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“Land of Healing”. What was hidden from outsiders for thousands of years in the mountains at Merke

04 March 2021

Merken Gorge, which is located in the mountains of the Kyrgyz Alatau, is one of the most poorly explored corners of Kazakhstan. However, this place is rich in historical monuments. In this article, we will tell you what it is worth to climb these mountains.

It should be emphasized at once that the local region is included in the protected area. Hunting and fishing are prohibited here. Closer to the peaks, you can see the tracks of snow leopards and mountain goats that go down to the river to drink. The full-flowing Merke River flows along the entire Dzhailau, in its upper reaches there are moraine lakes Kokkol and Buzyngankol, in the Karakystak gorge there is Lake Auliekol (at an altitude of 2636 meters).


Merke Gorge is also interesting for cavers, there are several caves with a depth of more than a hundred meters. For a walk through them, you will definitely need a flashlight and company, it is better not to go into them alone. In the upper, rather remote part of the gorge on the Sandyktas plateau, which means “stone chest” in Kazakh, there is a sanctuary of the ancient Turks.


The sanctuary is located in a remote location, so it is preserved in good condition.

“The Turkic nomads used the area of the gorge for ritual and cultural purposes. On the territory of the sanctuary, more than 170 mounds and fences dating from the VI-XIV centuries were found, among which about 70 are single or group complexes (up to four) of stone statues or balbals, male and female figures. They are located high in the mountains, at an altitude of about 3,500 meters above sea level, because in ancient times people tried to hide the sacred places away from the eyes of strangers, ” Kuanysh Daurembekov, head of the regional directorate for the protection and restoration of historical and cultural monuments, told us.

@Жамбыл облысы әкімдігі мәдениет

Local monuments are protected by the state. In 1998, the Merke Sanctuary was included in the UNESCO World Heritage Tentative List.

@Жамбыл облысы әкімдігі мәдениет

There are also mounds with a diameter of 7 to 12 meters with a stone statue in the center in the sanctuary of Merke. They belong to the period of the Kipchak tribes in the history of the Turkic nomads, and therefore date back to about the XI-XIII centuries.


Another feature of these monuments is that among the statues there are also female figures, this may be associated with the cult of the virgin ancestor.

@Жамбыл облысы әкімдігі мәдениет

“The ancient sanctuary covers 250 square kilometers and consists of mounds, stone fences and stone statues that are found facing east, towards the rising sun, exclusively on the eastern slopes of the mountains. On them, as well as on the rocks of mountain gorges, petroglyphs are found – wall drawings of ancient people.

The Sandyktas sanctuary in the upper reaches of the Djailau Merke is still called the “Land of Healing”. Here the ancient nomads ascended to get rid of ailments, as well as for the blessing of the birth of children, hence the ancient tradition of “aulie zher” – visiting sacred places. The Turks tried to preserve this land, it remained a place of ancestor worship, religious rites and rituals for a long time in order to preserve the strength of the people,” Daurembekov added.

The starting point of the trip will be the village of Merke. According to historians, the ancient city flourished in the Middle Ages, being on the Silk Road. For the first time, Arab geographers mentioned Merka in their works of the X-XI centuries, the city was called Mirki, it was of medium size, with a citadel and fortifications around the perimeter. The name of the city has always remained unchanged and could mean “center”, suggesting the hub, the central point of the Silk Road. Scientists claim that the city originally got its name in Farsi.


In the village of Merke there is a historical museum, it has an interesting collection of jewelry and even has a bone of elasmotherium-an ancient rhinoceros. They lived on the territory of modern Eurasia for a very long time and became extinct about 12 thousand years ago.

These animals were very large-the length reached up to 6 meters, in height they were about 2.5 meters and weighed up to five tons. The main feature of ancient rhinos was a large dome-shaped growth on the forehead, or horn, which reached up to one and a half meters.

The ancient rhinoceros had a cool temper. On the territory of Spain and in the Urals, rock carvings were found that almost depicted this harsh beast in detail.

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There is also the eponymous sanatorium “Merke”, where you can be treated with healing radon water, which is rich in trace elements and has a beneficial effect on the entire body.


Every year, more than seven thousand tourists come here. The buildings of the sanatorium “Merke” are located among the dense greenery of the Merken gorge of the Kyrgyz Alatau, at an altitude of 750 meters above sea level. The picturesque landscape of the sanatorium is complemented by the Merkenka River, which is cool in the hot summer. In the warm season, the surroundings of the sanatorium delight with the singing of a variety of birds.

The resort is open all year round-radon baths can be taken regardless of the time of year.


You need to get to the high-altitude plateau in two stages – by car, while it keeps climbing, and then you need to walk a few kilometers, the route is designed for tourists in good physical shape. In ancient times, people used to go up here on horseback.

When it is better to go: June-October, the nature of the gorge is two or three weeks ahead of the Almaty climate.

Where it is located: from Almaty to the village of Merke, the distance is 360 kilometers or 4.5-5 hours on the road, almost half the way the road goes along the border with Kyrgyzstan.


From the village of Merke, you need to turn onto the road leading to the sanatorium of the same name (there are no signs, the landmark is a green gas station). After the sanatorium, the road goes to a picturesque gorge. After some time on the way, you can see the barrier-the entrance to the Merken Nature Reserve.

After 7.5 kilometers of the road up in the gorge, there is a border outpost (so take the documents for all members of the trip, including children). But beautiful places to relax begin long before the entrance to it.


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