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Arimasps and gold-guarding vultures country

The south side of the Belukha, East Kazakhstan. Maze at Lake Ravnovesie
Herodotus of gold-guarding vultures

«Fear the one-eyed Arimasps and gold- guarding vultures, for meeting them means only death …» — the father of history, Herodotus, wrote describing distant eastern countries and people. «Vultures live in a cold land, among high mountains where snowflakes are like feathers».

Who are those gold- guarding vultures? Where is their country, and whose gold do they guard? For a long time the words of the ancient scholar believed to be just a myth, fiction, until our modern science faced the archaeological Pazyryk culture..
Year 1993, Plateau Ukok. Squeezed on all sides by high mountains, the Ukok plateau is almost unfit for living, with its harsh climate and altitude over 2,000 meters. «Heaven pasture», that’s what it’s still called. It is where the archaeologists found several ancient graves in the permafrost: bodies, clothes and various objects perfectly preserved in ice, making known to us all the secrets of 2500 years ago people-vultures … Warriors tattoed and headdressed in the form of a bird’s head.
Earlier those «keepers of gold» were found near Chulyshman Valley, in Pazyryk landmark (hence the name of culture), as well as in Bukhtarma River Valley (East Kazakhstan). There were Scythian burial mounds rich in gold , and again — many soldiers in vulture-shaped caps with a lot of «bird» ornaments.
One can imagine the effect produced on their contemporaries by these warriors in vulture hats — whether riders entrenched in a narrow mountain valley, or fantastic birds, descended from the snowy peaks, or monstrous creatures risen from the dark Underworld. Scythian kings could talk arrogantly even with the Asian ruler Darius — their true treasures were hidden away and well-protected. Any alien warrior, merchant or adventurer arrived in the Altay mountains two and a half millennia ago was condemned to death — this region kept its secrets faithfully. None of the uninitiated — neither the Chinese nor the Persian, nor the Greeks — possessed any reliable information about its inhabitants. Only vague legends of strange birds, guardians of infinite treasures, entered the culture of civilized nations.
Some scholars are inclined to associate «one-eyed Arimasps” with the tribes of Andronov culture — early nomads of Asians boundless steppes. Why are they one-eyed? It has been suggested that this is connected to the wide use of combat bows and darts among Andronov tribes and they didn’t have any match for their skill.
Map of the country of gold-guarding vultures
Today the ancient land of «vultures» and «one-eyed Arimasps» is divided between Russia and Kazakhstan. Historically, this is one of the most sacred and mysterious places in Siberia and in Asia in general. Especially interesting is a poorly studied area of East Kazakhstan — a place where the majestic and snow-capped mountains of the Altay meet dry and boundless steppes. This is a Eurasian history boiler full of interesting events, secrets and mysteries, which are not fully made known yet.
White Berel, Eastern Kazakhstan
And so, our expedition to East Kazakhstan starts in our first area of research — in the valley of Bukhtarma River and White Berel river. Milk and honey … Water is actually white, and the sources of the rivers are also very symbolic: the Ukok Plateau and the very beautiful Belukha mountain. No wonder that these places were believed to be the legendary land of freedom, Belovodye, even back in the XVIII century.
Waterfall Kokkol, runes near the waterfall, East Kazakhstan
On one of the rocky ledges next to the 80-meter waterfall Kokkol there is a rectangular stone, which flat surface is cut up by artificial notches resembling the inscription. Is that some ancient altar? Who, when, why and how made it? There is no answer yet … «The strongest spirits live near waterfalls…» — Nicholas tells the words of one of the most powerful shamans in South America. At this place you learn the whole truth of these words.
Belukha from East Kazakhstan
The weather is fine: the sun is shining brightly, the sky is cloudless. We go to the so-called «stone of Roerich» — a place where according to legend, famous artist and philosopher Nicholas Roerich painted his famous sketch «Belukha». The mountain view, though similar to the picture, is obviously not the same. It seems that the author had a higher point of observation. In his diaries, Roerich said nothing about the details of creating this sketch, there is even a suggestion that the artist painted Belukha using his «inner vision.»
Rhinestone, East Kazakhstan
