Not to be confused with the Buddhist rock drawings called Tamgaly Tas, Tamgaly (or Tanbaly) is a much more ancient site of human ritual, 150km west of Almaty. It’s an atmospheric place that tracks the evolution of human culture in this area over the past 4000 years.
To get out there, take the road west towards Bishkek, and turn off after 90 km towards the village of Kopa. The road takes you through some wonderful steppe scenery, filled with birds, unusual flora and bleating sheep.
Tamgaly is a valley, with black flint rock jutting out on both sides. It’s excellent carving material. The site is extensive, consisting of 7 big spots housing several thousands of petroglyphs. The majority of them are from the Bronze Age, depicting animals, hunting scenes and fertility rituals involving men and goats.
Of special significance are the sun deities, with a radiant head, which appear in several places, especially near the spiritual heart of Tamgaly on the western side of the valley, where scenes of dancing and revelry abound.
But petroglyphs continued to be added later. Turkic warriors on horses, with banners and chariots, point to medieval visitors. Modern additions inform us that Nurlan was here, amongst others. One can only wonder what conclusions future civilizations might draw of our culture, based on our obsession with writing our own name everywhere.
At the entrance of the valley a kurgan adorns the otherwise flat steppe beyond. It’s one of many in the area, built by Sakh people to bury their leaders. A dug-out grave at the foot of the kurgan points to the tiny size of these people.
The site is kept up well, with clean pick-nick areas, trash cans and explanations in English at every point of interest. A few kilometers before the site stands a museum. It’s been closed whenever we wanted to visit.
The entrance fee is supposedly 1500 tenge per person for a guided walk, and a sign says visitors aren’t allowed to walk around without a guide, but we have found that these things are negotiable.
There is no public transport to the site. The road from Almaty to Tamgaly is in a good condition, a 4WD is absolutely not necessary. To get there without your own transport, consider an organised trip to Tamgaly.
Tamgaly can be a part of a larger reconnaissance of Almaty Region’s rarely visited western side, en route to Lake Balkhash. It’s a great place to find large lizards, turtles, unusual birds, steppe mushrooms and more in the big open spaces. And you get to encounter life in small villages. Recommended.