They say that region surrounding Almaty is a “mini Kazakhstan”. Geographically has it all: mountains, steps, desert canyons and rivers. It’s seems to be a perfect destination to start an adventure with Kazakhstan, the beautiful.
For the first time we travelled to Almaty, former Kazakhstan state capital, in September 2016 on occasion of the Kazakhstan Growth Forum conference where Kai was invited as a presenter. We were curious to see in our own eyes how this post Soviet country unfolds its newly reborn facade. We booked a home stay in a lovely apartment of a very friendly and accommodating Kazakh scientist and her son. Immediately upon arrival, it’s become clear how much horses are valued in the local society. They are still prevalent in nomadic traditions and dances. We also see them in a home decor. Delicious horse meat and milk are served in various national dishes silly accessible in restaurants and food markets.
In 2016, Almaty – city of apples – celebrated its 1000 anniversary. We could not miss the opportunity of going the celebrations and went to the anniversary fair organised in the First President’s Park. It appeared like a whole city decided to gather in this extensive green space to eat apples, enjoy Sunday stroll, drink “kvas” and enjoy cultural exhibitions. We followed the crowd and stuck up on the famous fruits and enjoyed long strolls in autumn sun.
Lovely day trek (9hours) with great views!
As mountain aficionados we couldn’t miss a trip to the prominent footsteps of the massive Tien-Shan mountains. Zailiski Alatau mountain range reaches city limits and a day-trip there is within a single bus ride. We go for a 9-hours trek that starts just below famous Medeu ski-slope on elevation circa 1500m. We hike steep hillsides to the Kok Zhailau pastures and then head for a picturesque viewing point called Three Brothers (2800m) where Dominika decides to take a quick nap on the open pastures while Kai is climbing Kumbel Peak (3200m). Despite heavy smog hugging city like a dim filter view from here on snowy peaks of the TienShan mountains is mesmerising. After a mini rest we take a long, fairytale like, descent route to the east side of the Ili-Alatau National Park. On the clear path we meet very few travellers, we see mostly horses, cows and occasional motorcyclists.
Last day of our stay we take it easy. We travel to the top of Trafalgar pass (3200m) in line car gondolas. Line car leads from popular Medeu via picturesque Shymbulak ski resort. We switch gondolas twice and arrive at the final stop where we start our leisure hiking to nearby Tuyuk-Su glacier that stretches on the 3600m elevation.
We feel that image of Kazakhstan, unfairly pictured and laughed at in a ridiculous “Borat” movie, needs to be demystified. If we are lucky we will try to visit this country again, perhaps new capital Astana where Expo 2017 will be happening.
For a second trip to Almaty, three years later, in September 2019, Kai went by himself. He also presented at the Kazakhstan Growth Forum. He visited Great Almaty Lake, ate more delicious horse meat and danced until morning with local friends to the rhythms of the traditional tunes.