It isn’t anything spectacular, especially if you have been to other petroglyph sites like Tamgaly Tas or Sarmysh, but if you have the time, it’s a nice stop-over to enjoy the solitude of the steppe and hunt for ancient remains.
Ak Baur is a winter shelter, a place to hide from the fierce winds and snow drifts that whip across the steppe in the harshest winter months. The rocks suddenly rising from the flat surrounds give a secluded atmosphere. There is a spring nearby as well. Here animals could survive until the following spring.
So, people had a lot of time on their hands. They started drawing on the rocks. You can find their ancient sketchings on the walls. The oldest ones go back 3000 years. There are not so many as in other places in Central Asia, but I like the hunt. Makes you feel like a real archaeologist.
The place itself is the main attraction after all, in my opinion. Let’s be honest, steppe can be quite boring, but it always brings a mood of contemplation with its wide expanse and endless silence. Here it’s tempered, less hot or cold than usual, you are out of the wind for once, and when there is no snow, the grass is greener than elsewhere and you can photo-hunt for wild flowers.
And then there is always that little magic, looking out over the conic mountains rising from the flats, knowing our ancestors were looking out too, pondering similar thoughts, and you fall through that deep dimension of time.
Kurgans and sacrificial altar
Surrounding Ak Baur are a number of Scythian burial mounds known as kurgans. If you are really interested, they are marked on panels in front of the entrance and you can search them out. The best kurgan site in North Kazakhstan is the Valley of Kings, though.
A weirdly shaped stone facing the Mount Fuji-like formation ahead is a sacrifical altar, further testifying to the reverence ancient people had for this place. Springs, trees and mountains are revered in Kazakhstan to this day, and shrines of holy Sufi teachers tend to be located on a hill or near a strange rock formation.
Things change slowly around here. Walking around Ak Baur, you cannot help but wonder, why not?
Shybyndy Kol, Karmen Kuus and Asubulak
Beyond Ak Baur, the road continues and becomes ever more picturesque. Gorgeous landscapes all around. We decided to stop at Shybyndy Kol, a lake still hogged by Soviet-style workers’ cooperatives.
It isn’t necessarily a place I would recommend to visit, rather just an example of the kind of beauty you can find once you dither off the beaten track in North Kazakhstan. These type of places are everywhere around.
We did not manage to visit Karmen Kuus this time, but geology freaks should definitely stop at this mineralogical play ground near Asubulak. It’s supposed to be golden.
There is a small entrance fee to visit Ak Baur. For a few tenge more, the people at the entrance can guide you to the petroglyphs. Otherwise, you are free to roam.
Ak Baur is best visited with your own transport en route to/from Ust-Kamenogorsk. It is 2 km from the turn-off to the entrance along a dirt road. 4WD not needed. Exact location is here.
You can camp at Shybyndy Kol on the locals’ beach. The rest of the lake is preserved for the occupants of holiday homes.