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Dzhungarsky Alatau Mountains

East of Taldykorgan, the Zhungar Alatau- often written in the Russian spelling as Dzhungarskiy Alatau - stretches over 300 kilometres from southwest to northeast along the border with China. Its highest summit, Semyonov Tienshanskiy, is 4,622 metres high and situated to the south of Sarkand directly on the Chinese frontier.

Mountains here offer some of the most beautiful scenery in Kazakhstan, with glaciers, spruce forests and fast-flowing streams. The mountains are home to the Tian Shan brown bear, and are far less frequented by tourists than the Zailysky Alatau. The problem though is that their proximity to China classifies most of the range as a border zone for which an additional permit is needed. Obtaining the latter, even with the help of a local travel agency, is a time-consuming procedure.

Nevertheless, this sparsely occupied mountain region with its glaciers, forbidding summits, untamed streams, remote valleys, hot springs and clean air has huge tourism potential for mountain climbing, rafting, trekking, photo safaris and silent communication with nature at its most impressive. As with other remote areas, visitors stand a very good chance of meeting nomads and their herds who have preserved much of their traditional lifestyle.


Some 40km southeast of Taldykorgan, the former mining town of Tekeli is the starting point for many routes into the Dzhungarsky Alatau. A permit is not needed to come to Tekeli itself, but you are not allowed much further into the hills to the east without one. Tekeli sits at the foot of the mountains, at the confluence of three streams: the Kora, Shizhe and Tekeli. Together these unite to form the Karatal River, the second in importance of the 'Seven Rivers' after the lie, which flows through Taldykorgan and thence northwards into Lake Balkhash.

Tekeli was formed around a lead-zinc mine, which started its operation in 1942, but whose reserves had waned by the mid-1990s to such an extent that the business collapsed in 1996. The large KazZinc enterprise took it on a year later, but was unable to make it profitable, and the mine is now closed, though metals are still being extracted from the tailings. A silver-coloured statue of Lenin stands at the entrance to the complex, on the edge of town, with another Lenin statue close to the turning for the mine from the main road. Attempts to revive the economy of the town include the decision to locate the Kazakhstan campus of the University of Central Asia here, which brings together Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan in a project funded by the Aga Khan and focused on promoting the socio-economic development of mountain communities in central Asia through education and research.