Mt. Kelinshektau: sleep under the Milky Way in South Kazakhstan

Nazerke Makhanova | Live the World

November 23, 2022

South Kazakhstan is fraught with a lot of beauty. In addition to being famous for its trading, multiculturalism, warm weather, a variety of dishes, there are a lot of beautiful places popular among tourists in this region. One of these places that must be visited is Kelinshektau Mountain. It's not only about climbing, hiking and getting to know the local culture, but also experiencing the magic of Southern Kazakhstan while sleeping under the Milky Way at the foot of Mt.  Kelinshektau.

Getting to the Kelinshektau

The capital of Southern Kazakhstan is Shymkent metropolis. In this city, you can enjoy urban life, as in every city of average size in Kazakhstan. However, if you want to get to know the place where local traditions, natural features, legends are weaving through everyday life, then Kelinshektau Mountain is the ideal place to visit. This mountainous area is just a treasure trove of adventurers, hikers, and climbers. Mt. Kelinshektau is located 250 km from Shymkent city. You can contact the local travel agencies, and you will find yourself in this place for several hours or even better with an overnight stay. Anyway, it is easily reachable and you can find a guide to lead you to the best places to observe nature and hike through the area. 

© Photo by Ilia Afanasieff, the best landscape photographer of Qazaqstan (QazPhoto 2016 and 2018), @Ilia_Almaty_Photographer +77017668113

Village at the foot

The roads in Kelinshektau are ideal for a quick and smooth ride. You will go across the endless steppes of Southern Kazakhstan, see poppy fields, and grazing herds of sheep and horses. For urban people, it is an indescribable experience to see the Kazakh lands, life, and people in an authentic style. Here, life is measured as leisure and harmony. When you go straight along the road, Kelinshektau will rise right in front of your eyes like a castle. And at its foot, you will find a small village surrounded by greenery called Abay. In this aul (a word for a small village in the Kazakh language), you can not find any cafes or restaurants. Usually, tourists who visit Kelinshektau Mountain eat in the village called Chulakkurgan, which is 37 km away from the Abay-aul. There you can find different types of cafes and enjoy traditional Kazakh dishes. It would be nice to come with an interpreter because if you want to talk to local people, it is unlikely that you will find English speakers here. But who knows? 

© Photo by Ilia Afanasieff, the best landscape photographer of Qazaqstan (QazPhoto 2016 and 2018), @Ilia_Almaty_Photographer +77017668113

What else to see around

You can take your chance and see how it goes. Locals of Southern Kazakhstan are famous for their hospitality, so rest assured that you will be warmly welcomed. There is a good bonus stop for visitors to the Kelinshektau Area. There is another famous place among tourists located in only 147 km away from Kelinshektau Mountain - the city of Turkistan. It is popular for its holy and unique mausoleums of Arystan Bab and Khoja Akhmet Yasawi. Don't miss the chance to cover all of these beautiful must-visit places of South Kazakhstan while sightseeing Kelinshektau Mountain. 

© iStock / Ozbalci

The legend of Kelinshektau

The legend of Mt. Kelinshektau originates from its name, which is translated from the Kazakh language as Kelinshek - bride, tau - mountain. So, why was the mountain dubbed as the bride mountain? This is where our legend begins. Once upon a time in the village at the foot of these mountains, and he had a daughter Aisulu. He decided to marry her off by her own will and celebrated his daughter's engagement for 40 days and nights. He sent his daughter with great gifts that were loaded onto many camels. Aisulu decided to see what the dowry consisted of. All items were made of gold, except for a dog bowl, which was made of silver. Upset because of this, Aisulu sent a messenger to her father with a demand to change the dog's bowl for gold. Angry and disappointed father cursed her for the ingratitude with the words 'Ungrateful daughter, turn into a stone with a golden caravan!' After these words, Aisulu and her caravan turned into stone, forming a large mountain Kelinshektau.

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Locals believe that dragons have long lived in these places. Rumor has it that the mountain itself is a large petrified dragon. As the "proof" of dragons' existence serves the cave painting at the foot of the mountain, an illustration of a reptile with large wings. People believe that dragons, which fly only at night and hide very well, still live in Kelinshektau Mountain. After all, it is not possible to fully explore the mountain due to the many inaccessible crevices and caves. In other words, the brutality of the terrain feeds the imagination of the locals.

© Photo by Ilia Afanasieff, the best landscape photographer of Qazaqstan (QazPhoto 2016 and 2018), @Ilia_Almaty_Photographer +77017668113


Of course, I suggest you stay at the base of Kelinshektau Mountain for the night. The nights in South Kazakhstan are truly magical, as the sky is showered with stars, and the Milky Way is drawn among them. In the village, you can buy fresh fruits and vegetables grown locally and set up a small camp at the foot of the mountain. Be sure to bring warm clothes with you. Locals say that it is better to stay for a night in the vehicle as wolves exist in this area. Any trip has its own pros and cons; therefore, a good preparation will give you perfect vacation time. For the mountain climbers and hikers, it is suggested to request permission Shymkent to explore Kelinshektau Mountain. The south of Kazakhstan is famous for its sultry heat, but the nights here are very cold. This trip will give you unforgettable impressions and a divine feeling of sleeping right under the Milky Way, especially when you wake up and see the most picturesque landscapes in  South Kazakhstan.

© Photo by Ilia Afanasieff, the best landscape photographer of Qazaqstan (QazPhoto 2016 and 2018), @Ilia_Almaty_Photographer +77017668113

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