Tag Archives: Kazakhstan

Stuck in the Mud in Kazakhstan – 6 months later…

Just for fun 🙂

Remember at the start of the Silk Road Tour how we got stuck in the mud in Kazakhstan the first day I joined?   Well, Gayle, James and the London-Sydney Overland group visited the Tamgaly Petroglyphs today and went to have a look at what our special site looks like 6 months later.

Stuck in the mud - Tamgaly Petroglyphs - Kazakhstan

Indeed we were excellent road builders!

Stuck in the mud - Tamgaly Petroglyphs - Kazakhstan

Stuck in the mud - Tamgaly Petroglyphs - Kazakhstan

And here was where Alice the truck was stuck nose-in for 5 days.  Still leaving an impression…

Stuck in the mud - Tamgaly Petroglyphs - Kazakhstan

Thanks for sharing the photos Gayle!  Love it!

No longer stuck in the mud!

An update …

After 5 days, James did eventually get out of the mud in Kazakhstan with the help of the firemen, the army and this surprisingly small-looking, but obviously bad-ass truck!   Apparently it had an anchor to keep it stable while it pulled the truck out… 

Rescued from the mud - Kazakhstan

Welcome back James!

Stuck in the mud – Kazakhstan

You may remember I left you yesterday with the Overland truck stuck in the mud and the tractor unable to pull it out.    It was a good thing we were meant to be bush camping that night anyway – so we had plenty of food and seting up our tents was what we were expecting to do anyway.   We just expected to do it a little closer to the Kyrgyzstan border.

So the drama continued today…

It had rained even more overnight and I am happy to report that my little Alps Mountaineering Lynx 1-person tent is an absolute winner!  However, more rain is not great when you are already stuck in the mud.   So after breakfast, Gayle, Jane and I headed off to see if we could find some more help.

Stuck in the mud - Tamgaly Petroglyphs - Kazakhstan

Walking to get help along the abysmal roads of Kazakhstan

We started off by walking the ~4kms to the entrance to the park to wait for the Park Ranger to arrive.  There were no signs posted on when the park would open or anything, so we sat down to wait.   But then we decided we should split our efforts – so we flagged down passing cars and on our second attempt, we found some super-helpful chaps that agreed to give Gayle and Jane a lift into town (we really were in the middle of nowhere).

Asking for help near Tamgaly Petroglyphs - with Google Translate - Kazakhstan

So they headed in there while I waited for the Park Ranger.

About an hour later, 5 helicopters come thuk-thuk-thuking over the hills to land right near me.   I was most impressed that the girls had brought in the cavalry so quickly!

Stuck in the mud - Tamgaly Petroglyphs - Kazakhstan

The calvary! Or not…

Unfortunately, it was not to be.   And when I went over to see if anyone could speak English so I could explain our predicament – it quickly became clear that they were just another group of (much richer) tourists come to see the petroglyphs.   The guy I found who did speak English said he wasn’t sure what they could do, but he would tell the leader about us.   Hmmm…..

About 1/2 hour after that, the Park Ranger arrived, but he was far more interested in collecting the entrance fee from the guys in the helicopters than he was at trying to decipher my charades explaining our tale of woe.     When I finally did get his attention and showed him the photos of our predicament on my phone – he just shrugged his shoulders, said “nyet”, and started going about his business.

I tried again, miming that perhaps he could call someone to help us.  Again, this suggestion was met with a disinterested “nyet”.   Hmmmm….

About 15 minutes later, a lady turned up and so I tried the same routine on her.   More shrugged shoulders and “nyets”, followed by the offer to read a book about the petroglyphs and to sit down and have tea and bread with them.    While that was lovely (and I did both), it was not helping.  So I gave up and walked back to the group and the truck, hoping against all hope that Gayle and Jane had had better luck!

Once I got back, James (the driver) and I walked over to the local farm to see if we could borrow their tractor again.  After much pleading, the answer was still “nyet” – so we headed back to see whether the girls were back.   

Fortunately they were, and not far behind them came a big roadworks truck with a bit of a load of gravel as well … and a dude in uniform on horseback.

Stuck in the mud - Tamgaly Petroglyphs - Kazakhstan

We all got very excited as he managed to shift the truck slightly, but that quickly turned to disappointment as he, too, became stuck in the mud.

