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Karkaraly National Park

The establishment in 1884 of the Karkaralinsk Forest Reserve marked the start of the protection of these pine-covered granite hills. At Komissarovka, an isolated lakeside spot south of Karkaraly, the wooden forest warden's house, completed in 1913, still stands, offering an attractive vision of pitched roofs and painted window frames against a mountain backdrop. Several administrative changes later, the Karkaraly State National Nature Park was set up in 1998. A favoured site during the Soviet period for industrial workers and young pioneers to get in touch with nature, the Karkaraly Hills hosted the Soviet orienteering championships in 1986.

One of the most popular walking trails through the hills runs north from the Shakhtyor House of Rest to Lake Shaytankol. The 'Devil's Lake', nestled amidst an upland terrain of pines and rocky crags, is said to have received its downbeat name from the frequency of the occasions in which locals on hunting trips lost their way home in its vicinity. They concluded that the malevolence of the devil was at work.

One of many legends surrounding the place is a Kazakh tale of doomed love. The story runs that a wealthy man, Tleuberdy, had a beautiful 16-year-old daughter, Sulyshash. She had eyes only for a horse-herder named Altay, but Tleuberdy would never permit his daughter to marry such an impoverished suitor. So Altay and Sulyshash secretly left their village, together with Altay's friend Kaysar. They travelled across great expanses of steppe, eventually finding refuge in the Karkaraly Mountains. They reached Shaytankol Lake.Altay and Kaysar left Sulyshash in a cave by the side of the lake, and went hunting. Kaysar fell to his death from a cliff face while attempting to chase an arkhar. In the meantime, the vengeful Tleuberdy had set fire to the forest, to flush out the young lovers. Overcome by smoke, Sulyshash ran out of the cave, and straight into the path of a ferocious tiger. She flung herself into the lake to save herself from this beast. An echo of her words of farewell reached Altay, who rushed back to the lake. But he was too late: only Sulyshash's velvet skullcap remained, bobbing around on the dark waters. Distraught, Altay plunged his dagger into his heart.

A path continues northeastwards from Lake Shaytankol, to another mountain lake, Basseyn. This small lake resembles a large stone bath. A path from here leads down into Karkaraly town, past the buildings of the old sanatorium of Sosnoviy Bor. From Sosnoviy Bor another track runs northeastwards to strike habitation at the site of a small stream named Tasbulak. One building here is particularly distinctive: a pitched-roofed wooden building, which houses a nature museum. Entering the building, you come face to face with a stuffed arkhar. To the right lies a room with stuffed animals of the steppe and forest on display. Beyond is a room focused on ornithology: stuffed birds greet you from all sides. To the left of the entrance is a room devoted to the geography of the park, dominated by a large relief model of the Karkaraly Mountains. Beyond is a botany room, mostly comprising display cases filled with dried flowers. The red triangles indicate species listed in the Red Book, a mark of rarity. Head up the wooden stairs from the entrance to a small second-floor room which combines display cases full of carefully pinned insects with one featuring decorated wooden kitchen utensils.

Outside, your extra small payment allows you to walk between two metal fences to a wooden viewing platform. From here you can look across a muddy pen populated by wild boar. There are also a couple of bears, housed in distressingly small cages.

The nature museum is visible from the main road between Karaganda and Karkaraly. It lies 4km north of Karkaraly; take the side turning, in the direction of the mountains, signposted to 'Tasbulak'.