagly National Reserve and what legends go about this unique place.

Aksu-Zhabagly National State Reserve has become the first and oldest protected area in Kazakhstan – the park’s specialists have been monitoring the preservation of fauna and flora since 1926. Over the years, dozens of different tourist routes have been developed, revealing all the unique beauty of the gorges and valleys of the reserve. In 2016, the Aksu-Zhabagly Nature Reserve was included in the list of biosphere reserves protected by UNESCO.

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The reserve got its name from two full – flowing rivers-Aksu and Zhabagyly. The first of them stretches for 120 kilometers, bifurcating into large and small, the river formed a delta with the beautiful canyon of the same name.

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In this place there are galleries of rock paintings and paleontological sites at an altitude of about three thousand meters, which are still of great interest to scientists and travelers. The drawings are a kind of picture gallery on the stones, which depicts domestic and wild animals of that time, scenes of everyday life and hunting of ancient people.

In the shale deposits, you can see the fossilized prints of ancient inhabitants of the planet-lizards, insects, fish and plants.

There is a legend about the reserve, according to which a former researcher of the reserve met a relict hominoid, or “snowman” – a large furry creature, the first traces of which were found in the snow, hence its name. Local residents call this strange phenomenon in their own way – “zheztyrnak”.

Maybe there was a meeting in fact, because the old huntsmen still warn travelers and tourists not to stay for the night in the remote mountains. According to local stories, Bigfoot can hypnotize and destroy anyone he meets. Scaring tourists, they are told that one of the rangers, whose cordon is located above the Aksu River canyon and remains impassable, saw something that looked like a big monkey from afar.

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The reserve has preserved paleontological areas where you can see the remains of animals that lived here during the Jurassic period – the skeleton of a flying lizard and parts of a dinosaur.

In the surrounding area you can see unusual stalactite caves, medieval settlements of Isfijab and Sharafkent, the sacred spring of Baybarak in the thickets of sea buckthorn and ancient mounds along the Zhabagly River.

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There are also mountain peaks in the reserve with a height of more than four thousand meters, such as the Sairam peak (4,238 meters), which is also called Aktueolgen, or “lying camel”. In the heart of the natural site lies the Bugulutor mountain range with a height of 3,926 meters. On the territory of the reserve there are more than a hundred glaciers and 27 small lakes.

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You can admire these natural beauties by following the route that runs along the Zhabagly River. In good weather, you can enjoy a panoramic view of the mountain peaks and the valley of the reserve. You can go on a trip along the route that passes through the juniper forest, along the way you can admire the Kshi-Kaindy waterfall, watching the herds of argali and admiring the flight of golden eagles and vultures.

If you are lucky, you can see how the Tianshan brown bear, listed in the Red Book, the Turkestan lynx and the unruly snow leopard walk through the hills.

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In late spring, you can see how the iridodictium blooms, the unique snowdrop iris, the Greig tulip, which has become the emblem of the reserve, and the delicate Kolpakovsky and Kaufman tulips.

Best time to travel

The tourist season in the Aksu-Zhabagly Nature Reserve lasts from April to October, on the hottest day of August, the temperature rises to only 21 degrees. Tourists are offered hiking, horse riding and cycling routes, but many of them can be reached by car.

Permission to enter the reserve can be obtained from the administration, the cost of a mandatory guide is about 2,000 tenge, the fee for visiting the reserve will be about 500 tenge. You can stay in a local hotel, where tourists will be offered rest in private rooms and three meals a day.

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How to find it

Aksu-Zhabagly is located in the mountains of the Talas Alatau in the Western Tien Shan, this is the Tulkubas district of the South Kazakhstan region, almost on the border with the Talas region in Kyrgyzstan.

You can go there as part of a tourist group for a weekend or for a longer period. The administration of the reserve is located in the village of Zhabagly, you can get here by train (Tulkubas station), by bus from Almaty or Shymkent.

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