Cholpon-Ata is the main vacation resort in Issyk Kul region, located 265 km east of Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan’s capital. With a splendid background made of high snowy mountains and one of the world’s highest mountain lakes, and a collection of petroglyphs dating back to more than 4,000 years ago, Cholpon-Ata is a must-see during your stay in Kyrgyzstan.
Cholpon-Ata’s petroglyphs lay at the north-west of the city. This open-air museum, sometimes nicknamed “the stone garden”, is a very important historical site. It is located on a territory of 42 ha (104 acres) that includes both petroglyphs, images carved on stones, and prehistoric structures and monuments.
Back in history
Some of these petroglyphs date back to the end of the Bronze Age (around 1500 B.C.), but most of them were carved by the Saka-Usun tribes (from the 8th century B.C. to the 1st century A.C.). This was before the Kyrgyz people arrived in the region. For the Saka, this territory, nowadays turned into a museum, was considered sacred. Their shaman priests practiced sacrifices and other rituals in honor of the sun god. They lived in colonies now covered by the waters of Issyk Kul Lake.
The most recent petroglyphs are dated back to the Turkish era (between the 5th and 10th centuries).
The petroglyph museum is a real stone garden located just next to Cholpon-Ata. Known throughout the world, the museum is famous for its singularity and its stone drawings.
There are around 5,000 stones on the 42 ha territory. At the entry, a map will suggest several itineraries. The shortest path around the garden takes between 20 and 30 minutes. For the more eager, a longer path will allow you to reach the top of the garden where you will see splendid paintings. The museum also offers a breath-taking view on the Cholpon-Ata bay and the Issyk Kul Lake.
The most ancient stone drawings are marked with little yellow numbers allowing you to spot them quickly. You will mostly discover animal drawings: deers, bulls, horses, wild rams, goats, wolves and many others. These petroglyphs carved in history this past life, the hunting scenes, the wars, the triumphs and sacrifices of the tribes.
It is best to visit this glacial rock field early in the morning or late in the day: the sunlight will allow you to see more of the drawings.
How to get there ?
You can take a taxi from the center of Cholpon-Ata. It will cost around 200 soms. The driver can wait for you while you are visiting the museum, and then take you back.