Stuck in the mud - Tamgaly Petroglyphs - Kazakhstan

The good thing about this was that at least we had a local trapped with us now, so they couldn’t ignore us.  The Chief of Firemen had turned up in full dress uniform, and was not leaving either, and  plans were made to bring out a couple of firetrucks to join the fight against the mud.  So there was nothing for it but to cobble together something for dinner and settle in for another night – this time sleeping in the leaning truck.   Pretty sunset though 🙂 

Stuck in the mud - Tamgaly Petroglyphs - Kazakhstan

Oh – and the two guys that gave Gayle and Jane the lift into town came to visit us to see how we were getting on 🙂

The next day dawned bright and sunny for a change.  Our Chief of Firemen was still with us, the story was that one of the firetrucks had become stuck in the mud further along the road – but the other one had turned up, along with an engineer and several other men.

Stuck in the mud - Tamgaly Petroglyphs - Kazakhstan

The chief of fireman is in full dress uniform holding a shovel here

First step was to get the roadworks truck out of the mud.    So while they were busy working on that, we set about building a road out of stones.

Stuck in the mud - Tamgaly Petroglyphs - Kazakhstan

I’m not sure what UNESCO would say about this — but we were on the opposite side of the hill to where the petroglyphs where so fingers crossed we didn’t destroy anything!   It was also every Australian’s worst nightmare – turning over stones that, quite often, had spiders (and in one case a snake) lurking underneath.    And that was how we spent most of the morning.   Building roads, rebuilding roads in slightly different places, and trying to do what we could to help the efforts to free us.

Meanwhile – how were we communicating with our rescuers?  None of us spoke Russian or Kazakh and only one of them had a few words of English.   Why, by Google Translate of course 🙂

Stuck in the mud - Tamgaly Petroglyphs - Kazakhstan

They eventually freed the white truck, and took the high road around to begin our rescue.

Stuck in the mud - Tamgaly Petroglyphs - Kazakhstan

However, when they reached where we were stuck, they, too became stuck in the mud.

Stuck in the mud - Tamgaly Petroglyphs - Kazakhstan

More digging and road-building ensued to free the firetruck, which then attempted to pull us forwards out of our bog.  

Stuck in the mud - Tamgaly Petroglyphs - Kazakhstan

No joy!  And they actually broke off the anchor point from the front of the truck!

Time to go back and dig out the second firetruck from its bog to see if we would come out with two vehicles pulling.    For us, time for lunch!

Stuck in the mud - Tamgaly Petroglyphs - Kazakhstan

An hour later they were back, this time attempting to pull us out backwards once they had charted a firmer base heading up the back of the hill with the petroglyphs.

Stuck in the mud - Tamgaly Petroglyphs - Kazakhstan

You have probably already guessed how this ended up…

By this stage, we also had the mayor of the town out on site and a plan was made to move us on to Bishkek in Kyrgyzstan, while James (the driver) continued to work with the firemen to free the truck.  So, at 2pm we offloaded our bags from the overland truck into one of the Ladas that seem to be able to go absolutely anywhere for transport to the visitors centre in town, and we hiked the ~6km to join them.

Stuck in the mud - Tamgaly Petroglyphs - Kazakhstan

The mayor of the town is in the top image wearing the black velvet jacket

The mayor had arranged for a minibus to come pick us up and take us to the Kyrgyzstan border – free of charge – so when that turned up a couple of hours later, we all piled in and headed off, saying goodbye and good luck to James and his new friends.   

On the way to the Kyrgyz border

We passed through the border at about 11pm with no hassles and were picked up by another minibus sent to collect us by the owner of the hostel we were staying in in Bishkek.  Our fingers are crossed that James gets out soon!

Oh – and we made the papers in Kazakhstan in the Society pages!  



Tamgaly Petroglyphs – Kazakhstan

First day on the overland truck started with a quick overview of the truck itself, where everything goes and how everything works.   Then it was loads of photos with the owners of the hostel and off down the tiny backstreets of Almaty in our humungous beast!

Madventures crew with our truck

Took forever to get out of Almaty, and then several hours to drive the 120km to the Tamgaly Petroglyphs – Kazakhstan’s roads are shockers!   We turned off a very bad paved road where the sign indicated, and headed down a very bad dirt road.  Which then deteriorated further into a very bad dirt track…  

on the way to Tamgaly petroglyphs - Kazakhstan

Are we absolutely certain this is the way to this major tourist site?

When we finally found the petroglyphs site – it turned out that we had come in the back way!

Madventures truck at Tamgaly Petroglyphs -Kazakhstan

Ah, no. This would be the back way. Oops.

Tamgaly is a UNESCO Heritage listed site consisting of around 5000 petroglyphs, many of which depict hunting scenes, animals and people.

