Cover Photo © Credit toiStock/HomoCosmicos
Cover Photo © Credit toiStock/HomoCosmicos

Petroglyphs in Cholpon-Ata: the gallery of rock art

2 minutes to read

In the city of Cholpon-Ata, on the north shore of Issyk-Kul Lake, there is an open-air gallery of petroglyphs, paintings on the stones that belong to ancient times. On the 42 hectares territory of the museum, there are thousands of stones with paintings depicting scenes of hunting, everyday life and wars. These artefacts are at least 4000 years. Nevertheless, they are surprisingly well preserved. Petroglyphs found on the shores of the Issyk-Kul Lake fascinate with the realism of the painted scenes and  figures as well as the used technique. In contrast to papers and utensils, rock art is more sustainable and can serve as a portal to other historical dimensions.

Photo © Credit to iStock/Elena Odareeva
Photo © Credit to iStock/Elena Odareeva

An ancient stone garden 

You can reach the gallery on feet from the Cholpon-Ata city center. There are some walking tours that you can join, and it is much more interesting to come here with a guide. The entrance fee is around 80 soms, which is just 1 euro. Many foreign tourists notice that the museum infrastructure is not well taken care of. Unfortunately, many museums in Kyrgyzstan lack funding. That's why your visit to this museum really matters because you are supporting it! The museum collection has rock paintings and engravings, gravestones, cromlechs (a circle of prehistoric standing stones), border fences dating back to 4000-2000 B.C. Each stone has a nameplate describing the date and a purpose of it. The most interesting exhibits have the indicating flags that can help you save the time to find them. There are a couple of routes, the shortest one takes 20-30 minutes. The longer route leads to an upper part of the museum, where visitors can examine better balbals, the nomadic gravestones, cromlechs and get to see the Cholpon-Ata bay. 

Photo © Credit to Wikipedia Commons/ HylgeriaK
Photo © Credit to Wikipedia Commons/ HylgeriaK

Who left these paintings? 

The sizes of boulders vary from 30 cm to 3 meters. The paintings are made in the Scythian' style. Back then, all the territory of Transoxiana was populated by a nomadic group of the Iranian origin called Scythian. They were among the earliest people who used horses in battles. They developed a rich culture characterized by luxurious tombs and fine metalwork. At the peak of their dominance over the great European steppe, Scythian empire's territory stretched from the Carpathian Mountains in the west to Central China in the east. Archeologists believe that cromlechs were used as astrological instruments.  Because most of the boulders are pointed to the southeast, and there are many pictures of the sun, this place was used for conducting religious rituals. There are many depictions of the shamanic goddess: deer mother, Bugu Ene, who is believed to be a progenitor of many Turkic tribes around Siberia and Central Asia. It is remarkable that the Issyk-Kul region's majority of population belongs to the biggest tribe in Kyrgyzstan - Bugu (deer). 

Photo © Credit to iStock/Elena Odareeva
Photo © Credit to iStock/Elena Odareeva

The rock art gallery of Cholpon-Ata has the biggest collection of petroglyphs in the Issyk-kul region. The open-air museum is located between the snowcapped mountains and the second biggest mountain lake in the world, Issyk-Kul. It is a perfect place to visit in order to have enjoyable walk in the fresh air, glance in distant Tian-Shian peaks, or breeze in salty winds of Issyk-Kul Lake and imagine how was the life in the past when people lived in intimate closeness with nature. 

Museum of petroglyphs in Cholpon-Ata
Museum of petroglyphs in Cholpon-Ata
Cholpon Ata, Kyrgyzstan

The author

Gulzat Matisakova

Gulzat Matisakova

Hello. I am Gulzat, from Kyrgyzstan. I studied documentary filmmaking in Europe. In my free time I enjoy watching films and hiking. I am here to guide you through the treasures of Kyrgyzstan.

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