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Sunken Forest, Kazakhstan

#213 The Sunken Forest, Kazakhstan

This great photo location is situated in Lake Kaindy in the Kolsai Lakes National Park, Located about 129 kilometers from the city of Almaty, Kazakhstan, which is the major transportation hub for most of Central Asia. In 1911, an earthquake caused a landslide that closed off one end of a river creating the blue-green lake as we know it now. The water, which never gets more than a few degrees above freezing, has preserved the trees in it for over 100 years, making fabulous subjects in the limestone-tinted waters. Calm, still mornings in summer or early fall, after the lake thaws and before it freezes, are the best times to visit for photography. The hike to the lake is a short downhill slope of about a mile. The number of great compositions here are endless, and I think every visit would be different. It is truly a world class location.

The Sunken Forest, Lake Kaindy, Kazakhstan Photographed by Tom Till

The lake can be reached in a half day’s drive from Almaty, but since sunrise and morning is the best time to visit the area, it’s best to find lodging in a nearby town. A guide who can arrange transportation and lodging is essential for this trip, and the U.S. Embassy in Almaty can likely give you the names of trustworthy guides and drivers. Ticks are a problem here in the summer. They can carry encephalitis, so come prepared with tick repellent clothing. The best I have found is available on Amazon for American hunters. You might look goofy hiking around Central Asia in camo garb, but better safe than sorry.


Other nearby locations:

The beautiful Charyn Canyon feels like a piece of the Southwest dropped down in Central Asia. The Canyon itself is hundreds of miles long, but is most easily visited at the Valley of the Castles, where the main road and parking areas are located. It is also a national park. A sunset visit to Charyn Canyon could be combined with a visit to Kaindy Lake in the morning. The Canyon is best at sunset in autumn or spring, with good side lighting then. Beside the canyon, which is not deep or wide by Southwest standards, there are number of amazing balanced rocks and other interesting formations on the canyon rims. In the distance, snow-capped mountains in China rise above it all. Spending the night here is also a possibility, as I think morning shooting would be great.

Balanced Rock, Kazakhstan, Photographed by Tom Till

Charyn Canyon, Kazakhstan, Photographed by Tom Till

Fall color in Zailiyskiy Alatau Mountains, Photographed by Tom Till

The Tamgaly Archeological UNESCO World Heritage Site is quite close to Almaty and can be done as a day trip. The rock art of horse is said to be one of the oldest human depictions of them outside the caves in Europe. I also saw depictions of what looked like Mastodons hurling in the air! I was told they were cattle, but they looked like megafauna to me. The area is fairly small and the best panel is a large rock face resembling Newspaper Rock, but bigger.

Petroglyphs at Tamgaly Archaeological Landscape, Photographed by Tom Till

Petroglyphs within the Archaeological Landscape of Tamgaly Gorge, Photographed by Tom Till

On my trip to Central Asia I flew in and out of Almaty 14 times, and I was glad to get there every time. Flights from Europe are daily at least, with more in the summer, while flights from Moscow are numerous.
The parts of the city I saw were beautiful, like Salt Lake City with higher mountains. Fall color in the nearby mountains is particularly noteworthy. Photo tour guides can be found on the internet for the local peaks, although finding one who speaks English might be difficult. Good roads penetrate areas with giant peaks. Many of the trees in the area reminded me of forests back home with red covered ridges like the maples along the Wasatch Front in Utah.


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