Introducing Aksu-Zhabagyly Nature Reserve
This beautiful 1319-sq-km patch of green valleys, rushing rivers, snowcapped peaks and high-level glaciers, abutting the Kyrgyz and Uzbek borders, is the oldest (1926) and one of the most enjoyable and easiest visited of Kazakhstan’s nature reserves. Sitting at the west end of the Talassky Alatau (the most northwesterly spur of the Tian Shan), it stretches from the edge of the steppe at about 1200m up to 4239m at Pik Sayram. The main access point is the village of Zhabagyly, 70km east of Shymkent as the crow flies.
The diversity of life in this area where mountains meet steppe is great for botanists, birders and nature lovers in general. Some of Kazakhstan's best nature guides are based locally, making this also a good base for visiting other regional attractions including the Karatau mountains (rich in endemic plants), steppe lakes, deserts and historical/cultural sites like Turkistan and Otrar.
The famous, bright-red Greig’s tulip is one of over 1300 flowering plants in the reserve. It dots the alpine meadows, and is quite common even in villages, from mid-April to early May. Wildlife you may see includes ibex, argali sheep, red marmots, paradise flycatchers, golden eagles and Tien Shan brown bears (about 90 inhabit the reserve; chances of sightings are best in spring). About eight snow leopards are also thought to be here. You can visit at any time, but the best weather is from April to September. For birders and botanists, April and May are favourite.