The little town of Karkaralinsk, known as Karkaraly in Kazakh, once drew traders on the famous Koyandi fair, and still has some crumbling Tsarist-period architecture to attest to its early fame. Now it stands as the gateway to the Karkaralinsk mountains, a well-maintained national park that rises up suddenly from the unrelenting flatness. It’s a wonderful place to go trekking for a few days. Further away from the main park lie ancient ruins that attest to the unexpected history of this site.
Karkaralinsk national park
The entry to the park, a few kilometers out of town, is around 200 tenge per person per day. The park is well-maintained by its foresters, who do check up on you, so don’t lie in advance if you’re planning to stay longer than a day. There are also a lot of ways into the park that don’t include paying, so we’re not quite sure how that works.
Hiking and trekking in Karkaralinsk
On the maps in the paragraph below you can find a 6-day walking trail outlined that takes in all of the surrounding area in about 75 km. The most popular part of this trail is easily done in 1 day (about 10km); it starts from the Shaktyor House of Rest, a resort for miners, and heads northeast back to the town, taking in the Shaytankol and Basseyn lake along the way. It starts right behind the administrative building of Shakhtyor. You can tack on another 5 km to go up to Tasbulak, where a small nature museum awaits you. From there you can hitch a ride back to town on the main road.
The views on this hike consist of a mix of pine trees on sandy soil and the characteristic granite hills. The Shakhtyor is in an especially picturesque location, near a large lake with imposing hills in the backdrop. There is a bus service from town to and from the House of Rest a few times a day.
There are other places further away from town, for which you will need your own transport to visit. Beldeutas national park is east of Karkaraly and is home to many protected species including Pallas’s cat and arkhar. Zhirenshal peak is the highest point in the reserve at 1403m. Aulietas is a sacred location with strangely shaped rock formations. The Kent mountains are home to more wildlife and the ruins of the Bronze Age city of Kent and a Buddhist monastery.
There is ample opportunity for camping inside the national park. A few camp sites are maintained (indicated on the map with an orange triangle) where you can bond with your fellow campers while eagles soar, looking for leftovers.
If you want a bit more comfort, try the Karkaraly ecocentre: Zulfiya is the local coordinator and can be reached at +7 701 1287006, [email protected] Prices run around 5000 tenge per person per day for a bed and 3 meals a day. I would avoid the Shakhtyor house of rest (Telephone: 31643, 31842): the outdoor radio drives you nuts.
Bronze Age remnants and Buddhist monastery
Despite the harsh climate, Central Kazakhstan has always been a hub of activity. Surrounding Karkaralinsk are some intriguing remains of these distant civilizations. Well worth a visit if you have your own transport.
In the middle of the Kent Mountains is a unique, historical, and cultural monument from the Bronze Age. Archeologists have named the ancient settlement Kent. It was a large city, no less than 30 hectares large, and was home to one thousand people. The town was divided into streets and quarters. There was a quarter for metallurgists, in which copper and bronze has been found. Masters made weapons, equipment, and ornaments. Most likely the inhabitants of Kent were skilled metallurgists.
Kyzyl-Kensh, also located in the Kent Mountains, is an architectural monument of the time of the Dzungar invasion of the Kazakh steppe. It holds the ruins of a Buddhist monastery from the 17th century. It is located in a small valley almost completely surrounded by rocky mountains. The monastery was built here by the Dzungars in the mid-17th century.
As always with archeology, for those with little imagination or interest, it’s just a bunch of rocks!
Getting there and away
It’s a 4 hour bus ride from Karaganda to Karkaralinsk, with several buses going daily. From Karkaralinsk there is a road going east. It forks at Burkutty, continuing east to Ayagoz and north to Semey. Both these roads are terrible, and there is no public transport going that way. Taxis will charge several hundreds of dollars.