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Sultan Epe

The necropolis – tomb of holy woman Sultan Epe, considered the protector of sailors – is rich in carvings, while the underground mosque, of similar age to Shakpak-Ata, comprises several small rooms and low passages. You can also reach these two sites by travelling east from Fort Shevchenko along the Taushik road, which is being improved.

To get to the interesting though mysterious site of Sultan Epe, and the nearby necropolis of Kenty Baba, take the Aktau road south of Fort Shevchenko. After 3km turn left onto the rough road which heads to the village of Taushik. Keep on this road for 55km, until you pass on your left signs for Sultan Epe and Kenty Baba. The best track to use to these sites is several hundred metres further on. The track brings you to the necropolis of Kenty Baba after a further 7km. Surrounded by a low metal fence, the necropolis includes a restored mausoleum of the 'tower' type, with a square base and tapering walls, rising to a circular hole in place of a roof. Around the tomb inside are piled horns of arkhars, brought here perhaps by hunters wishing for a benediction for successful hunting, and a fire stone, or shiraktas, blackened with soot, on which sheep's fat is burnt by the faithful during visits to the place. Another, again roofless, mausoleum on the site has a square base and walls of large, flat slabs, on which are incised a gallery of figures. There are horses with large phalluses, swords, camels, hands, a rifle and even a cross. The necropolis also contains many koytases, often decorated with an engraving of a sword.

Take the track passing behind Kenty Baba, leaving the necropolis to the right. After a few hundred metres you arrive at the necropolis of Sultan Epe. A large oval- shaped enclosure made by a drystone wall, enclosing a funerary structure comprising more stones, is said to mark the grave of Sultan Epe, patron of sailors. The necropolis is particularly rich in examples of the sarcophagus like sandyktas, often with a koytas resting on the top. Some of these sandyktases have pictures of weapons etched on the flat stones which make up their walls.

Just beyond the necropolis, on the side of a rocky canyon, is the entrance to a subterranean complex identified in a plaque as the underground mosque of Sultan Epe, dating from between the 9th and 12th centuries. The complex comprises a series of small rooms, connected by low passages. A visit here requires a great deal of stooping. The rooms are rectangular in plan, lit and aired from openings in the roof formed by concentric layers of stones. The latter are the only evidence of the presence of the complex from the surface, where they form little pink piles of stones. The ceiling is propped up by circular columns, only a couple of which are original. With none of the rooms obviously more prominent than the others, some researchers have questioned whether the complex was initially built as a mosque at all.