Petroglyphs at Cholpon-Ata

Cholpon Ata Travel Blog

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One of our guides with a petroglyph - in case you can't quite see it, the animal's head and antlers are on a level with the boy's right shoulder, then there is a rectangular body with rear and front legs; the guide is clutching his wild onions
Our first planned stop was Cholpon-Ata, about 40 miles beyond Balychky, which is famous for the petroglyphs that are found on some boulders in a field a mile or two to the north of the town. These petroglyphs have mostly been dated to the period 700BC to 300BC, and depict animals with which the denizens of the region would have been familiar, such as ibex, wolves, goats and horses. But first we visited the small museum situated on the town's main street. This contained many artefacts and archeological finds from the region, was well laid-out with interesting information boards, and is well worth the modest charge. Fortunately Irina was on hand to translate from the Russian.

There is no formal entrance to the field containing the petroglyphys, which is on the lower slopes of the Kungey Ala-Too (Ala-Too is a general word for mountain), so we just parked the car at the side of the road and Irina's father, who was driving and had been there before, had a snooze while Irina and I wandered in.
All four guides; this shows the extent of the boulder field, which would have taken us hours to search on our own
But it soon became clear that there was a problem. There are many, many boulders in the field, and only a few have glyphs. How best to locate what we had come to see, given that we did not have unlimited time? We were just pondering this problem when, as if by magic, four small boys appeared out of nowhere and, chattering happily away to Irina in Russian, offered to show us where the best glyphs were. And, somewhat to my surprise, this is exactly what they did, leading us from one glyph to another, and all the while keeping up a running commentary on their history. How reliable this was I do not know, and in any event Irina did not translate very much as she needed to keep them engaged in conversation. However, they were delightfully friendly, and it was refreshing to meet children for whom stranger-danger was clearly an unknown concept.
The best of the glyphs - an ibex; and I have no idea what the spade was for, because the wild onions were just pulled up
As a mid-morning snack they were plucking up and eating wild onions, and I was made a present of one, which I tactfully but untruthfully promised to eat later.

The end of the tour - the grand finale, as it were - was at the clearest and best of the glyphs, a very obvious ibex. Often centuries of weathering have made the outlines indistinct, and it is not always easy to identify the animal amongst the natural features of the stone. At some of the other glyphs I had been unable to make out any outline at all until the boys had pointed out the head, body, legs and so on; only then did the image emerge from the background 'noise'. Thus our young guides not only saved time in leading us to the correct boulders, but also ensured that we appreciated images that we would otherwise not have noticed, even though we were staring straight at them! I had thought that the boys might expect a monetary reward (which they would have deserved), but Irina said that sweets would be sufficient. There was a large stock in the boot of the car, from which she doled out a liberal handful to each boy, and they seemed well satisfied. Perhaps it really was a treat for them, after wild onions.
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One of our guides with a petroglyp…
One of our guides with a petrogly…
All four guides; this shows the ex…
All four guides; this shows the e…
The best of the glyphs - an ibex; …
The best of the glyphs - an ibex;…
Cholpon Ata
photo by: Biedjee