Semirechje (seven rivers) is characterized by the variety of landscapes. Between the mountain ranges of Djungary and Tien Shan winds the blue ribbon of the Ili river, the chief river of Semirechye (literally –seven rivers land, a territory name in the South-East of Kazakhstan). The valley of the Ili river and its tributaries is remarkable for its spectacular views and landscapes. In the middle course of Ili, on its right bank, there is the national park Altyn-Emel. All the wealth of Semirechye nature is collected in this park.The state national park Altyn-Emel was established by the statement of the Republic Kazakhstan’s government (#460 dated by the 10 April 1996) based on the Kapchagay state hunting sector. It is located in the territories of Kerbulak and Panfilov districts of Almaty. The central farm is in Basshi village which is 250 kilometers far from Almaty. The total park area is 459620 hectares. Altyn-Emel stretches for 30 kilometers from the south to the north and more than for 200 kilometers from the east to the west.Translated from Mongolian Altyn-Emel means "the golden saddle”. There is a legend that the Genghis Khan army moved through this valley to occupy the Middle Asia in 1219. The great Mongol leader exclaimed "the golden saddle!” when he saw the mountains covered with the grass yellowed at sunset. Indeed, looking closely at the Altyn-Emel pass one could agree that its form resembles a saddle. There are different kinds of landscapes in the Altyn Emel area including sand deserts and arid mountains.You can find their more detailed description below.Altyn-Emel is famous for its natural and historical significant sites.
The Singing Barkhan (also called Singing Dune) is a sandy ridge that is about 100 metres high and extended for three kilometers in the middle of the stony desert.The barkhan is called "singing” because of the deep vibrating sound it sometimes produces and reminding the flying plane’s sound or to the pipe organ’s sounding. The "songs” of the Singing Barkhan can be heard even for several kilometers. The sound is produced by many sand grains rubbing against each other: by the light wind the hardly audible squeaking is produced; the gusts of wind create a more intense and significant sounds like weird roaring or humming. But even if there is no wind at all one can hear barkhan’s melody. The footsteps on the barkhan’s surface will cause the friction of the grains of sand creating the unusual sounding. Despite of the sand fluctuation and the strong winds the barkhan doesn’t move and remains at the same place on the Altyn-Emel’s territory for several thousands of years. The local folk legends say that the great Genghis Khan and his warriors are buried under the sand dunes and when the Khan’s soul "exhausted by the spiritual unrest narrates his heroic stories to the descendants” then the sand dunes sing.Aktau are the chalky mountains created by the deposits of the Cenozoic era. The mountains consist of the gypsified clay in which the winds and the water shaped some fantastic canyons. This rock massif is characterized by the absence of flora, so it resembles the fantastic moon landscapes. The mountains are bald and have steep slopes; the significant partition is determined by the intense erosion caused by the rainfalls and mudflows.
Aktau massif is the unique paleontological deposit that is worldwide famous. 56 species of the early Miocene flora were found here: pine tree, fir, birch, alder, oak, nut, chestnut, linden, hackberry, pistachio, ailanto and many others. The remains of the ancient animals are preserved perfectly in the lake deposits of the Paleogene-Neogene (crocodile, tortoise, the giant rhinoceros and some primitive predators) aged 25-30 million years as estimated. Near to the Aktau there are Katutau mountains.Katutau mountains (1630 meters above sea level) stretch from the south-west to the north-east. It is a not wide mountain range, hilly and steeply-sloping with the plateau-like tops. The slopes are split by many waterless passes. The red clays and blue-grey limestone sand rocks of the Tertiary show up like bright ribbons. "Katutau” means "severe mountains”. In Permian (approximately 240 millions of years ago) there were two big acting volcanos. The mountains are formed by lava and some associated volcanic rocks. In the mountain area there are some inputs of the radiating dikes (a dike is an earth split filled with magma. The split is formed by the earth movements like earthquakes or volcano eruptions). Some dikes are 8 kilometers long. In the northern part of the Katutau and Aktau there are some sedimentary bed rocks of the ancient ocean Tethys. Impacted by the above mentioned natural factors the rocks formed some spectacular shapes and landscapes.The Small and Big Kalkans are the Paleozoic range of the exposed type characterized by the intense destruction of the rocks. The mountains are not high and not very remarkable. They are located in the southern part of the National park and there is nothing special about them. But between those mountains there is the worldwide famous Singing Barkhan, also called the Singing Sand Dunes, the pearl of Altyn-Emel.
Besshatyr is the name of the unique archeological sights also called the Imperial burial mounds. The Saks’ headmen of the 7-3 centuries BC are buried there. The burial mounds are surrounded by the menhir rings resembling the well-known Stonehenge in Great Britain. There are 31 burial mounds in the Besshatyr valley. The biggest burial mound is 17 meters high and its diameter is 108 metres. In the mountain passes there are galleries of the rock engravings representing different animals and scenes of hunting them - there are about 45 solid rocks covered with those petroglyphs.The river Ili is the main waterway and the natural boarder of the Altyn-Emel nature reserve. Ili originates in the territory of China. The river has got a mixed feeding. The mild seasonal spring flood begins normally at the end of April. In May there is a river flood caused by the melting of the mountain snows and the water keeps rising up to July and August. Then the water level falls and becomes normal in September. The river freezes up for several months in winter.
