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Buddha and the beasts

Buddhist meditation at Tamgaly Tas.
Two thousand years ago, before the Mongols, before the Russians, Kazakhstan was a Buddhist land. Today only a few signs remain from this period.

Tamgaly Tas is an archaeological site with Buddhist petroglyphs, on cliffs beside the Ili river. The barren spot downstream from Lake Kapchagai is frequented mostly by fishermen, picnickers and rock climbers, all of whom leave an enormous amount of garbage in their wake.

So today I followed a group of 35 Kazakhstanis and foreigners who participated in a trash cleanup at Tamgaly Tas. The group was wildly diverse -- a local Buddhist monk, an intern for Halliburton, an archaeologist, a fashion designer, representatives from assorted embassies and Kazakhstan's one-man Green Party. During the cleanup, organized by climatologist Renato Sala of the Laboratory of Geoarchaeology, the volunteers filled a truck with bags of garbage and took part in a ceremony honoring the birthday of Buddha (May 24 this year by the Chinese calendar).

Some additional photos: (back by popular demand!)

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