Tamgaly Petroglyphs - Kazakhstan

Tamgaly Petroglyphs - Kazakhstan

Animal Petroglyphs

Tamgaly Petroglyphs - Kazakhstan

Hunting scenes

While others describe “sun-head” deities with a halo consisting of a circle, and many rays and points.  These are unlike anything I’ve seen before (very different to the petroglyphs at La Silla Observatory) and very cool.

“Sun-head” deities - Tamgaly Petroglyphs - Kazakhstan

“Sun-head” deities are very distinctive human figures with circular “halos”. There are 4 of them in this image, 2 on the rock on the left and 2 on the darker rock on the right, along with many dancers.

There is even one riding a bull!

“Sun-head” deities - Tamgaly Petroglyphs - Kazakhstan

The petroglyphs date from the Bronze Age (13th/14th Century) through to the 20th Century, with the earliest carvings also being the largest and the most deeply drawn – most likely with stone or metal tools.

Tamgaly Petroglyphs - Kazakhstan

And while the petroglyphs were the highlight, there were also a burial ground consisting of stone cysts and boxes with adults and children buried on their left sides with their heads facing west.

Burial Site - Tamgaly petroglyphs - Kazakhstan

Unfortunately, we only had an hour to explore the site – I reckon 2hrs minimum for the main site would have been better.   But because it had taken us so long to get there, we had to push on for our bush camp near the Kyrgyzstan border.

We managed to get a couple of kilometres up a different road (recommended to us by the park ranger) when disaster struck, and we became seriously and hopelessly bogged.

stuck in the mud - Tamgaly Petroglyphs - Kazakhstan

Stuck in the mud

As the time for our extraction lengthened, our tour leader set out for the main entrance to the petroglyphs to enlist the assistance of the park ranger.  Unfortunately, he’d already packed up for the day and gone home.  So we then they tried the locals at a farm we had passed on our way in.   Apparently they weren’t exactly enthusiastic about helping, but once they were shown the photos of our predicament, they agreed to drive their tractor and try to help pull us out.

Stuck in the mud - Tamgaly Petroglyphs - Kazakhstan

Totally stuck in the mud – and, unfortunately the tractor didn’t help.

But the big beast was not budging!   After about 15 minutes of trying and what seemed like almost succeeding getting us out, they signaled that they had to go, and took their tractor and left us still stuck in the mud.   Given none of us speak Kazakh or Russian, it is unclear whether they were going to come back in the morning or not… Hmmmmm…

Unexpected dinner at Tamgaly petroglyphs - Kazakhstan

Unexpected dinner at Tamgaly Petroglyphs. Good thing we were meant to be bush camping further along the road, so were equipped with supplies!

So we resigned ourselves to camping where we were for the night.  Luckily we were ready for a bush camp, so we set up the tents, cooked dinner and retired for the evening just as the rain started. 

Welcome to Overlanding!


BTW – this link has more information on the petroglyphs.

Almaty’s Green Bazaar – Kazakhstan

Dennis’ “Golden Quarter” walking tour was fantastic, but it wasn’t the reason I initially contacted him.  Those of you who have been following along for a while won’t be surprised to know that he also offers a foodie tour in the Green Bazaar of Almaty.   Of course, I was in!

Green Bazaar entrance - Almaty - Kazakhstan

Entrance of the Green Bazaar

We were met by another traveler – Benjamin from the US – and headed in to start off with a traditional Kazakh lunch at one of the restaurants in the market.  

The menu looked like this

menu at restaurant - Green Bazaar - Almaty - Kazakhstan

I’m really having a hard time getting used to not being able to read anything or understand anything.   I’m so used to travelling in Latin America where, now that I speak Spanish, everything is easy.    Dennis translated for us and made some recommendations, and we ended up with a few different dishes.

Both he and Benjamin ordered Plov – the very typical rice, carrot, meat dish that is really, really tasty.

Plov - Green Bazaar - Almaty - Kazakhstan

Just to be different, I ordered an interpretation of beshparmak, which usually consists of flat noodles topped with onions, meat, and horse sausage.  This version was called “meat, Kazakh-style”, with the meat broth mixed in to form a soup.   This was also good, but I thought the Plov was tastier.

A version of beshparmak - Green Bazaar - Almaty - Kazakhstan

And we decided to share a serving of Manty, dumplings with pumpkin, meat and herbs inside.   This was made even better by the ladzhan – a chilli side that is often served on the table.

