How mineral water discovered in southern Kazakhstan turned out to be a tragedy at first, but a source of health later.
FOUNTAIN OF LIFE
After World War II, the Soviet Union, a shell-shocked titan, had to rise from its own ruins. It demanded almost the impossible from its people: to rebuild the destroyed economy in the shortest possible period of time, and it had no mercy for errors. Geologists searching for new oilfields in South Kazakhstan experienced this firsthand. In a place called Saryagash, they drilled a well. To their horror, instead of oil, water erupted from the surface, and it was not long before misfortune followed. The whole geological party was sentenced to 10 years’ imprisonment for sabotage.
But the water, like a living creature, did not let anyone forget about it. Locals believed that the discovery of the spring was the fulfillment of an ancient prophecy. According to legend, in XVII in Samarkand (Uzbekistan) there lived a traditional healer, Issa-ata, who preached Islam. Elders from Saryagash went to visit him, firmly set on convincing Issa-ata to come to Saryagash.
Once Issa-ata stepped onto Saryagash land, he ordered the locals to keep this place clean, as eventually a healing spring would appear. But people were very doubtful, as the area was suffering from drought. One day they planted a tree there, and it grew large and spread its branches wide, but due to the lack of water all its leaves were yellow. That is why the place is called Saryagash, or “yellow tree.” Lo and behold, three centuries later the prophecy came true!
Probably it was this folktale that led scientists to conduct research on the water, but no one knows for certain. We know for sure that based on its composition and therapeutic benefits, Saryagash mineral water can compete with such widely recognized mineral waters as Truskavets, Borjomi, Essentuki and Zheleznovodsk. Saryagash water addresses health problems such as gastrointestinal and urogenital systems disorders, metabolic diseases, osteochondrosis and skin conditions, among others.
Let nothing be wasted, decided the Soviet government, and in 1955 the first Saryagash spa center (called Profsoyuznyi) opened. The construction of a resort for the working class was taken seriously. First of all, the local climate was taken into consideration: in summer it is hot here. Thus, hundreds of trees were planted in parks and public gardens. They still share their shades with us on steaming hot days. Since they did not turn yellow, the place could be renamed “zhasylagash,” or “green tree.” But traditions are strong here, so the original name has stayed.
The elderly Kopzhasar Berdalyuly, a caretaker of Issa-ata’s mausoleum, welcomes visitors in the traditional manner. He first asks whether they have carefully read the rules for how to behave in this holy place. For those who were not attentive enough to read the sign detailing this information, Kopzhasar-ata patiently explains: “One must come here not only with pure thoughts, but with a clean body also. Before approaching the mausoleum, you must enter a small house, pray, taste the bread you find on the dastarkhan (the Kazakh national table on short legs), and only after that walk the path to the mausoleum. Once you reach it, go to the benches. Pray there once again, and only then go to the stones, which Issa-ata declared have health-giving powers. Before you walk through the gap between the two healing rocks, you need to make your innermost wish and ask God with all your heart to make this wish come true. Once you walk through the gap thrice, go down by the path to come back.”
Kopzhasar-ata says that this place is still visited by people with all types of problems: “The miraculous power hidden in these rocks helps infertile women and those whose children died at a young age. God gave them strong offspring. Children with umbilical or inguinal hernias were healed after passing through this split between the rocks three times. People suffering from curses, who had lost any hope for happiness, came here with pure thoughts and hopes for a cure. Carrying great faith in their souls and having prayed to God, people who came to Issa-ata and walked through the gap thrice got well. We witness such miraculous cures still. The key point is not to lose faith in your soul.”
A NEW LEASE ON LIFE
It is up to individual choice whether to believe in the healing stones or not, but the curative properties of Saryagash’s water are a fact proven long ago by Soviet scientists. After the collapse of the USSR, the place experienced a revival, and new spas opened, including Aray Deluxe, Zhetysu, Aysha Bibi, Bereke-7, Zhansaya, Kokterek, Kazakhstan KZ, Saya and Salma Caravan. Currently there are 23 operating spa centers within the resort area.
Each of them offers a wide range of services. Highly qualified doctors, including therapists, gastroenterologists, urologists, gynecologists and ophthalmologists, work in these spas.
The spa centers can be divided by categories. Some centers are ready to provide economy rooms, whereas others offer various rooms, from semi-luxes to royal suites. Prices per night per room vary from KZT 5,000 to KZT 190,000 (USD 1 = app. KZT 330). Prices cover meals and treatments. There are lots of additional services, which can be purchased for additional fees. For instance, mesotherapy costs KZT 5,000, and a full body massage is KZT 1,000.
In the very center of the resort area stands a well room, which is directly connected to the spring, where you can drink mineral water at three “temperature modes”- 22°С, 38°С and 42°С. Centuries-long experience with mineral water treatment shows that its impact on the human body is most effective at the spring, where the water retains its natural composition and quality.
When it comes to the climate, the Saryagash summer is sweltering and long-lasting. Winter is mild and short, with frequent thaws. The best time to relax at the Saryagash spas is in the autumn (October and November) and from late spring to early summer (May and June), as later it becomes too hot. If necessary, one can always turn on the air conditioning to comfortably make it through the summer heat.
If you prefer to stay at a spa center when it is quieter and less crowded, it is best to come in winter. Additionally, this season is known for its attractive discounts.
To reach this health resource, take a taxi from the town of Saryagash. One can get to Saryagash from Shymkent, after taking the 130-kilometer long journey by bus or shared taxi van. A flight or a train ride from Almaty (the former capital of Kazakhstan) or Astana (the current capital) will bring you to Shymkent.
Due to its proximity to Uzbekistan, spa centers arrange tours for their guests to Tashkent, the capital of Uzbekistan, and the ancient Uzbek cities of Bukhara and Samarkand. Tashkent is only 15 km away from the resort.
A tourist can also take a trip to one of the earliest Kazakhstani cities, Turkestan, and to the mausoleum of Arystan Bab, known as a spiritual mentor of the great Sufi Khawaja Ahmed Yasawi.
One more tip for curious travelers: take a tour to the Saryagash water filling plant Assem-Ai. The plant utilizes the wells drilled by those imprisoned Soviet geologists. After de-Stalinization, the whole geological party was rehabilitated.