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Karkaraly Mountains.

Bushwhacking in Karkaraly Mountains. 

“The miracles of earth are the laws of heaven”

Jean Paul Richter.

Experiential tourism in Kazakhstan mountains.

A jewel of a landscape lies hidden between Karaganda and Semey: the small mountain range of Karkaraly Even in the year 2000 this area was still in a deplorable condition, the numerous Pioneer (youth movement) camps and rest homes crumbling in the fairy­tale woods, and boisterous campers and grotesque, once-white plaster monuments to the workers sharing the best places.
In the intervening years, however, sanatoriums and guesthouses have been renovated, small hotels are being built on the edge of the national park, and the slowly rising spending power of Kazakhstan is makes holidays in their own country possible again.
According to legend, the name of the Karkaraly Mountains originated from “karkara”, the name of the jewel in the women's head-dress which was probably lost by a beautiful girl in the steppe. Nowadays the Karkaraly mountain oasis is a real decoration of central Kazakhstan. 
The territory includes the Karkaraly National Park. The slopes of the Karkaraly Mountains are indented by numerous ravines, with rivers and streams running through them. The mountains are formed mainly of granite and are covered with pine and birch forests and with shrubs. 
There are also places where the cliffs are bare - not covered with anything. Numerous lakes, (such as the Shaitankol, Bassein, Pashennoye and Bolshoye), beautify the mountains and provide places of interest for a visit, or for bathing.
The small town of Karkaraly (formerly Karkaralinsk) is located around 200 kilometres to the east of Karaganda. The journey takes about three hours by car through the steppe along the main road to Ayakoz, at first through flat steppe, but all the way you are accompanied by innumerable electricity and telegraph poles, where eagles, buzzards and falcons perch, waiting for roadkill.
Partway along, a side road leads to the large salt lake of Karasor, known for the healing qualities of its mud. The end of the journey is in sight when, about 30 - 40 kilometres away the mountains, blue and full of promise, start glimmering on the horizon.
As you draw nearer, you discover that they are covered with dense forests of pine, birch and aspen - an interesting contrast to the bare steppe hills that surround them. The highest peak of the mountain chain, Zhirensakal Peak (formerly Komsomol Peak), rises to 1,403 metres and provides the name for the whole range.
It looks like a karkara, the headdress for young women. A legend goes that a young woman, who fled in front of the groom she had spurned, threw her headdress off from her galloping horse. Immediately, the headdress transformed itself into a mountain chain, hiding the girl from the eyes of her pursuer, hotly intent on marriage.
(An even more visually impressive way of getting here is to go south from Aktogay via Zharly. For this option, though, you need a 4WD.) The territory of Karkaraly has enough attractions for several days of touring.
To stay in the 900-square-metre national park, you need an entry ticket, which can easily be obtained in the administration building. There are well-signed routes and picnic spots. On these routes, you get to all the park's important attractions - the mountains, the bizarre rock formations, the caves, the lakes, two small ones of which are hidden high up near mountain peaks.
The national park museum has a lovingly assembled display and a small zoo. The houses in Bokeychan St and the mosque in Aubakirov St are superb. This place of worshp was founded in the middle of the XIX Century by Sultan Kunanbay, the father of Abay.
Good-value overnight stays are possible in the town's small hotels or in one of the numerous resthouses surrounding the town. There are also private guesthouses belonging to Ecotourism.

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Authority:
The guidebook across Kazakhstan . Authors Dagmar Schreiber and Jeremy Tredinnick.  Publishing house "Odyssey". 2010.

Photos
Alexander Petrov.