Manty - Green Bazaar - Almaty - Kazakhstan

All rounded out by tea, of course.   This time tea with lemon 😊

lunch - Green Bazaar - Almaty - Kazakhstan

We each paid 1,200 Tenge (less than US$4) for all this food!

lunch - Green Bazaar - Almaty - Kazakhstan

Next thing was to head off to explore the Green Bazaar itself.   First of all – the whole place is incredibly clean, and looks like it has been organized by a person with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder!   It is immaculate!

Green Bazaar - Almaty - Kazakhstan

Everything has its place – there is the section for dried fruit and nuts and the like

Dried fruit and nuts - Green Bazaar - Almaty - Kazakhstan

The section for pickled items, where Dennis had to sweet talk the security guard because you are actually not meant to take pictures in the Bazaar.   However, because Dennis knows all the vendors there, they allow his guests special privileges 😊

Pickled things - Green Bazaar - Almaty - Kazakhstan

The section for dairy produce – where we were plied with samples of all the different products by this lovely lady who is a friend of Dennis’ wife.

milk products section -Green Bazaar - Almaty - Kazakhstan

We tried a variety of different sweets – some made from cheese products and condensed milk, some made from grains and condensed milk.  All were delicious, but my favourites were those with the more caramel flavours (ie the ones with the condensed milk 😉 )

milk products - Green Bazaar - Almaty - Kazakhstan

We tried fresh camel’s milk.   Now – this is not the first time I’ve had a camel-milk product.   Back when I visited Mongolia, I have the distinct memory of visiting a family and being given a massive hunk of camel’s cheese.   It was almost inedible!   See, the thing about camel’s milk is that it is a VERY tart/sour taste and is VERY strong.   My first sip of the milk here took me right back to that hunk of camel cheese I endeavoured to eat 9 years ago…

We also tried the dried salted curds – again, something I encountered in Mongolia, and again, not my favourite thing to eat in the world (actually, the Mongolia trip is the only trip I’ve ever done where I have lost weight).   I don’t exactly remember what it was like in Mongolia, but this one was extremely salty … I don’t think I’ll be buying some for the road, though it does keep incredibly well!

dried salted kurds - Green Bazaar - Almaty - Kazakhstan

From there we headed over to the meat section, where they use the whole animal – absolutely nothing is wasted.

meat section - Green Bazaar - Almaty - Kazakhstan

Nothing is wasted. Yes, those are sheep heads in the bottom image!

This included a section specializing in horse-meat (very common here) and particularly horse-meat sausages.

horse meat section -Green Bazaar - Almaty - Kazakhstan

Almost right beside, was the smoked and cured meat section, where we indulged in yet more samples – this time of the dried horse-meat sausage (very tasty!) and a salami that had been made out of horse-meat.

Cured products - Green Bazaar - Almaty - Kazakhstan

Then there was the dried/smoked fish and caviar section

dried fish - Green Bazaar - Almaty - Kazakhstan

The spices section

spices - Green Bazaar - Almaty - Kazakhstan

The honey section – Kazakhstan is very proud of its honeys

honey - Green Bazaar - Almaty - Kazakhstan

And the “eastern medicine” section, where you could buy brews to cure all manner of ills, as well as other more exotic things like frogs, snakes and crickets.

eastern medicine - Green Bazaar - Almaty - Kazakhstan

I actually tried one of the dried crickets dipped in honey – the vendors were all looking at me so expectantly!  

Eating crickets - Green Bazaar - Almaty - Kazakhstan

Eating crickets with honey in the Green Bazaar. To be honest, it wasn’t great…

All I can say is thank goodness for the honey!  That was lovely, the rest of it really just tasted like dry dust…  And yes I was kinda chewing on what felt like wing-bits for a while afterwards…

Our final stop was downstairs to the fresh produce section.  This was less nice than upstairs given it was quite dingy and dark – and the produce mostly consisted of root vegetables, herbs and apples.   Almaty actually means “apple”, and Kazakhstan is renowned for its apples.   They are particularly proud of the Aport apples – which grow to be quite large.

fruit - Green Bazaar - Almaty - Kazakhstan

Then to top it all off, I actually had a tomato that tasted like a tomato 😊   Those of you who know me, knows this is one of my ultimate tests of food … and it was delicious!

tomatos - Green Bazaar - Almaty - Kazakhstan



If you are interested in markets and trying local foods, can definitely recommend Dennis’ Green Bazaar tour with Walking Almaty.

