There is this country in Asia, it’s called Kazakhstan. It’s awesome. Its capital used to be Almaty until 1997. About 2.5 hours drive from Almaty lies 700 petroglyphs (rock carvings; fun fact – rock paintings are called pictographs) that date back to 2,000 BC. That’s 4,000 years old! The UNESCO World Heritage site is called Tamgaly.
This is a guide to Tamgaly, not to be confused with Tamgaly-Tas.
Not good with directions? Not to worry. There is only one turn you’ll have to make:
You will encounter a couple of signs that say Tamgaly prior to the right turn. When you get close, look for this structure. It’s the only identifiable structure near the turn. You will turn right soon after you see it. If you see either Tangbaly or Tańbaly, it’s the same thing just in Qazaq language.
After you make that right turn, watch out for wildlife. You’re going to really feel you are in a foreign land when you drive next to wild horses…
Horses have the right of way here.
…and have to wait for sheep to cross the road.
You do not need a 4-wheel car as the road is paved, though a bit bump at parts.
When you see this trick visitor center on the left (sign on the right), keep going. You’re almost there. Although it says Tamgaly, no one is there.
This is the entrance to the parking lot of Tamgaly.
After you park, stop by here to purchase your ticket and receive your brochure.
Walk through the gate and your experience begins.
I recommend you hire the local guide. It’s just some dude that’s already seen everything. For the cost of whatever you decide, it’s worth it. Plus, you’re helping a dude out who could probably use the extra cash. We gave him 1,000 Kazakhstani Tenge ($1 equals 375 KZT) for about the two-hours it took us to explore the site. He speaks absolutely no English so brush up on your Russian or Kazak before arrival. Or, bring a local.
If you don’t hire the guide, you’ll likely miss this 4,000 year old erotica.
The super-awesome thing about this place is its unpopularity. There are no crowds. No lines. No ropes that make you stand so far back you can’t see anything.
To the contrary, if you wanted, you can lick the actual carvings. It’s crazy to think that 4,000 years ago, some primitive human (or alien) with opposable thumbs stood in this exact spot and carved this image into the rock. Craziness..
They even had Transformers and Dragon Ball Z cartoons back then!
Our guide told us that no one actually lived here. Instead, they journey here specifically to create these rock carvings.
Bring a hat! These are the only shaded areas you’ll encounter during your exploration of Tamgaly.
You will encounter much nature.
On your way out, don’t forget to ride the Kazak swing. You’ll need a partner.
The main attraction is a huge 10-foot (3 meter) image of seven ‘sun-head deities’. Unfortunately, it’s not very photogenic, but you’ll see what’s on the sign below. All the explanatory signs are in three languages: English, Russian, And Kazak.
The cost is 500KZT as identified on the ticket. The friendly folks manning the visitor center said the cost for foreigners was 1,000KZT. Luckily, I was with three locals who argued my case in the name of fairness and I was let in for the local price.
I wish I had access to this information before I arrived so I’m posting it here. The guide is included with your ticket.
Option #1 (cheapest): Hitchhike (10,000-12,000KZT)
Options #2: Bus/Marshrutka (14,000KZT)
Option #3: Yandex to Targap (28,000KZT)
Option #4 (risky): Yandex round-trip (25,000KZT)
Option #5: Private tour (50,000+ KZT)
The first, cheapest, and most adventurous option is to hitchhike from Almaty. You won’t wait more than 15 minutes for a car and the cost should be around 1,000KZT one-way unless the driver takes you for free which is not uncommon.
Tell the driver to drop you off in Targap, a one-street village along the highway just before the right-hand turn (see the first image at the top for the location). From here, you will hire a round-trip taxi to Tamgaly for 10,000KZT.
If you do this, you’ll see a bunch of yurts and stands set up selling qymyz, horse milk. You have to try horse milk when you’re in Kazakhstan, they’ve been drinking it for 5,500 years. The last one is the most popular. (Thanks to Dennis Keen of Walking Almaty for this tip).
The second and less-adventurous option is to take a Marshrutka (a kind of mass transit system or shared minibus with specific routes common in this part of the world) for 2,000KZT to Targap from the Sairan Bus Station in Almaty. From Targap, you will hire a round-trip taxi to Tamgaly for 10,000KZT.
The third option is to order a Yandex taxi (Uber in Kazakhstan) to Targap for about 9,000KZT. Again, you will hire a round-trip taxi to Tamgaly for 10,000KZT from Targap. The road from Targap to Tamgaly (Kopa) is totally empty except for sheep and horses.
The fourth option has you ordering a Yandex from Almaty direct to Tamgaly for about 12,500KZT each way. I do not recommend this for fear the driver would not wait for you. When I was in Bali, I hired a driver one-way to a far-out destination who said he’d wait but was gone by the time I returned. I hadn’t paid him for the return trip, but it created a big hassle when the locals tried to charge me 3x for a return taxi. In Tamgaly, there will be no return taxi option and there are so few other visitors, I’d fear having to sleep there the night! However, I did see one visitor arrive in a Yandex. I can only assume it waited for him.
The fifth option is to hire a private car or pay for a private tour. This will cost 50,000+KZT but will allow you to bring 4-5 friends. This is the option that I did and we split the cost.