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Published: September 2nd 2009
We are ashamed to say that prior to visiting, the sum total of our knowledge of Kazakhstan was based on having seen Borat
. This being an especially poor showing given that it is the seventh largest country in the world. We always had a suspicion that Borat
wasn’t a documentary, but we didn’t fully appreciate how inaccurate a picture of the country it painted. Admittedly we saw only small percentage of the country, but it appeared to be an extremely westernised place.
Having made the frustrating, but necessary, detour from Tashkent in order to get to a border crossing that was open to foreigners, we eventually arrived in Shymkent, in Southern Kazakhstan. We found Shymkent to be a very leafy, clean and pleasant city. If Uzbekistan left us felling as though we were back in Africa, then we now felt as though we were back in Europe.
After an overnight stay in the city, we travelled east to the village of Jabagly, situated in a valley between the Aksu Jabagly National Park and the Karatau Mountains. Here we organised a day horseriding in Aksu Jabalagy and a camping and trekking trip into the mountains on the other side of
the valley, which is apparently the most botanically diverse area in the world.
The people we organised these trips with were a fantastic little set up, run by a Dutch guy and his Kazakh wife. For our trekking trip we simply hired an antiquated Soviet map, a GPS and a local mobile phone. Having stocked us up with cooking equipment and all the food we could carry, they drove us into the mountains in their Lada. They then dropped us off with instructions to phone them with the GPS coordinates of our location (preferably accessible by Lada) in four days time.
Although not too far from a couple of villages, this really felt like the middle of nowhere and in the four days, the only people we saw were four farmers. One thing that really struck us about the scenery was how English it looked. If it wasn’t for the sunshine and lack of crowds, we could have easily been in the Derbyshire Dales. Had we travelled all this way for a holiday, in a sense it may have been a little disappointing, but having been away for so long we found it quite refreshing. Despite a few
issues with having to forge our own paths, a limited supply of drinking water and our tent breaking, our spirits weren’t dampened and we had a great few days. It‘s not often you get the opportunity to visit somewhere so unspoilt. Most importantly of all we managed to successfully rendezvous with the Lada.
From here we then took a sleeper train to the former capital, Almaty. It was a fantastic old Soviet train and we thoroughly enjoyed sleeping in a comfortable berth after months of bus travel. Once in Almaty we made the necessary arrangements for our onward journey to China and enjoyed being in the most affluent, cosmopolitan and European feeling place we have been all trip.
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