Issyk-Köl Oblast

North of the centre is an extensive field of glacial boulders, many with pictures scratched or picked into their surfaces. Some of these petroglyphs date from the Bronze Age (about 1500 BC), but most are Saka-Usun (8th century BC to 1st century AD), predating the arrival of Kyrgyz in the area. Saka priests used this sacred site for sacrifices and other rites to the sun god and they lived in the settlements that are currently underwater in the Cholpon-Ata bay.

Later engravings date from the Turkic era (5th to 10th century). Most are of long-horned ibex. In the most striking petroglyph, which directly faces the ticket booth, several ibex are being hunted with tame snow leopards. Many of the other petroglyphs can prove hard to spot or to differentiate from recent graffiti. Real ones have small signs beside the rocks. The back side of the welcome board has a map of the site but is not really detailed enough to help much. Late afternoon is a good time to view the stones, most of which face west or south, as the contrasting light helps illuminate the carvings.

From the town centre walk up Akmatbay-Ata to where the asphalt ends then swerve left onto Almakuchkov. The south side of the site is behind black wrought-iron railings but should the gate be closed you can do as shepherds do and enter from the unfenced east side. There’s a nice view of Issyk-Köl below. Guided tours of the petroglyphs can be arranged at the regional museum.

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Nearby Issyk-Köl Oblast attractions

1. Regional Museum

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This typical, well-presented museum includes copies of locally found Scythian (Saka) gold jewellery and displays on ethnography, Kyrgyz bards, textiles…

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3. Hippodrome

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4. Ferris Wheel

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5. Nomad Museum

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8. Big Almaty Lake

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