Cost:  USD$30 + cost of the meal (~USD$5)

Time: 2 hours

Walking Tours of Almaty – Kazakhstan

During my travels last year, I discovered the joys of “free walking tours” in many of the cities I visited (a particular highlight were the Cusco by Foot walking tours I did in Peru).   Almaty also had a free walking tour available, but I decided to go a different route and head out with Dennis, of Walking Almaty, an expat American who has studied Eurasian culture, who has an awesome website, and who I thought could offer a slightly different perspective.    I decided to try his “Golden Quarter” tour to begin with.

golden quarter map - Almaty - Kazakhstan

I met with Dennis at the Statue of Abay – Kazakhstan’s favourite son – and, indeed, I think Dennis offered a different perspective than a standard walking tour would.    For example, one of our first stops was the old Geological Institute where he explained that although many of the buildings in Almaty adhere to Russian architectural trends, many of them are actually made out of local stone – either granite or limestone – rather than concrete.   The Geological Institute, for example, is a fairly brutal architecture, but is made out of limestone, and you can still see fossil shells (or where they were before “smokers picked them out in their boredom” as Dennis put it) within the materials making up the edifice.   How cool this this?!

Limestone constructions - Almaty - Kazakhstan

Then there were the aryks – water channels that run throughout the city that direct the meltwater from the mountains to water the trees within the city.   All gravity fed.

Aryk - Almaty - Kazakhstan

Then there was the Academy of Sciences or “Centre of Knowledge”.   A massive structure where the brightest minds of Kazakhstan congregated during the Cold War.  

Academy of Sciences - Almaty - Kazakhstan

Because of this, it was a prime target for US missiles, and so had a series of underground bunkers surrounding it.   This one is now an underground, gay nightclub – underground in every sense of the word.

Underground Cold War bunker - now a nightclub - Almaty -Kazakhstan

A lot of these large governmental buildings are painted in pastel colours – the theory being that it brightens up the city during the long winter that they endure here – a practice adopted from St Petersberg.    And although the architecture is Russian, a lot of the embellishments on the buildings use Kazakh symbiology – particularly variations on rams’ horns.

Kazak symbiology - Almaty

We also visited this cool Eastern Calendar fountain that is styled for the eastern zodiac.  However, several of the animals we classically associate with eastern cultures have been replaced by Kazakh versions.   For example, the tiger is replaced by the snow leopard, and the dragon has been replaced by a snail??!!

Eastern Calendar fountain - Almaty - Kazakhstan

Vladimir Tverdokhlebov (the designer) depicted most of the creatures with wings (even when wings are not appropriate) and with their heads twisted back to look over their bodies.   This was inspired by the animal style jewelry of the Scythian people – an important part of Kazakh culture.

One of the really neat things about the design of Almaty is the alleikas,  quiet “streets” within the residential areas of the old town that are really lovely ways of getting around the city while avoiding the main thoroughfares.   Almost like parks – they offer peace and tranquility in the heart of quite a large city.

Why are the bases of the trees painted white you might ask?   Dennis actually has tons of answers to questions like these on his website 😊.  If you are ever planning on visiting Almaty – I recommend reading his stuff beforehand!

The other thing to note in these residential areas are the filled in balconies of the apartments.   Originally the Russians gave these apartments to people so they would have a place to live, but they could not make any modifications to the buildings.  Ultimately, with the departure of the Russians, the people ended up owning these places for themselves and many of them elected to close in the useless (remember it is bloody cold in Kazakhstan for the majority of the year) balconies to form what are called loggia – I just love all the different unique and personalized styles!

loggia - Almaty - Kazakhstan

Many famous people lived in these apartments and each building proudly displays a plaque announcing who it was that graced the premises, and between which years.   This is helpful to figure out when the edifice was built, as it is generally the initial year of residency of these famous people.

Who lived where - Almaty - Kazakhstan

Kazakhstan is quite big on its tile mosaics and Dennis was giving me the rundown of a couple of particularly awesome pieces on the hotel across the way from the Opera House.  The Enlik Kebek Mosaic is laid out like a comic book – the blue delineations are like the different panels in a comic – and tells one of the most famous epic stories in Kazakhstan.   Yes, it is about rival men battling it out to see who gets the girl.

Enlik Kebek Mosaic - Almaty - Kazakhstan

The other mural depicts the Silk Road – in the image below you see only 2/3rds of it, showing the olden days of Kazakhstan and camels walking towards the new Kazakhstan (which you can’t see – but which shows the iconic Almaty hotel etc).

Silk Road Mozaic - Almaty - Kazakhstan

We then caught the metro – always an interesting thing to do!   Almaty’s metro has taken 20 years to build, but only had 9 stops!   You pay your 80 Tenge (AUD$0.34) in exchange for a token, which then goes in the barriers.

