If you’ve been researching information about Kyrgyzstan trying to figure out what to do while you’re here, even looking at a Kyrgyzstan travel report and trying to read up on blogs of travel experts in Kyrgyzstan still might leave you with an information vacuum. Of course there are some things with an abundance of information, such as ski resorts and trekking opportunities, but one activity that never seems to get the limelight is exploring Kyrgyzstan’s historical petroglyph sites.
You might think that petroglyphs can only be appreciated by history lovers, but even if you’ve never considered yourself a history fan, there’s something mysterious and timeless about petroglyphs – puzzling over the messages, events, and culture communicated to us from ancient peoples and civilizations. While the buildings and books of different eras have taken form and then been lost to us again in the harsh passage of time, these drawings have survived endless trials for thousands of years, giving us a glimpse into a life long since passed. It may look dull in history books, but it certainly isn’t when you’re in the middle of the snowcapped mountains exploring sites with the aid of an experienced travel guide from Kyrgyzstan who can also fill you in on local stories and legends.
So where can you find petroglyphs in Kyrgyzstan? While there are many petroglyphs hidden throughout Kyrgyzstan, here are 3 different petroglyph sites I’d recommend visiting, each with a drastically different atmosphere and setting.
PETROGLYPHS OVERLOOKING LAKE ISSYK KUL,KYRGYZSTAN
On the northern shore of Lake Issyk Kul, the world’s 2nd largest alpine lake, you’ll find the city of Cholpon Ata. On the outskirts of the city is a massive collection of petroglyphs you probably won’t find referenced in a travel brochure for Kyrgyzstan. However, if you’re traveling around Kyrgyzstan with an experienced guide, they will tell you that true travel experts in Kyrgyzstan know this site to be a goldmine of petroglyph specimens. This open-air petroglyph museum covers a total of 42 hectares of land and contains hundreds and hundreds of boulders sporting petroglyphs ranging from 30 centimeters all the way up to 3 meters in size! Archeologists estimate some of these drawings to be up to 4,000 years old, with a large number of petroglyphs from the 8th-3rd centuries BC.
The petroglyph site is loosely enclosed by a fence and visitors are expected to pay a minimal entrance fee (if there’s an attendant present in the small building that serves as the “collection booth,” that is).
PETROGLYPHS ON THE SACRED MOUNTAIN, SULAIMAN TOO
The sacred mountain of Sulaiman Too is located in Osh, Kyrgyzstan’s southern capital. This imposing mass of land juts up out of the ground right into the middle of the city. This destination is extremely popular and one you might well see in your travel brochure of Kyrgyzstan or recommended to you by travel agencies in Kyrgyzstan, and it is well worth visiting. Sulaiman Too houses 17 places of worship, ancient medieval baths and buildings from the 11th-18th centuries, a museum, and 7 caves. Inside these caves is where you’ll find petroglyphs hiding out. There are more than 100 specimens within the caves including depictions of people, animals, and solar symbols.
SAIMALUU TASH: THE STONEHENGE OF CENTRAL ASIA
Saimaluu Tash, located 200 km outside of Jalal-Abad, is the largest petroglyph site in all of Central Asia. This site is spread across 2 remote valleys and covers dozens of acres. Prepare yourself for over 10,000 stones that depict a total of more than 90,000 individual drawings/carvings, including pictures of hunting scenes, religious ceremonies, wild animals, farming, people, and more. This site lay dormant and wasn’t really studied in any depth until the 1950s. To this day, many of the petroglyphs haven’t even been categorized. Talk about a goldmine for adventurers!
Sadly, you won’t see Saimaluu Tash listed in any travel reports of Kyrgyzstan that you read and just a few travel agencies in Kyrgyzstan offer tours to this historical treasure. The reason is because Saimaluu Tash is extremely remote and difficult to reach. It’s located between 2,800 – 3,400 meters above sea level and can only be visited from mid-July to mid-August (or just the month of August depending on the weather). Due to its high elevation, snow covers the roads leading up to the site the rest of the year, making it impossible to reach. Even during that month-long sweet spot, it takes about a day on foot or horseback to reach Saimaluu Tash from the nearby village of Kazarman. Nevertheless, I highly recommend visiting this rare historical site as you travel Kyrgyzstan, a guide preferably in tow to help you navigate the area. It’s estimated that less than 100 people visit these petroglyphs every year; be one of the few to experience their exquisite beauty as well as the stunning, isolated mountain scenery that few foreigners have tread!
A WELL ROUNDED TRIP
If you’re interested in seeing all of these sites, you’ll actually manage to see a large portion of Kyrgyzstan. Two of these sites are more off the beaten path, which certainly adds an extra dimension to your trip, but don’t rule out other historical destinations from your Kyrgyzstan travel brochures. Kyrgyzstan is full of fascinating historical places that will amaze history and non-history lovers alike. If you’re connected to a travel agency in Kyrgyzstan, have your travel guide take you to other historical destinations along the way to give you an even more robust picture of Central Asian history. Petroglyphs are just the tip of the iceberg, so dive in and experience everything Kyrgyzstan has to offer!
Picture by Lada Stupina, pictures from the Internet, picture by Svetlana Getova