A quick glance at the map shows that the river Ili originates in the Chinese Tien Shan mountains, and runs west to finish in the southern part of Lake Balkhash. The part of interest to us lies between the artificial Kapchagai lake and lake Balkhash. Check out a map of places along the river for orientation.
Things to do
We have written before about Ili: check our trip report for text and images of Tamgaly Tas and the Nomad set. An entrance fee of 200 tenge applies for Tamgaly Tas when the caretaker is around, which seems to be weekends only. The caretaker of the film set tends to always be there, he charges 300 tenge entry.
What else can you do around here?
- Visiting the Buddhist petroglyphs at Tamgaly Tas (not to be mistaken with the petroglyphs at Tamgaly)
- Wandering around in the film set of the 2005 epic Nomad
- Kayaking & climbing
- Swimming, having a pick-nick, chilling out
Climbing happens on the challenging rock face just above the Buddhas. Bring your own gear or get in touch with the climbing community of Almaty (they practice at the climbing wall at Almaty Hostel).
Tour companies can help you with the rent of kayaks, a quick google search will help you out as we cannot recommend anyone with certainty yet. The kayak tour will start 20 km before Tamgaly Tas and passes a military training ground and a wrecked Soviet barge. Besides the attractions, it’s a lovely way to take in the expansive scenery as you float down the river.
Real fishermen may chime in here, as I am not an expert on when to go or what type of fish to expect. I also don’t know the fishing rules of Kazakhstan, so help is welcome. What I do know is that they don’t bite near Tamgaly Tas, you need to go a bit further downstream. The left bank is favoured, with the area near the village of Kazakhstan, called Kurt river, being the absolute favourite for Almaty’s fishing aficionados. To fish for the famous giant catfish, the delta near Lake Balkhash is the place to be, for instance near Koshkarbay.
How to get there and when to go
All tracks are possible with a 2WD, but a 4WD crossover is recommended. If you don’t have your own transport, hitchhiking will take patience as traffic is low once off the main road to Kapchagai. If you want to hire a driver, we recommend Konstantin (Kostja) from Track KZ who is fun, highly knowledgeable and works at competitive prices, or the good folks at Almaty City Tour who have a petroglyph tour.
When to go
We recommend to go during weekdays. In the weekends, the place is crowded with city people coming to drink and barbecue. It detracts from the atmosphere. Also avoid July and August, when temperatures soar well above 40 degrees.
With your own transport
The Almaty – Kapchagai road is currently still under construction (but usable) and will become a toll road once finished in 2016. To get to Tamgaly Tas, head over the bridge over Kapchagai, and take a left towards Bakanas. Another left at a hotel towards the river on a sandy offroad track, and then left again when you see a pyramid-shaped stone outcrop. A gate marks the spot.
To get to the Nomad film set, take a turn instead before the bridge over Kapchagai marked towards Kazakhstan, and drive a few kilometers past where the film set is marked on the map before you turn right off-road. The tracks closer to the set are very steep and 4WD only.