The river basin is divided by its branches and tributaries separated from the main stream by little islands that are covered with reeds, thypas, bushes and trees.The desert climate is continental and experiences extreme seasonal changes. The yearly precipitations level totals 300-330 mm their prevailing volume accrues to April and May. The driest month is September. The yearly temperatures average 4-5 degrees Celsius. The January temperature averages -8,5 degrees Celsius, its minimum is -29,5 degrees Celsius. The July temperature averages + 26 degrees Celsius its maximum is +45 degrees Celsius. The time range when the average temperature is higher than 0 degrees Celsius is about 260 days, and the period when the temperatures are higher than 10 degrees Celsius is about 186 days.
The flora of the national park comprises about 1500 species, among them 22 rare ones included in the list of the endangered species. The most interesting relicts are Astragalus, Ili Ferula and some endemics like Alberta tulip, short-stamen tulip, the Muslims’ catchfly (Silene), Ili barberry, Chesneya dzhungarica, Aquilegia vitalii, Astragalus kopalensis, Cachris, Silaus, Pilopleura goloskokovii and others.The majority of plants are healthy. Many of them are eaten by the wild animals. Their seeds and fruit are eaten by birds and some mouse-like rodents; the branches or leaves are eaten by hooved animals. The following flora species are especially valuable: oriental feather grass (Stipa) , Bromus japonicas, Atraphaxis, Salsola orientalis, Salsola arbuscula, black saksaul, Goniolimon, Artemisia terrae-albae and others. There are some melliferous plants (Halimodendron, camel thorn, pea tree), ethereal-oil plants (thyme, ziziphora, dragon head), some officinal plants etc.
The fauna includes more than 5000 species of insects. More than 500 species of beetles inhabit tugai (this is how the vegetation of the river basin called). About 25 species are included in the list of the endangered species. Some kinds of dragonflies (Calopteryx virgo, Anax imperator), praying mantis, grasshoppers (saga pedo, black-winged grasshopper (Ceraeocercus fuscіpennіs)), coleoptera (Carabus solskyі, Heteroplistodus tschіtscherіnі, Ili musk beetle, anoplistes galusoi, Hesperophanes heydeni, stethorus punctillum, Chilocorus bipustulatus; hymenoptera (Scolia hirta, Sphex flavipennis, Prionyx haberhaueri etc.); dipteran and lepidopterous (Catocala optima, Otnjukovia tatjana) and others.The fauna includes also different kinds of animals. There are about 20 fish species in Ili and Kapchagay artificial water reserve, including 5 native species. Three of them are endemic: the Balkhash perch, Ili marinka and plain gubach. The other species have been naturalized (carp, Chinese carp, silver carp, asp, catfish, bream, pike-perch, and Caspian roach. Some rare species are: ship, Aral barb, and Ili marinka, Balkhash river perch. There are three species of the amphibious: green toad, Siberian wood frog, lake frog. There are 25 species of reptiles. In the mountains inhabit Alay lidless skinks, copperhead snake, Orsini's viper, Dione snake; in the deserts and semi deserts there are Central Asian tortoise, sunwatcher agama, black-tailed toad agama, plate-tailed gecko, kidney-tailed geckos, steppe agama, some species of desert lacertas, arrow snake and others.There are about 200 birds’ species, about 174 species from them are nesting species. 18 species are included in the list of the endangered species: black stork, ferruginous duck, osprey, harrier eagle, imperial eagle, golden eagle, white-tailed eagle, hooded vulture, bearded vulture, Himalayan vulture, saker falcon, common crane, demoiselle crane, houbara bustard, eastern stock dove, black-bellied sandgrouse, pallas sand grouse and eagle-owl.There are about 70 species of mammals; seven of them are included in the list of the endangered species: stone marten, mottled polecat, Tien Shan mountain sheep, snow leopard, Persian gazelle, Asiatic wild ass (Kulan). There are the largest populations of Persian gazelles (4000 animals) and Siberian mountain sheep (1500 animals) in Altyn-Emel. Also, there are 4 species of cloven hoofed (wild boar, roe deer, saiga antelope, moufflon) and 2 species of solid hoofed animals (Kulan and Przewalski’s horse)
All the variety of the wildlife and of the inanimate nature is preserved in the national park thanks to the team members of the Altyn-Emel national park administration. The scientific investigations on different subjects are carried out and the nature records are kept. The significant attention is paid to the development of the ecotourism here.
The article has been prepared using information from the open sources.
You can find some links below containing the detailed description of the guided tours to the National park Altyn-Emel. The two- and three-days tours from Almaty to the Altyn-Emel natural reserve. Altyn-Emel park is one of the most beautiful places of the Almaty region and it is definitely one of the best natural spots worth seeing in Kazakhstan. We wish you a nice journey and many unforgettable impressions!