Along the banks of shining Ili

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By European standards, the main river of Semirechye – Ili is more than respectable. But here, in the gigantic Asia, it is one of many. If we take Tekes as the beginning, the whole length of the Kazakhstan- Chinese-Kazakhstan water-way will be 1500 kilometers.

The river is curving as a huge letter «S», it collects its water from hundreds of Tien Shan glaciers, from thousands springs, and then it carries them through the arid desert to ... sea. It does not know that the sea is no longer there, and only Lake Balkhash remained of it. Ili water is enough to desalinate exactly half of the shallow "steppe fiord".

Coasts of Ili are pictorial and various. Everything is here and quite enough: monuments of nature, history and modernity. It is clear that I can write about them endlessly, but in this article I will confine myself to a few examples.

Singing Dune

Deserts of Central Asia are full of legends of strange sounds. You can hear the noise of footfall, ringing bells of nonexistent caravan or scary whisper of invisible genies. And then, sirenic houri sings somewhere in a wilds, and passionate heart of caravanner, starved for endearments, leaped, so he would turn his faithful camel - Nar on voice and... vanish. Local voluptuaries did not read Homeric "Odyssey " and have not heard about the sirens!

The materialist can find proof that this whole desert mythology is not only mythology. Wind and time have created a huge sand hill with a height of the Great Pyramid; this is the famous "Singing Dune". You can find it in the cleft between two small mountains Kalkan on the right side of the river Ili above the place where the river engulfed by Kapchagai.

However, sounds of flowing sand would not seem to be a song for the "hard rock" generation. But for connoisseurs of classical music, who love tuning the organ, especially in the lower registers, the “sand Fugue" is a feast for the ears!

Although, those, who come here only to "listen to a concert", might be very disappointed. Normal state of "Singing Dune" is silence. Only God knows when and for whom it will “sing” next time. However, people, relying on their honorary title of "kings of nature", can make anyone sing. There is a proven way, even Mayakovsky knew about it: "sit on your bottom and slide down". Respectable ladies, with the size of clothing above the 52nd, are especially successful in a "sensory stimulation" of vocal abilities of the dune.

However, even if you will not force nature against its will, you can still get here a lot of strong impressions. At the end of it all –man does not live by hearing alone!

Kapshagan Sea

Kapshagay is a monument of developed socialism. While hydroelectric power station and sea were building up, everyone was proud and happy; and after they were built, people started talk about ecology and unprofitability.

However, for several decades of existence, man-made lake became the most visited recreation of Almaty inhabitants. Water warms up here to the bottom, during the summer, and you can tan here not worse than in Antalya, but much faster. You will not be much alive after a couple of hours under the local sun, for the next few days.

Over the past years, the infrastructure of recreation ground on Kapshagai began to acquire the touristic status. You can find here any services, everything depends on your needs and fullness of your wallet. People are attracted to this place for different reasons, some of them want to spend time in local astounding water park, others like a quiet fishing.

Plesiosaur is in the depths of Kapshagay. Scientists -paleontologists know that for sure, unlike the Loch Ness phantom. They forgot drawers with the full skeleton of Mesozoic lizard at Ili station themselves; and when they notice the absence of the skeleton, it was already long gone under the water of man-made sea...

Tamgaly Tas

"The main goal of our trip down the river Ili was gorge Tamgalytas (written stones)... We found in a wide valley through which the river makes its way here, on a high cliff, huge letters of Tibetan inscription, which I copied as best I could..."- recalls Semenov Tyan- Shanskiy in his memoirs , who was here in 1856-57.

Inscription is preserved until now. "Om mani - pad -me- hum" - this is the famous Buddhist credo of the deity that sits on the lotus flower. One thing is strange, that the great researcher remembered the inscription and completely forgot about the engravings, which are located above it. Several magnificent "Buddhas" are engraved on the cliff. We know that in this place was the ford across the river during the time of the Buddhist Jungars.

Tamgaly tas is a wonderful place and not only as a historical monument. Water in the river is incredibly clear; it left its natural turbidity in Kapshagay. Along the banks, especially on the left side, a hundred-meter sheer cliff towers glaringly shining with its black planes covered with “desert varnish".

Cliffs Tamgaly tas became a favorite place for the sport climbing competitions during the mass sports movement. At such moments, motley seas of hundreds of colorful tents were spread at their feet. Competition at the local "climbing wall" is happening now as well, but former swing is not there anymore.

But the main sight is petroglyphs. Besides Buddhist engravings, there are far more archaic and habitual creation of the Bronze Age. And some artist – prankster inscribed "space" characters slightly aside. Many scientists have tried to defend their theses on deciphering these pseudo-runic inscriptions!  And so many UFO hunters visited the sight and tossed in ecstasy about such manifest of space brotherhood...


Tugais are the real floodplain jungles that stretch along the banks of Ili River up to the delta. Everything that grows there is a tough, thorny and tangled to impassability. In the Riparian forest feel good only boars and mosquitoes. Recently, a tiger lived here, but after the 40s it can be found only in the form of skins in Almaty museums.

The river, lower course, is rich in fish: carp, perch, chub, bastard sturgeon. All of them are newcomers that were brought to the Balkhash pool by man. Local Queen is fish Schizothorax, which is amazingly tasteful, but could be dangerous and poisonous at rough handling; it almost completely disappeared.

However, another opponent appeared in Ili for the brave hunters; people catching the crayfish as an old Greeks. They put their hands into the hole. Crayfish also appeared in Ili relatively recently, it escaped from a cage of one unlucky man.

Evening is the best time here: amazing sunset, velvety twilights, bright southern stars, crackling campfire under the pot with bubbling soup and the river. It wonderful because you cannot step into it twice...

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