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10 September 2014 / leggypeggy

Stepping back in time on the steppes of Central Asia

Tamgaly petroglyph, Kazakhstan

Certainly it is an animal, but is it a deer, a ram, a mountain goat?

Before we headed north out of Almaty, Suse, our driver, said we’d try to visit a few interesting places on our way to the border with Russia. We’d already spent way too many days in this large Kazakh city pursuing the ever-elusive visas for Russia and China, and everyone was ready for some serious sightseeing.

Tamgaly Gorge on the steppes of Kazakhstan was our first stop, and what a great place to switch from being thumb-twiddlers to travellers.

It seems like it’s in the middle of nowhere yet there, ringed by the Chu-Ili mountains, is a remarkable collection of ancient 5000 petroglyphs (rock carvings) dating from the Bronze Age and right up to the beginning of the 20th century.

Flags at Tamgaly

Flags at Tamgaly with the river in the background

The petroglyphs are spread across 900 hectares, including 48 distinct settlements and burial grounds. The largest concentration of artwork is in the main canyon, which is where our truck rolled to a stop with, would you believe it, another flat tyre. 😦

Suse waved us away, telling us to go enjoy the petroglyphs and their history, while she and a few others would tend to the tyre and have a dip in the nearby Tamgaly River.

Sarah led the way towards a likely tomb she’d spotted in the distance. As we climbed, we scanned the cliff faces for petroglyphs, but most of them were so faded that it was difficult—more like impossible—to figure out what was being depicted.

So while there was a great view from up near the tomb, there still wasn’t much in the way of art.

As we descended, we noticed some of the others had veered to the left, to follow a rough path that led between more cliffs and the river.

Silly us! Of course we’d find the petroglyphs around the corner where it was shady. We had walked to the would-be tomb under a blazing sun. Obviously, people back in 1500 BC already had enough sense to stay out of the midday sun.

Tamgaly petroglyph Buddhas

Buddhas with the flags in front

And it was there, in the shade, that we found petroglyphs galore.

No doubt these were chipped out by the many peoples who swept across the Central Asia steppes. Poor John read that it was possible for the old marauders to ride their horse, unencumbered, across the Asian steppes from Mongolia to Hungary.

Tamgaly must have been an interesting or popular stopping place. According to UNESCO—this is another World Heritage Site I’d never heard of—the best engravings are the earliest ones. There’s a wide range of deeply-etched images, including solar deities, zoomorphic beings dressed in furs, disguised people and animals and hunting scenes.

Tamgaly Buddha, Kazakhstan

Buddha and sidekicks {click to enlarge}

Many images sit quite high on cliff faces, and I had to wonder if people climbed up or down to carve them.

There is also a Buddha (Shiva) scratched in about the 8th century AD. He is surprisingly large—at least five feet tall—with smaller Buddhas on each side.

I also liked the etched sets of ‘contemporary’ symbols and, looking at them, I was reminded of mathematical equations from my university days.

And there are plenty of colourful prayer flags and rags tied to railings edging some of the petroglyphs and pathways. This may be linked to the festivals carried out by local Muslims, but I can’t confirm this.

Research does indicate that over the years no permanent dwellings were ever built in the area, so the region must have been peopled and visited by nomads and yurt-dwellers. As part of the presumably-Soviet collectivisation of the 1930s and 40s, these dwellers were moved on and not allowed to return until the mid-1950s.

As a result, the petroglyphs weren’t ‘rediscovered’ until 1957. I’m so glad these were part of our discoveries of 2014.


Leave a Comment
  1. weggieboy / Sep 10 2014 11:23 pm

    Has the look of a bighorn ram. They did cross over into North America from Siberia, via the Bering land bridge.


  2. Chris Gee / Sep 11 2014 3:28 am

    I bought the same sort of Buddhist flags just outside Varanasi in India


    • leggypeggy / Sep 11 2014 7:26 am

      I’ve seen them in many countries, but the ones in my backyard were gifts.


  3. vinneve / Mar 19 2021 6:53 pm

    Interesting site! Never been there yet but in these times I am not sure anymore if I can go there in the future. Good to see it here anyway learned something. Thanks!

    Liked by 1 person

    • leggypeggy / Mar 19 2021 9:11 pm

      You are most welcome. I wonder when any of us might be able to travel.

      Liked by 1 person

      • vinneve / Mar 21 2021 11:25 am

        I am quite happy here in New Zealand so many things to discover in my own backyard and if you can watch Youtube channel PinoySwiss abroad some of the links are on my blog you can see we can travel around here coz we are covid free in the community! See ya!

        Liked by 1 person

      • leggypeggy / Mar 21 2021 5:44 pm

        We can travel around in Australia too. Very lucky in these times.


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