Kazakhstan - Lakes Kaindy and Kolsay, Charyn Canyon, Almaty

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September 5th 2022
Published: October 2nd 2022
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Another Trekkup trip for the books! A little drama before this one though, thank you Covid. The previous weekend I was supposed to do another trip but had to take a PCR test (a last minute change in requirements), and it came out positive. Based on Dubai restrictions, I was now to be in quarantine for 10 days, which meant no trip that weekend and it may also affect the following week's trip to Kazakhstan. I stayed home to work (no symptoms, and actually only got 6 hours of sleep a night no problem). By Wednesday, I took a home pcr test, then I called a testing company to do a home PCR test - two negatives in a row and I would be released. It worked and I was able to join my Kazakhstan trip!

It was a fairly large group and my good friend M was there as well a few others I knew from before. It was actually a pretty good group and we generally all got a long pretty well. The overnight flight was a bit tough as I did not get much sleep. We arrived at Almaty at about 4am, got through customs pretty quick and met our guide, Max. Another woman (maybe his wife), Elena, was waiting for us as well with a basket of apples - they were actually delicious. I went to an ATM for money while most others opted to exchange. I also tried to go to the restroom before our long drive but there was only one with two stalls and a cleaning woman was cleaning it for (and I am not exaggerating) at least 20 minutes, not letting anyone in there until she was done, and she worked sooooo sloooooowwww... The line was getting longer by the second and there were no other options. It was a very interesting experience to watch. By the time we were done we were on the road to our first destination. A lot of people were able to sleep while I wound up chatting with one guy most of the 4 hour ride. The bus was pretty comfortable and the roads in pretty good condition.

Lake Kaindy

We got to our guest house and had a very late breakfast and got our rooms, where we were at least able to change. Then the 'taxis' had arrived - they were so awesome! Like a cross between a bus and a van and a buggy. There were two so we split up, with me hopping into the green one and sitting on a bench in the back. These are basically four wheel drives, no A/C, no seatbelts - just benches around the interior. We rocked and rolled up the hill and through river crossings until we reached the entrance to the park to see Lake Kaindy, There was an option to ride horses for about 5 dollars, so two other girls and myself did. It's been a while since I rode horses and I used to love it; mine liked to hug the side of the cliff though! Then we stopped at a steep area near the lake and soon the rest of the group caught up to us. We went down to the beautiful greenish blue lake with alpine trees surrounding it, some of which were already changing color.

We hiked to the other side of the lake which had better unobstructed views. First, we got close to the shoreline with views all the way across. Then, it was a little bit of a hike up and it was getting a bit hot - it would have been great to swim, but it was not allowed. Lake Kaindy was formed from a landslide following an earthquake in 1911, damming up the river, which resulted in the bare trees you see in the lake. The trees are preserved by the cool water below and Max said in the winter, when the lake freezes over, you can walk out among them. We then continued back down the other trail to the cars, passing another area of tourists who were able to drive a bit closer to the upper side of the lake. Very beautiful and I loved seeing so many families and local tourists out enjoying the day and the weather.

Kolsay Lake

After lunch and a very short nap, we then got back into our buses and drove to our next stop. Kolsay Lake was also formed from landslides leaving a huge lake where a lot of people were visiting. The car park above was very crowded and there is a restaurant, plus pop up music spots, ice cream stations, and other things. We walked down a fairly steep slope (I fell as usual) and walked along the other side of the lake for a bit where we found a little dock. A couple people took a boat to the middle of the lake for a better view, while two others jumped into the frigid water (technically not allowed). Soon, we headed back to the park entrance, with about half the group doing a short hike along the other side of the lake first while the rest sat in the restaurant with a great view of the lake below. There were buses in the lot, one of which brought a speaker with music and they were dancing for a bit. It was a good vibe, but then time to head back to the guesthouse for dinner. I think all our meals were essentially the same: bread, cucumbers and tomatoes, and at night a little bit of meat and veggies. Nothing memorable. However, we had stopped by a store on the way back and purchased some beers, which we enjoyed for a few hours by the campfire and under the beautiful stars.

Charyn Canyon

The next morning, we left the guest house and made our way back towards Almaty, stopping first for a hike to Charyn Canyon. This is sometimes compared to the Grand Canyon int hat it is sandstone that you can clearly see the sedimentary layers of rock which have been cut by water erosion. At the base of the hike is a fast flowing river through basalt where many people were enjoying the beautiful day. The color contrast of the red sandstone, dark basalt, blue sky, blue green water and green trees was impressive. Beautiful scenery but the pictures I have do not do it justice. I think it was just a 3 km walk to the river, mostly downhill. Half the group decided to hike back up, while the rest of us opted to take the fun open air 4WD taxi up through the canyon. It was borderline very hot at this time, and the taxi would be fun! It was especially fun to driver through a giant boulder which had just enough room to allow the car to pass.

At the top we met up with the rest of the group and then walked a little further down for another overview location where you can better see the extent of the area. Even that was difficult, so we each chipped in a dollar for a drone video by some random guy, with us holding the Kazakh flag. It actually turned out very well and he had even provided stock footage of the area. Just beautiful and my favorite part of the trip.


After driving for another 90 minutes or so, we were back in the city of Almaty. This is the area that most urban Kazakhs prefer to live, rather than the austere capital Astana. Almaty is lovely and lively, with green spaces, hills, and more interesting architecture and with views of the mountains in the distance. Max showed us around the Park of 28 Panfilov Gunmen, with us first stopping by the clean toilets - usually you have to pay but the local women just waved us through. We visited the Almaty (Zenkov) Cathedral, a wooden Ukrainian Russian-orthodox church built over a hundred years ago. We were able to go inside briefly and it was lovely - not too ostentatious like I find many of the orthodox churches. Quiet peaceful really. Then we walked to the memorial for soldiers during WWII and I believe even a civil war prior to this. The memorial itself is roughly in the shape of the USSR. There is an eternal flame at the base along a water feature extending down the walkway. It is traditional for wedding couples to take pictures here and pay their respects. Indeed, we saw two such photo shoots while we were there. We then quickly visited the grand market where many looked for souvenirs. I even tried horse meat jerky. Then we went back to our hotel to rest. For me, due to my intense workload, I decided to skip dinner, knowing it is usually a 3+ hour affair, took a shower, and slept until our flight in the morning. Max and Elena picked us up, with Elena bringing us some lovely going away gifts - chocolate, a magnet with our photo from the drone - very thoughtful! The airport was difficult and the staff were insanely rude (the woman would not let me into the lounge despite my ticket clearly saying "lounge" - "business only", though she let others from our group in. Whatever). Honestly, aside from Max and Elena, I found most Kazakhs very unfriendly and it was a bit of damper. Then our flight was delayed AND when they finally decided to board, they boarded two flights out of the same gate at the same exact time. I have never encountered that before! At least the gorgeous sunrise was worth it.

Additional photos below
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7th October 2022
Lake Kaindy

Thanks for taking us along on your trip.

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