Day 20 - Almaty and around:
Yet another peculiar day.
We got our admin out of the way in the morning. We knew already that driving into China was impossible without taking their own examinations, and that the controlled border area was up to 100km wide in some places, passable only with a permit. Furthermore, there is little to see or do around the Khorgos border crossing into China
A good compromise to show that driving to China was indeed possible but quench our need for scenery and adventure would be to cross into Kyrgystan via the Karkara valley border checkpoint and then fill ourselves to bursting with mountains and valleys going south around Isyl Kol lake.
The Karkara valley crossing is one of the most remote in the world. It was closed for many years only to be reopened from June to September 2013. In 2014 it opened on 19th May for a few months. We needed to know if it was open on 21st May 2015. The tourist information office did not know, but helpfully made some calls to people who should know. They also did not know.
Being fearless and intrepid
to a man, or perhaps just daft, we decided that we would drive to the border the next day anyway. If we had to turn back so be it, but the things we'd heard about that valley meant the risk was well worth taking.
We knew that the border post was so remote that there would be no change to change money into Kygys Sommes, so we found a bureau that morning in Almaty too.
Admin done, we followed the recommendation of the T.I office and drove up into the hills behind Alamaty for the Shymbulak ski resort. Despite being out of season the cable car was still running, and the views were wonderful. We were surprised to see a large police presence all the way up the valley towards the resort, and when at the bottom of the cable car station we saw black-suited heavies with sunglasses and that special hands-clasped-by-the-belt pose, we knew that something official was going on. At the top of the first cable-car stretch there were more heavies and some SWAT-like officers too. The upper cable car stretch was closed, suggesting that whatever VIPs were there were at the
So we went for a bit of a hike and a picnic instead. We made it up to a patch of snow, had a fight, climbed a chairlift, had some food, saw a golden eagle soaring, came back down.
On the way back down John and Dave stopped to chat to 2 local guys who were having their own picnic. One of them turned out to be an off-duty Major in the police force, and they shared their chai tea and cointreau chocolates.
Once back at the cable-car midpoint, even more heavies and SWAT were gathering and looking twitchy, so we hung around to see who exactly was up the mountain. Finally a succession of gondolas opened with suited folks stepping out and being shepherded to waiting black cars. One older gentleman with grey hair and a tweed suit made a point of shaking everyone's hand as they left.
I asked a SWAT guy who had relaxed a bit who that was. "The President", he said.
Our off-duty police Major came past, said hello again and video'd us for a while on his phone
(I guess they don't meet Brits that often).
Once back at the hostel I caught up with the blog whilst Dave and John tried to find the city's own cable car and a restaurant. We finished the night playing the 'Zombies' boardgame, where the aim is to fight the hoards and escape from the helipad. I won, being good at that sort of thing.
Tot: 0.075s; Tpl: 0.043s; cc: 10; qc: 24; dbt: 0.013s; 1; m:saturn w:www (184.108.40.206); sld: 1;
; mem: 1.2mb