In the early Middle Ages there was a ford across the Ili at its narrowest point – the Kapchagai Gorge, at Tamgaly-Tas. For centuries, an image of Buddha has gazed into the sky from an enormous rock on the right bank. This is Tamgaly-Tas, 20 km down-stream from the reservoir and 120 km from Almaty. The sunblackened cliff-faces have preserved many petroglyphs (rock paintings), images of mysterious deities and late Buddhist inscriptions whose meaning has yet to be unraveled. There are about a thousand different rock drawings ranging from deer-hunters to the Buddha. The Sanskrit text under the drawings reads “Om mane padme hum”, meaning “A snow-white pearl in the lotus flower” or, in another translation, “Blessed be the one born from the lotus”. These inscriptions and drawings date back to the 12th century. Nearby is another rock with writings in an ancient Turkic runic script dating back to the 8-9th centuries. These were presumably left by Kypchak tribes, although scholars have yet prove this. Tamgaly-Tas is also very popular with Almatys rock-climbers, who gather here in spring and autumn.


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