Bes Shatyr necropolis

Where is it

Bes Shatyr necropolis is the main ethnographic and archaeological site of the Altyn Emel National Park, located on a right bank if Ili river, in North-western part of the park. There are 200km to the North from Almaty (3,5 hours).
Bes Shatyr: 43.92274, 78.20918

What to do

- explore amazing petroglyphs in wild canyons of Sholak mountains
- "touch" a piece of ancient Saki culture: huge burial mounds, dolmens and mysterious altars
- enjoy the wildlife: Siberian ibex, golden eagles, Przhevalsky horses, kulans, poppy and tulip fields

How to get there

By P19 road via Kapshagay to Shengeldy village (148km) where the Eastern entrance to the Park is situated. You need to stop at cordon to get the permission, and then follow Ili river main stream in Western direction. You can take a bus to get to Kapchagay from Almaty, but there is no regular connection from Kapchagay to Shengeldy and BesShatyr.


It is a desert: the best seasons to visit are March-May and September - October. In Spring and Autumn the normal day temperatures are +23..25C, night +5..+15. In Summer period it can be really hot (uncomfortable): up to +40C during a day, +10..+20 in the night.

What's interesting

- huge burial mounds and dolmens of Saki (Skiff) era, dated from I millennium BC
- beautiful landscapes: poppy and tulip fields
- Tanbaly petroglyphs in Sholak mountains 


- tent camping at Ili riverbank


Bes Shatyr necropolis is the main ethnographic and archaeological site of the natural park Altyn Emel. BesShatyr is a burial place of the ancient rulers of Saki Tigrahauda tribes and their entourage. Dating around middle of I millennium BC it consists of 37 mounds with stone embankment. The largest royal burial mounds up to 17 meters in height are placed in the central part of the necropolis covering area of 2 square kilometers. In its monumentality and complexity BesShatyr has no analogs in Central Asia. BesShatyr mounds architecturally blend with surrounding environment, adding special charm, enchanting with forms and composition, and infuse with mystery and enigma. The large size of mounds, their original design and uniqueness of religious-ritual structures put BesShatyr on a par with other greatest historical monuments of the nomadic culture in Eurasia. 
The most beautiful time in desert is spring, when blooming flowers cover it like unique colorful carpet. Such bright red, yellow and blue fields can be seen from anywhere! Among this pictorial splendor different flowers come across: poppies (horned-poppy, peacock poppy, wind rose), snowdrops (Alatau saffron or crocus alatavicus), and, of course, tulips. Kazakhstan is considered to be a home of tulips: more than 30 species of tulips can be found here like Albert Tulips (yellow, red and orange) and endemic Tulipa brachystemon (short-stamen). There are several species of irises in the deserts: some of them (eg.Iris tenuifoolia) are early bloomers – along with ultramarine Siberian they look like blue starts among the green grass. Saltcedar or tamarisk grows on salty clays of the desert. 
altyn emel rock painting altyn emel wildlife

When drive to BesShatyr, you can see the famous Sholak Mountains in the North. It is one the southern spurs of the Semirechensky Alatau and almost entirely located in Altyn Emel National Park. Dry, old, badly eroded mountains are manly composed of igneous rocks. There are few open gorges, that are “must visit” places here: Kyzylauz and Taygak. Kyzylauz Gorge is relatively short, rocks have a pinkish tint at its entrance and due to that valley got its name (“kyzylauz” in Kazak means “red mouth”) The bottom of the canyon is broad and thickly overgrown with shrubs (spirea, dog rose, ephedra etc.). Among small groves of trees (including ironwoods) some big clear creeks run. Beautiful butterflies are fluttering, crickets are chirping, birds are twittering – it is a small oasis inside a barren cliff. Rocky slopes of Sholak mountains look utterly lifeless from a  distance, but up close they are full of life: graceful Siberian ibexes called Teki live on the cliffs, Black Kite (Milvus migrans) is soaring in the sky, motely-colored hoopoe (Upupa epops) wanders around in the grass.

Bes Shatyr altyn emel wildlife

Taygak is another short canyon in the desert Sholak mountains ending with stone circus of cliffs with steep walls. In spring gentle slopes of the gorge are covered with a green carpet of various ephemeral plants, which by May already bloomed and mountains become brownish-yellow. During fall season there are a lot of herds of Siberian ibex in these hard to reach places among the rocks. Wild or tart cherry (Cerasus tianschanica) blossoms appears in bright pink colors on the slopes in early spring. Butterflies are everywhere, on the rocks and flowers, fluttering in the sky: Pandora and Cardinal, Nymphalis and Melanargia – all them are nice and different. The sky above the canyon is full of various birds of prey, there are numerous buzzards and eagles, Golden eagles (Aquila chrysaetos), vultures and some Egyptian vultures can be met. A beautiful pheasant, colorful rollers, blue bee-eaters, kekliks (or chukar partridge) live here untouched. The pride of Altyn Emel park is certainly a large population of onagers (Equus hemionus), more than two thousands. Another ornament is graceful steppe black tailed gazelle called Dzheiran. 

altyn emel national park petroglyphs

In some valleys of the ridge, on the black stones and rocks, many carvings has been done – especially images of goats and other animals, lots of images of deers (that could not be found here anymore). Usually deer inhabit riverbanks floodplain forests or tugai (local name of floodplain forests). Most of the petroglyphs are very old (few thousands years), but there are some recent: black “bronzed” boulders seem to be very convenient for the rock art of any type.

Altyn Emel National Park Altyn Emel National Park