Almaty Metro - Kazakhstan

The Almaty Metro only has 9 stops

The stations themselves are so deep underground that you almost get vertigo from the escalator!

Vertiginous escalators - Almaty Metro - Kazakhstan

They are all absolutely pristine and each is decorated differently.   Can you spot the odd thing out in the top image, which depicts the Silk Road in one station? 

Almaty Metro mosaics - Kazakhstan

Finally, we headed to one of the most important churches in Almaty – Zenkov’s Cathedral.  Because it was Easter Sunday, there were loads of people, and the priests (what are they called in Russian Orthodox?) would come out periodically and bless the “Easter Bread” that people had bought to the church for just this reason.   There were plenty of smiles and plenty of holy water being thrown around in the process!

Blessing Easter Break - Zenkov's Cathedral - Almaty - Kazakhstan

All in all, this was a really interesting walk through the streets of Almaty.  I still suspect it is quite a different take on a typical walking tour, which would undoubtedly just visit all the key landmarks and explain their history.  I found this insight into the more “everyday” features of Almaty much more interesting – so thank you to Dennis!



I’d definitely recommend Dennis’ Golden Quarter walking tour for something a little different.    Dennis is a great guide and very easy and interesting to talk to. 

Cost:  USD$30

Time: 2 hours

Charyn Canyon – Kazakhstan

Breakfast this morning was porridge made with Manka (semolina). Sooooo much better than regular porridge, though this could be due to the unknown amount of sugar that was put in it before it was served to me 😉

Manka - Semolina porridge - Kazakhstan

We said goodbye to our hosts and left the village of Saty with greatly improved weather, calling in to take a quick peek at one of the ubiquitous Islamic cemeteries that dot the landscape here.

Rural village - Kazakhstan

Typical white house with blue trim in Saty (top) and images from one of the ubiquitous Islamic cemetaries that dot the landscape

We re-crossed the broad grassy plains with the herdsmen, but this time with great views of the Tian Shan Mountains

Tian Shan Mountains - Kazakhstan

Herder in the large grassy plain where the animals graze – in front of the Tian Shan Mountains

and stopped off at the Black Canyon

Black Canyon - Kazakhstan

on our way to our key destination for the day – the Charyn Canyon  

This is the most touted natural feature of Almaty region, and, although beautiful, it wasn’t quite as impressive as I had imagined.   It would have been great to have more time to explore more than just this famous part of the canyon, and to see it in different light – rather than the harsh midday sun.

Charyn Canyon - Kazakhstan

It is about a 3km walk along the bottom of the canyon – through the Valley of Castles initially (reminiscent of the Grand Canyon)

Charyn Canyon - Valley of Castles - Kazakhstan

Valley of Castles

and onto the “Witches Gorge” – so known because people would leap to their deaths off the cliffs, spurred on by the call of the witches – and the Charyn River.

Charyn River - Charyn Canyon - Kazakhstan

We ended up seeing 2 snakes (something that got Emil very excited) and quite a few of these little guys – gerbils I think.

Wildlife - Charyn Canyon - Kazakhstan

After exploring the Canyon for a few hours, we started the long road back to Almaty, stopping along the way for a very late lunch at an Uighur restaurant.  

We had our own private partitioned space, and I asked Emil to order something for me that I hadn’t tried yet.  He ordered Kazan Kebab and Etken Chay (Uighur milky tea) for me.

Uighur restaurant - Kazakhstan

Uighur restaurant – we had our own partitioned section. I had the Kazan Kebab and Etken Chay

Both were delicious – made even more so due to the fact that I was starving.   And it was a lovely ending to the trip.



I can highly recommend the 3-day Kolsai Lakes, Kaindy Lake and Charyn Canyon tour offered by Almaty Tours.  Although it is a bit pricey, you are really well looked after and the places you visit really are spectacular.

Time:  3 days

Cost:  USD$390 which includes everything: transportation, lodging, meals and entrance fees

Oh, and Almaty Tours also give you a welcome pack 🙂

Almaty Tours

Kolsai Lakes – Kazakhstan

After an early breakfast of fried eggs, bread, Baursak, jam, Hvorost (fried dough squares covered in honey and poppy seeds – very similar to the typical Kazakh sweet Chak Chak), and tea of course, we set off in the car to the first Kolsai Lake – altitude 1,818m.

Hvorost as part of Breakfast - Kazakhstan

Hvorost as part of breakfast – I like this idea!

