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16 July 2014 / leggypeggy

Searching for a field of rocks in Kyrgyzstan

Cholton-Ata petroglyphs

A field of petroglyphs

With its great position on the north shore of Lake Issyk-Kul, Cholpon-Ata is a well-known holiday destination for Central Asian families. To cater for the glut of summer visitors, almost every shop sells an array of beach toys and swimming gear.

But because Australia is blessed with some of the world’s finest beaches, we’re rarely in search of a swimming hole. So instead five of us set out to find Cholpon-Ata’s other famous attraction—the ancient petroglyphs (rock engravings).

Petroglyphs poster

A poster to use as a clue

Famous? Well that was the rub.

We asked and asked and asked for directions. I even had a photo of the poster advertising the petroglyphs with the word written underneath in Russian (or Kyrgyz)!

Hmm, nope, never heard of them—or words to that effect—was the most common response, accompanied by a shrug of the shoulders or a certain amount of head scratching. At first I wondered if we were asking only tourists who simply didn’t know, but I reckon the people running shops must be locals.

A fellow running a tour company pulled out a map and showed us the way, which included a walk up a ‘road’ that seemed to start and end in the middle of nowhere. That, of course, was because the road is really a disused airport runway.

Petroglyph in Cholton-Ata


We optimistically trudged in the general direction of the runway and kept asking where to turn to get to the petroglyphs. Either nobody knew or they gave distances that ranged from half a kilometre to three or four. We’d already walked three or four!

There was one exception. A little girl at a crowded bus stop had a general idea of where they were. No doubt she had visited on a school excursion. But she had no English, nor did any of the others. So her spiel and hand waving weren’t of much use.

At last we turned up a likely road (just past a petrol station someone had mentioned) and a fellow directed us to the actual road/runway in the middle of a field of dirt.

main petroglyph, Cholpon-Ata

The largest petroglyph. The photo doesn’t it show it very clearly, but the two animals in the top right are supposedly snow leopards trained to hunt!

So much for feeling like you’re getting close. Do you know how long a runway is?

When we finally arrived at the gate we were surprised to find most of the rest of our group already there—or already come and gone! Obviously they had asked the right questions in their quest for the location. Now that I think of it, I suspect they also had the group’s Russian speaker with them.

One of our fellow travellers warned us that admission was high—somewhere between 250 and 350 som (or $5 to $7)—but that was a miscommunication. We got in for $1 each.

We spent about an hour wandering among the rocks with their age-old artworks. The guidebook says this open-air ‘museum’ has about 2000 images dating from 800BC to 1200AD. Many of the animals depicted are now extinct or extremely rare in the area. We found 10 or 12 rocks with etchings, some with multiple pictures.

Supposedly there is a track leading through the rocks, but we had as much luck following it as we did finding the actual site.

P.S. I got a kick out of the fact that most of the site is fenced. Do they think the rocks are going to escape?

Cholton-Ata landscape

Stampeding rocks?


Leave a Comment
  1. Kenny2dogs / Jul 16 2014 6:40 pm

    Hi Peggy, fascinating post and just love your PS. lol


    • leggypeggy / Jul 16 2014 8:22 pm

      If you ever visit there, don’t get caught in the stampede. 🙂


  2. Rhonda / Jul 16 2014 7:33 pm

    Hmmm. Maybe the fence is there to stop anyone backing up a truck and loading up the rocks? All sorts of antiquities have market value…

    Interesting to learn about them, Peggy. Thanks! I love travelling vicariously with you to such out of the way locations!


    • leggypeggy / Jul 16 2014 8:22 pm

      That makes sense Rhonda, although I’d like to see someone back a truck over all the unmarked rocks to get to the valuable ones!


  3. weggieboy / Jul 16 2014 10:18 pm

    Excellent post, Peggy! I’d never heard about these petroglyphs before, and they do appear to be worth the trudge.


    • leggypeggy / Jul 22 2014 2:05 am

      They sure were worth the trudge—and then we saw some more yesterday in Kazakhstan. Stay tuned for a blog post.


  4. wineandhistory / Jul 20 2014 8:44 am

    What a neat place! And thanks for sharing the story of the challenge to find it; it is often these travel “missteps” that leave warm memories.


    • leggypeggy / Jul 22 2014 2:06 am

      Sometimes the warm memories are just because you’re hot in the blazing sun. 🙂


  5. artandkitchen / Aug 7 2014 8:35 pm

    Wow! I love that place, so lonely and arid, but full of history.


    • leggypeggy / Aug 7 2014 11:36 pm

      Yes, very arid. We visited petroglyphs in another place and I’ll pot pictures soon of that.


  6. David / Jan 30 2015 3:49 pm

    I’ll bet the fence is to keep the wandering tourists corralled once they’ve made the discovery. Imagine how upsetting it’d be to wander out and wonder what you had missed after all your wandering? JK.



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