At a height of 2600 meters above sea level, a boundless green upland valley appears. Of all the zhailaus in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, this is as far as we know, the biggest.
This makes it another interesting landscape if you are doing a tour of Almaty Region. Besides this, it’s also a good place to watch the stars, do outdoor sports, see remnants of earlier civilizations, and to experience a more traditional lifestyle that has died out elsewhere in Kazakhstan.
Horse milk and dark skies
In summer, shepherds set up yurts on Assy Plateau to provide a temporary home while they tend to their animals. It’s nothing compared to the many yurts of Kyrgyzstan, but it’s nice to see that Kazakhstan has managed to keep some of its traditions.
You can always pass by a yurt to score some fresh kymys from a shepherd.
Camping on Assy Plateau will be chilly, but it’s worth staying out late to observe the night sky. There is a reason Almaty’s biggest observatory (there is another one at Big Almaty Lake) has been set up here. The sky is very dark here.
If you want to go hiking or skiing, the Turgen Gorge just before Assy Plateau is the place to be.
Hang gliding from Assy Plateau: we have seen people do it, and we have seen the eagles floating on thermal vents, so it’s definitely possible and the views must be fantastic, but we don’t know of any organised tours, so it’s a DIY adventure.
It should be possible to convince a shepherd to take one of his horses out for a ride.
Petroglyphs and ancient burial mounds
Burial mounds, monumental stones, altars and petroglyphs dating back to the Bronze Age show the extent of the Saka culture in this area. The museum in nearby Esik, where the biggest and best-studied mounds are, is worth a visit.
The artifacts on Assy Plateau have not been studied well by scientists yet. Images of goats, wolves, camels, deer, horses, dancing people and sun symbols have been found.
You can have a look at this map of the area with some spots marked, but people who frequent the area say they have found drawings everywhere in the area. Keep exploring!
East of the plateau, where the Assy river turns, a place called Toraigyr is made up of spires formed from reddish rock. Sheltered from the wind, Toraigyr is a good place to camp. The road continues east to take you along a steep-sided valley until you get to the Bartogay reservoir.
Surrounded by rather barren steppeland, the sky-blue of the lake makes for a beautiful contrast. Bartogay is known to birdwatchers as a top spot, especially during migrations.
Buried under the reservoir’s surface are several big Saka burial mounds with “altars” in front that become visible when the water level is very low.
Transport and Q&A
Assy Plateau receives a lot of snow in winter. From October until April the road over Assy plateau is likely impassable by car. Should be fine if you drive a tank.
The dirt roads through the plateau until Bartogay and the main road at Kokpek are fine with an old-timer Lada, but the road down to Turgen is in a very bad state, and we would not attempt it in a car without a high clearance to the ground – 4WD is recommended on the way up.
There is no mobile phone signal on the plateau. In summer weekends locals from Almaty come to camp and grill meat – if you want peace and quiet, weekdays are better.
Your questions are welcome in the Assy Plateau forum Q&A.