A half hour up a bad road saw us overlooking a gorgeous scene of turquoise water nestled in between pine-covered hills.   Unfortunately, it was very overcast again, so the pictures don’t really do it justice.  

First Kolsai Lake - Kazakhstan

The first Kolsai Lake is accessible to everyone

From there we started the hike up to the second Kolsai Lake.   Trust me – the map at the entrance is not to scale!

Kolsai Lakes Map - not to scale!

Map of the Kolsai Lakes – we were only going to hike to the middle lake in this image. It was NOT to scale!

Of course, I should have looked it up before we left Almaty, but it ended up being a 9km hike one way.  It wasn’t particularly strenuous for the first couple of hours and there were some beautiful views of course.

First Kolsai Lake - Kazakhstan

But then we hit the snow.   This made it infinitely more challenging – partially just in trying to keep footing and partially because it ended up obscuring the path at a really critical point.

Hiking from first Kolsai Lake to second Kolsai Lake - Kazakhstan

Yes, we “took a detour” which ended us up in thigh-deep snow with absolutely no idea where the path had disappeared to (the National Parks service really needs to put some decent signage up.  The sparsely positioned blue arrows weren’t quite enough!)

Stuck in the snow - Kolsai lakes - Kazakhstan

In the end, after bush-bashing up the river for a bit trying to regain the path, and several shoes-full of snow later, we decided that we had to turn around.   Fortunately, it was only about 2 minutes into our retreat that we stumbled upon the trail again – so we resumed our push through the snow and mud for the second lake.

Hiking from first Kolsai Lake to second Kolsai Lake - Kazakhstan

The last hour up to the second lake is steep and, given this was Emil’s first time to the second lake, we had no idea how much further we had to go.  In fact, we had no idea if this really was the path to the lake, or a path used by illegal immigrants coming over the border from Kyrgzstan…   But eventually it flattened out into a saddle, and then we’d finally made it.

And it was totally worth it!

Second Kolsai Lake - Kazakhstan

The second lake is at 2,252m, and was still mostly frozen.   And apart from a couple of large ducks/geese, we were the only ones there.  

Second Kolsai Lake - Kazakhstan

Absolute tranquility surrounded by conifer-covered mountains – perfect place for a well-deserved lunch.

Lunch at second Kolsai Lake - Kazakhstan

Lunch at second Kolsai Lake – lots of carbs, and an Easter egg provided by our driver

We hung out up there for about half an hour admiring the view, before an increase in wind heralded a turn in the weather, at which point we decided to beat a hasty retreat.  We did not want to get lost in cloud coming back down!

Second Kolsai Lake - Kazakhstan

Yes, the lake was still frozen!

Eventually made it back down through the snow without major incident – loving the Salomon hiking boots I bought back in Australia – great grip on some dodgy surfaces!    And enjoyed the stroll back once we’d gotten past the snow.

Lots of fir trees in this part of Kazakhstan

Lots of fir trees in this part of Kazakhstan

Came across these blokes fishing back at the first Kolsai Lake, which again was just gorgeous in its tranquility.

First Kolsai Lake - Kazakhstan

Then it was back in the van for the slow trip back to Saty village.  Dinner was Lagman, an Uighur national dish adopted by the Kazakhs.  Noodles, vegetables and a little meat in a broth … with dill of course!

Lagman - Uighur national dish - Kazakhstan

Although I was far more interested in visiting Lake Kaindy, this turned out to be a really awesome hike with some great views, even if a bit hairy at times due to the snow!  Really recommend it!

Lake Kaindy – Kazakhstan

I’m meeting up with the Madventures Silk Road tour in Almaty, Kazakhstan – but decided to arrive a few days early to explore the surroundings.  A quick internet search revealed a wealth of hiking/nature opportunities around Kazakhstan’s old capital (the capital was moved to Astana in 1998), but the one that really caught my eye was Lake Kaindy.    With its turquoise waters and drowned spruce trees – it was a little different – and so I set my heart on seeing it.

I ran up against the usual issue where a minimum of 4 people is required for a tour to run, so ended up signing up for the 3-day Kolsai Lakes, Kaindy Lake and Charyn Canyon tour offered by Almaty Tours.  By some miracle, they had a departure scheduled for 17-19 April – perfect timing for me – and they assured me it would run no matter how many people they had.  It was pricey, but it was the only way I was going to get there.

I was met at the Almaty Backpackers Hostel by Emil, my guide, at 7am and it turns out that I’m the only one on the tour!   Emil is 23 with a degree in public relations, is actually from Kyrgyzstan, speaks excellent English and is a very friendly and talkative young man.   We got along well right from the beginning.

