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Introducing Lake Burabay

Lake Burabay (formerly Borovoe), 240km north of Astana, is the focus of Burabay National Nature Park (www.gnpp.kz), a picturesque 835-sq-km area of lakes, hills, pine forests and strange rock formations that has given birth to several Kazakh legends. Accommodation and other facilities here are continually improving, but schemes for a massive lakeside resort have not yet come to fruition.

The small town of Burabay stretches about 2.5km along the lake’s northeast shore. On the main road here, the park's Visitor Centre & Nature Museum contains a diverse display of stuffed wildlife from Kazakhstan’s national parks, two ATMs, and souvenir shops selling a park map for 300T. Included in the museum ticket is an adjoining outdoor zoo with two Przewalski’s horses, several deer (including three maral) and various eagles, bears, wolves, argali sheep and yaks in small enclosures.

A well-made walking path parallels the road for 9km from the lake’s southeast to northwest corners via Burabay town. Heading west from the town it’s 4km to picturesque Goluboy Zaliv (Blue Bay). The most celebrated Burabay legend links Zhumbaktas, the Sphinx-like rock sticking out of the lake here, with Okzhetpes, the striking 380m-tall rock pile rising on the shore behind it. While Abylay Khan’s army was fighting the Zhungars back in the 18th century, the story goes, a beautiful princess was captured and brought to Burabay, where many Kazakh warriors wanted her as a wife. The princess agreed to marry the first warrior who could shoot an arrow to the top of Okzhetpes. All failed, hence the name Okzhetpes, which means ‘Unreachable by Arrows’. The distraught princess then drowned herself in the lake, thus creating Zhumbaktas (Mysterious Stone).

You can rent a rowing boat at Goluboy Zaliv to paddle out to Zhumbaktas. Continue 1.75km further round the lake to reach Polyana Abylay Khana (Abylay Khan’s Clearing), where the warrior hero reputedly once assembled his forces during his Zhungar campaigns. A tall, eagle-topped monument, with good old Ab astride a snow leopard, stands in the clearing. A path from the back of the clearing leads up 947m Mt Kokshetau, the highest peak in the park (about 1½ hours to the top).

A shorter, gentler climb, with good views of both Lake Burabay and Lake Bolshoe Chebachie to its north, is Mt Bolektau. This takes about half an hour by the track heading up to the right just before the Km 4 post heading west from Burabay town.

Local agencies offer a variety of group trips in the park with Russian-speaking guides. Gentle gradients make for good cycling: to rent a bike look for ‘Prokat Velosipedov’ signs along the main road in Burabay.