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Altyn Emel

Altyn Emel National Park is considered to be one of the biggest in Kazakhstan, as its territory comprises about 4,600 sq. kilometers of desert and rocks. The park in its modern condition was founded in 1996. The national park is located near Kapchagay Reservoir, and consists of two different parts: the dry plain, situated on the right bank of the Ile river, and the mountainous area of western ridges of the Dzhungar Alatau mountain system. Some other mountain chains are called Degeres, Koyandytau, Katutau and Aktau.

There is a legend that the name Altyn Emel, that is translated as ‘golden saddle’, dates back to the 13th century AD. Genghis Khan with his army was going through the mountain pass and called this place a golden saddle because of the color of the grass on the top of the hills. Altyn Emel National Park is famous for the numerous kinds of wild ungulate species. The park preserves the considerable number of rare and endangered kinds of plants and animals. As for the hoofed, the herds of kulans, the wild ass, goitered gazelles, known as jeirans can be seen in their natural habitat.

Actually, kulans were brought from the Barsakelmes Nature Reserve that was forced by the consequences of the shallowing of the Aral Sea, so that the former island Barsakelmes joined the coast. Since the 1970s the population of wild ass has successfully grown into 2,000 animals. Additionally, it is possible to encounter the arkar, a subspecies of the wild sheep, though several hundreds of arkars prefer to roam the distant highlands. One of the recent management’s initiatives is to breed the Przhevalsky horse and Bukhara deer. The best time to watch the animals is when they are most active, that is early morning and late afternoon.

Despite the remoteness making the National Park rather expensive and challenging in travelling to, it is worth visiting. You are sure to like the trip if you are fond of desolated landscapes and both quite weird nature and historical places of interest. The park can be attended all year round. The usual way to get around is a jeep.

Not less adventurous is to face the continental climate. While the city of Almaty possesses quite mild weather, the area only 100 kilometers north is definitely harsh. July’s highest daily temperatures reach 40-50 degrees centigrade with no shady spot close at hand. In order not to get sunburnt or bitten by numerous mosquitoes it is recommended to wear a long-sleeved outfit.

One of the most popular attractions is the Singing Dune, that produces a sound in certain weather conditions. This unforgettable sound resembles a flying airplane or pipe organ playing in the desert. There are two dunes, sometimes called ‘barchans’, about 120 meters high and 2 kilometers long, located to the north of the Ile River and between Ulken Kalkan and Kishi Kalkan. The dunes become higher to the south.

The Dune represents a mystery concerning the nature of the noise. Scientists connect the source of it either with simple friction of sand grains due to air movement or with static electricity appearing between them. Anyway, the singing in the heart of a desert may produce a great impression on the visitor. That is why this place is a usual item of most travel guides in Kazakhstan.

Meanwhile, there is a belief that this sound is produced by Shaitan, the Islamic evil spirit, that is constantly trying to mislead people by whispering and make them get lost. The other legend interprets the singing as the groaning of Genghis Khan with his warriors, who might have been buried under the dune. Unfortunately, depending on the weather, the Dune remains silent. The reasons may be the humidity and the temperature of the air, the wind speed and direction. The singing starts when it blows from the West. Some people advise the tourists to climb up the dune and to run very quickly down the slope. Casually, it helps to make the sand sing. But the person needs to be fit, as the dune is rather steep, so it is a good way to exercise one’s body during the tour.

The other nearby sight is the Scythians burial mounds called Bes-Shatyr, meaning ‘five tents’. One more point of attraction is Terekty shrine with its famous petroglyphs that are a real value for all archeology lovers. Edited 2020apr26