In case your Central Asian geography is hazy, Kazakhstan is a very big country!   In fact, it is the 9th biggest country in the world!  Given this, and the fact that many of the roads are in quite bad shape, it takes a long time to get to locations that look relatively close together on the map.   I’m Australian.  I should be familiar with this idea.  But somehow it always comes as a surprise in another country.

So, it took us almost 5 hours to reach the Kazakhstani portion of the Tian Shan Mountains and the village of Saty, where we based ourselves for the next 2 days.   Ironicially, the slowest part of the trip was along the perfect dual-carriageway highway leading out of Almaty, which, for some inexplicable reason, had a speed limit of 50 km/hr!    The most interesting part of the drive was the last hour or so – where we passed through a grassy region with farmers on horseback tending their herds.   Like in Mongolia, there are no fences here, but unlike Mongolia, the Kazakhs are settled in farms and no longer lead a nomadic lifestyle.  This is a result of the Russians who, in the 1930s, created cooperative farms across Kazakhstan and converted the population to a more settled way of life. 

Kazakh farms - Kazakhstan

Upon arrival, we were greeted by the family that runs the guesthouse where we would be staying.   Essentially, I have a room in the home of a local Kazakh family, and they feed us whatever they will eat themselves (normal Kazakh food) while we are here.   For lunch this consisted of Plov – a staple dish in Kazakhstan made from rice, carrot, meat (in this case mutton) and herbs – they are particularly fond of dill.   Quite heavy food (lots of carbs!), but very tasty!

Plov - Kazakhstan

This was served with pickled cabbage, biscuits, sweets, and an enormous basket of bread and Baursak (fried dough).

Baursak - Kazakhstan


All washed down with as much tea as you can drink.   In this case, we had tea with milk, though it is also very common to have tea with lemon.

Kazakh tea - Kazakhstan

I also learned that there is a whole ritual around the tea.  In particular, to be hospitable, the lady of the house must sit with the guests and serve the tea for them. 

Kazakh tea - Kazakhstan

Tea is served in bowls with the milk added in first, followed by the brewed tea, followed by more boiling water.   The bowl is only ½ filled – if it is filled completely, it means that your host is trying to get rid of you and it is time for you to leave!

You finish your bowl of tea, and then hand it back to the host to refill to ½ way.   Repeat this until you’ve had enough, which you indicate by placing your bowl down on the table and covering the top with your hand.  It feels very strange to be waited on in this way, but an interesting custom.

Kazakh woman waiting to serve tea

Love this image

After lunch, we transferred into an old Russian van for the trip up to Lake Kaindy.  

Russian transportation to Kaindy Lake - Kazakhstan

We ran into another couple of Russian tourists who joined us on our excursion, managed to overcome a bit of an obstacle blocking the road, and spent the next 40 minutes crawling up a very bad 4WD-only road.   You have to give it to these old Russian-made vans!

Roadblock on the way to Kaindy Lake - Kazakhstan

Obstacles blocking the road to Lake Kaindy

From where we left the van, it was another 1.5km walk uphill to reach the lake.  But, despite the crap weather we had, it was amazing!

Kaindy Lake - Kazakhstan

It is only a small lake that was formed in 1911 when a powerful earthquake triggered a landslide, forming a natural dam.   As the water rose, it flooded the spruce trees which are now a bleached and eerie feature of the lake.

Drowned fir trees at Kaindy Lake - Kazakhstan

From the lake’s edge, we headed up to get a more eagle-eye view, traipsing through the last of the winter snow.

Snow at Kaindy Lake - Kazakhstan

Again, just a spectacular place – both the lake and the surrounding mountains.

Kaindy Lake - Kazakhstan

And from this vantage point, you can see a very cool thing – the water in the lake is so cold that it has perfectly preserved the needles of the spruce trees below the waterline!  Even more than 100 years later, they are clearly visible in the beautifully transparent water.

Kaindy Lake - Kazakhstan

Totally worth it to get up to the lake – though would have been nice to have about another hour there just to sit and contemplate the view.  

Then it was back to the guesthouse – and for dinner we had more tea, more bread and Baursak, and Manty – dumplings filled with meat, potatoes and herbs (dill, again).   Not quite as tasty as the Plov at lunch, but definitely filling!

Manty - Kazakhstan

Oh, and just for fun:  Turns out Emil is a keen photographer (though is saving up for a decent camera) – love this “supermodel shot” he took of me 😊

Kaindy Lake - Kazakhstan