At the confluence of the White Berel and Bukhtarma river, there is the Valley of Kings — where in the XIX century Siberian scientist Vasily Radlov found Pazyryk warriors and their leaders — those «gold-guarding vultures». A nameless mountain rises above the valley, and there are the abandoned mines of rock crystal on the top of it. No one knows who and when used them, but it is possible that in ancient times there was a special attitude towards the crystal in the «the country of vultures”. The path to this peak is not easy — we have checked it.
Kiin_Kerish, East Kazakhstan
A few hours later the age-old cedars and larches retreat and we see the naked, scorched steppe. The speed of this change of the landscape is amazing — we change one climate zone to another literally in one day! This monotonous plain stretches in many tens or even hundreds of kilometers. Later the nature itself gets tired of this steppe view and just explodes with bright colors and landscapes – that means we have arrived at Kiin Kerish.
Plants prints (eucalyptus, 37 million years ago), East Kazakhstanн
«You can not sleep there, it is an abnormal zone» — a researcher from Ust-Kamenogorsk told us later. Location is really weird, you can even say it’s alien. Endless maze of red and white clay hills, sometimes covered with a thin crust of baked clay, which happens only at very high temperatures. If you ever would like to make a movie about Mars, you will just have to come here — all the scenery is already there. We find some plants prints in one of the clay slopes — sycamore and eucalyptus of Oligocene times (37 million years ago). It is an incredible feeling of contact with antiquity.
Petroglyphs of East Kazakhstan
This year there are a lot of mosquitoes in Kazakhstan; we don’t seem to have so many of them in Siberia. We leave the shores of the Black Irtysh in a hurry because of this bloodsucking scourge — parking near the water is canceled, we will have to spend the night somewhere in the expanses of arid steppes. We set up a camp at night in the dark, the place is chosen at random. We wake up in the area of bald hills, nothing special. Nicholas and Vyacheslav have already gone to explore and now talk about the results: «The petroglyphs were found on a hill near here, ancient drawings. «We go for a closer look. Indeed, all of the surrounding hills are dotted with flat stones, which host drawings of Andronov culture: wild animals, warriors with spears, chariots and strange characters. We are in the land of Arimasps. For a few hours we simply walk along the slopes of the hills and discover more and more new messages from antiquity over again.
Kubynzhartas landmark.
The ancient people’s logic of building sanctuaries is visible here very well. Many stones on the southern slope of mount are covered with petroglyphs — mainly animals and hunting scenes. All compositions face the central one — the largest stone which has maximal concentration of petroglyphs and is oriented strictly to the south, where on the other side of the river, there is the same large rock, all decorated with petroglyphs too. Both stones are looking at each other. Generally, the more you study these places, the more you wonder the ancient art of finding such places in nature and use them. They did nothing just for fun, everything was for a reason. And all we can do is guess what the stones are silent about …
Ablaykit, East Kazakhstan, Sibinskiye lakes
If you suddenly want to feel like Indiana Jones, there is no need to go to the Middle East — the most interesting things is much closer, in the Kalbinskiye mountains. This low mountain range begins, we can say, in the suburb of Ust-Kamenogorsk. In 35 km from the town there lies one of the most interesting places in East Kazakhstan – Akbaur, an astronomical complex of Neolithic times. A little further you’ll find Sibinskiye lakes and ruined monastery of the Jungar khan Ablaykit. And there are mounds, petroglyphs, ancient settlements, mines everywhere… These places still wait to be explored.
Perhaps it is good that now East Kazakhstan is Terra Incognita for Russians. Being in close proximity to the Russian Altay and, in fact, being the part of Altay, it does not suffer from an endless stream of tourists. You can even say that there are no tourists there at all. It’s all due to the infrastructure for them missing, as wel as difficulties with the border zone, with the roads, and the word «Kazakhstan» frightening many people. That all gives a unique chance to let adventurous people get in the country, pristine and unspoiled by big money, and plunge into a fascinating research process.

Text by: Zhitin Rodion

All materials were obtained in the
expedition to East Kazakhstan in July 2013

Printed article in the STATUS magazine, September 2013
(Click on the images to enlarge)
Country of Arimasps and gold-guarding vultures, page 1-2 Country of Arimasps and gold-guarding vultures, page 3-4
Country of Arimasps and gold-guarding vultures, page 5-6 Country of Arimasps and gold-guarding vultures, page 7
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