Ten kilometres north-west of Shetpe town is Ayrakty-Shomanai, or as 19th-century Ukrainian artist-poet Taras Shevchenko preferred to call it: the Valley of Castles. The peaks are freestanding and sit in between the Karatau Range to the south and the North Aktau Ridge to the north. It’s only a matter of time until a sci-fi film director sees the potential in its otherworldly landscape comprising fin-like rock ridges and imposing desert spires. During the Silk Road era, it was an important navigational point for travellers and traders.
From the north side of Ayrkaty-Shomanai it’s possible to drive off road to the summit. Peer over the peak’s east side and you’ll spot a collection of geoglyphs. Don’t be fooled though! Local archaeologist-historian Andrei Astafiyev created these in 2017 to attract more visitors to the area. There are five with the smallest being a 150 x 110 m argali sheep and the largest one depicting a cosmogonic deity measuring 415 x 170 m. Astafiyev made them with a small team and employed a mixture of drones and GPS applications to map out the design. To make them he used a vehicle, attached with shovels and tools, to churn up the ground. One of his biggest drawings required 30 km of driving to complete.
In 2013, a 200 m wide pentagram-shaped geoglyph appeared on the outskirts of Aktau. In the same year another Kazakh pentagram made the headlines, on the banks of Upper Tobol Reservoir in the Kostanay Region. No one’s certain who created these pentagrams, although archaeologist Emma Usmanova believes the Kostanay one is the outline of a star-shaped park from Soviet times. As for the Aktau one, Tengri News says there’s a strong suspicion they were made by motorised hang gliders.
If you’re lucky, you might spot some wild horses or big-horned sheep (mouflon). On some of its cliffs there are petroglyphs depicting mouflon, horse, camel and dogs. Although, they’re more contemporary and left behind by local herders and hunters. The two most notable rock paintings in the area show a bullet striking a ram and the other one, locally known as the ‘Picture of the World’, shows multiple layers of wild animals.