Memories from Kazakhstan

January 09, 2018

I gave the horse the command to start galloping again. We needed to catch up with the others. I had accidentally stopped when I sat there on the back of the horse and let my eyes sweep over the surroundings. The sun just disappeared behind the high mountains and it started to get dark. The sky was pink and the first star appeared. On the other side of the mountains was Kyrgyzstan. It was so quiet. All that I could hear was my own breath and the horse’s hooves that rhythmically and softly landed on the ground. It felt like this place gave me all the freedom and peace in the world.

We were on our way back from Lake Kayindi, a turquoise blue lake hidden in a dense, green forest in southeast Kazakhstan. Our new friend Abhay had brought us there. It was only Abhay, the horse owner and I who rode back from the lake that evening. We didn’t talk that much to each other. I think we all appreciated the silence. The only time we started to talk was when it had become pitch dark out there. We pointed at the sky and the stars and the satellites and observed that it all seemed to be closer than usual.

I will probably remember this evening on a horse, in the mountains in southeast Kazakhstan for the rest of my life. We ended up there since Eva and I took a break from cycling in Almaty, the old capital of Kazakhstan. My boyfriend Love was on his way back to us after his holiday in Sweden and we also needed to rest and get well from a cold. We decided to leave the big city for a couple of days to get some real rest. We were longing for the forest and the mountains since we had spent quite a long time in desert landscape.

We were lucky to find Abhay, a nice guy who organized a perfect tour for us. We got in touch with Abhay indirect through Warmshowers, which is the cycling community that we often used to find accommodations all around the world. Magzhan, who was another Warmshowers member, helped us to get in touch with a bunch of people in Almaty since he wasn’t home and able to host us himself. One of these people was Abhay and we started to talk to him. It turned out that he organized tours in the Almaty region. We asked him for recommendations about where to go but he suggested that we could do a tour together instead. He wanted to show us Sharyn Canyon, Lake Kayindi and Kolsai Lakes, and we said yes!

Abhay picked us up with a car outside our home in Almaty early in the morning. We started to drive towards Sharyn Canyon and the sun was shining on us. We stopped the car right before the canyon to hike the last kilometres down to Sharyn River. The river is at the bottom of the canyon, which is about 90 kilometres long. Sharyn Canyon looks like the Grand Canyon in miniature and sometimes it’s actually described as equally spectacular and impressive. It is definitely worth seeing.

When we were done with our canyon hike, we kept on driving for a few more hours, up in the mountains to a village with very beautiful surroundings. It is a place with welcoming locals, fresh air and cute houses and gardens. The locals have opened some homestays in the village since tourists started to come there. We got invited for homemade lunch before an old bus took us up the mountain, to Lake Kayindi. The plan was to do some horse riding by the spectacular lake that was created among the trees in the forest by a landslide in 1911. According to the legend, the trees are the memory of the families who lived right at that spot before, and the sunken forest also reminds us of the circle of life.

We rode by the lake for a while and I enjoyed every second of it. Usually I do horse riding every week but now I’ve had a long break from it. I couldn’t get enough. Abhay told me that the horses had to be ridden back to the village that we came from. It was almost 20 kilometres to the village and the sun was on its way down. I asked if I could help to take one of the horses back, and that is how I ended up in the amazing moment I described in the beginning of the post.

When I got back to the homestay that night, I felt such a freedom inside of me. I had a bit of pain in my butt because I wasn’t used to sit on a horse anymore, but it didn’t matter at all. I was served dinner and then Eva and I went outside the house to another building for sauna and a shower. In Kazakhstan the sauna is called “banja”. The Kazakhs make a fire to heat up a small room and then you can sit there and relax until you feel ready to shower. Then you can have a shower in the same room by using a bucket and it’s absolutely wonderful. I don’t think that I have to mention that I fell asleep very well afterwards.

The next morning we got to ride even more along one of the Kolsai lakes. There are three lakes in line, at different altitudes. We visited the lowest one. It was a bit cloudy and the raindrops created magical formations in the clear water. Abhay showed us the way, a narrow path in the forest. We saw the lake on our side all the time and it was quite steep from the path down to the water. The horses were used to it though so we didn’t have to worry.

In the afternoon we left the idyllic area and drove back to Almaty. Kazakhstan was an unknown country to me before. When I thought of it, I saw desert and extreme heat in front of me. Admittedly you can find the world’s largest step desert in Kazakhstan, but however, there are high mountains, green forests and clear lakes as well. Almaty itself is a wonderful city just by the mountains. The Ski Resort Shymbulak is located 20 minutes outside the city and it’s one of the biggest and most modern Ski Resorts in Central Asia.

Things that you don’t expect that much of are often the things that make the strongest impression on you. For me it definitely happened with Kazakhstan. If you want to travel to a unique and beautiful place that is not yet a tourist destination among Western people, you should visit Almaty and the surroundings. You can contact our friend Abhay if you want to be accompanied by an excellent guide on your tours in the region. He does both Almaty region tours and Kazakhstan tours. Visit his webpage to read more about him and what he can organize for you.