You need to make certain efforts in order to visit a bottom of the Aksu Canyon. First, you have to prove to the strict management of the Aksu-Jabagly Nature Reserve that you really need to visit this strictly protected territory. And secondly, to go down a half kilometer slope. However, it is worth visiting!
The oldest reserve of Kazakhstan
Aksu-Jabagly Nature Reserve is remarkable in many ways. It is the first one among dozens of existing state natural reserves in the Republic. A resolution on its approval was made by the Council of People's Сommissars of Kazakh ASSR (when Kazakhstan was an autonomy within the USSR) on July 14, 1926. At that time this was generally the only reserve in the whole Central Asia!
Moreover, here in mountain ranges of Talasskiy Alatau and Ugam, you will see animals and plants which are impossible to be seen in other areas of the Western Tien Shan. Aksu-Jabagly is full of endemic and relic species.
Karatau paleontological enclaves of the reserve are altogether engaged in guarding those who existed on the Earth long-long ages ago. There, in the thin layers of shale, images of any tiny living creature, inhabited our planet during the time of the dinosaurs, had been imprinted in an amazing undamaged condition!
Aksu River, as it comes from the title is one of the two rivers, around which the wildlife sanctuary area was established. And the Canyon of Aksu River is one of the main attractions of not only the reserve but of the whole Kazakhstan. And that is not for nothing! Here is how Anatoliy Kovshar, master of Kazakhstan zoology, who has worked in the Aksu-Jabagly for many years, explains uniqueness of the canyon:
"Aksu is the most abundant river of the reserve - flows in a narrow picturesque gorge. The beauty of the valley after its merging with the river Kshi Aksu is outstanding. Here, it is a deep conglomerate canyon stretching far about 30 km away and with a depth of up to 500 m with stepped steep walls. The distance between the upper edges of the canyon does not exceed 700-800 m."
Famous Russian geographer and soil scientist Semen Neustruev (1874-1928) was one of the first to research the Canyon who visited it during his Turkistan expedition, in 1908. Here's how he described his impression from visiting this unique natural site:
"Raging, white from marble sand waters of Aksu aroar rush along the bottom of the gorge, and no one dares to wade them through... Canyon walls, especially where they are the most steeped, are often smooth polished with water, form the columns and niches at the bottom and rounded holes indented by water."
The great tree of Turkistan
I would add on my behalf, that the trees on Canyon's steep slopes amaze virtually even more than the canyon itself. Here relic juniper grows, it was passed on to us from the bygone geological ages.
Central Asian juniper have been known in the Central Asia as a tree-like breed of juniper since ancient times. This tree is meaningful for local history and culture. With this region's scarce forest resources this tree has been used long since as a valuable construction and ornamental material.
A lot of stuff that Turkistan craftsmen cut out from its valuable wood! Amazingly beautiful and meticulous carved doors of Kokand and Samarkand palaces (just remember Vereshchagin’s "Doors of Tamerlane"), graceful and unique pillars (a unique piece of work each!) of mosques in Khiva and Bukhara, lattices of windows of rich houses, safe chests - "steppe safes" of nomads. Additionally, all those little things as well: fragrant fine hair picks, which gazelle-eyed beauties of harems used to brush their infinite hair with, ascetic fine stands, where the most pious mullahs used to set the precious Quran at when reading, the panels with carved scenes from the life of unknown gods…
Trees growing in the countries located among the deserts were more valuable than water, and juniper, improved by a touch of an artist, was equated with gold! It is no coincidence that such woodwork had lived much longer than their masters, the masters' clay dwellings and inaccessible cities. And among other trophies that winning armies used to get from fresh ruins there were both doors and columns made of juniper.
In the cultural and historical value the juniper forests of Western Tien Shan Mountains can be compared with famous forests of Lebanese cedar, the tree that had left such deep trace in the early history of the civilizations of Mesopotamia, Eastern Mediterranean region, Egypt. Although, cedar forests of Lebanon, where the first literary hero of the Earth "Uruk" Gilgamesh was cutting trees, had become a thing of the past. While the juniper forests in Talasskiy Alatau have preserved until this point. Here they are - bristling their dark needles along ranges and gorges of local mountains.
Touch Genghis Khan's contemporary!
If you wonder which breed of trees growing in Kazakhstan is the most long-living, then juniper will perhaps have no competitors. For instance, the authors of the book "Rare and valuable plants of Kazakhstan" published in 1981 claimed that some species of juniper are able to live to the age of 1500. And although one of the most knowledgeable professionals in botany of the Republic Anna Ivashchenko (who incidentally had worked in the Aksu-Jabagly Nature Reserve as well) in modern encyclopedia "Flora of Kazakhstan" gives a lot moderate figures (800-1000 years), you have to agree that it still has a proud sound!
Theoretically, there are two trees growing in the country that can compete with juniper trees; these are Siberian larch and oak but their fragmentary and marginal habitats do not provide them with such solid position on our territory. So juniper is out of competition.
As for an absolute champion among the most ancient trees then this name is unknown. But for sure we can point out the boundaries for the search - mountain long-boled woods of semiglobose and Seravshan juniper in the Southern Kazakhstan. And, if to be more precise - here, in the Talas Alatau, within the most impassable gorges and canyons of Aksu River.
Many species of juniper look like 1000-year-olds. Perhaps, that is because every approach to such a venerable elder is already a deliberate touch of some mystery. Whether a tree has memory or not - in fact it does not matter at all. The most important thing is that we have a memory. And we remember what happened around the tree!
Nature lovers will not be disappointed by Aksu-Jabagly
But even if you do not think of eternity still walks in the juniper woods will have an impact on you. Thickset tree patriarchs seem to emanate a tangible positive energy charge. The air is virtually filled with the energy of life and healthy aura of centenarians. If you wish you could touch their rigid branches and unexpectedly soft needles with your hand.
Aksu-Jabagly Nature Reserve, despite the fact that its age is more than 90 years, has not got lost among the hundreds and thousands of natural reserves on the Earth intended for dealing with noble calling to preserve the remaining wildlife from turning into cultural equivalent. Despite the rigorous status, entrance to the reserve is not prohibited at all - everyone can enjoy unspoilt views of the Western Tien Shan, walk (once approved and paid, of course) along one of the hiking paths in the part of the reserve that is open for visitors. Such walks attract wildlife lovers from quite distant countries.