Explorer Mikael Strandberg

Kazakh Diary: A weekend at Karakaraly Mountains

One of the great aspects of travelling is when things turn out in a very unexpected way. Generally in my case that is a positive one! Such was the journey to Karakarlinsk. My wife was eager to do a journey outside Karaganda, before Eva and myself set off for a weeks work in Alma Aty, so I talked to our benefactors in the town, Nomadic Journey´s, and they said that the Karakaraly Mountains was a good choice for a short outing over a weekend. I said we only have a day since we are flying out on Sunday. No answer on that comment. I didn´t really care since Pam had a student, Aibek, who originated from the village, or close to it, and Pam was sure he had said it was only a 45 minute ride from Karaganda. I texted Aibek and asked him if he would honor us and come with us and he said yes immediately and said his dad could take us. Fantastic as always in Kazakhstan!

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Once we entered his fathers van, Aibek said it would take 3-4 hours to Karakalinsk. Surprised we quickly did some mathematics and realized we would get back late. No worries. The journey took us through the beautiful and endless grass plains of Central Kazakhstan. It is very similar to Yakutia in many ways. the people, the houses, the cattle barns covered with grass and hay, the piping all over the places, the free herds of horses grazing all over the steppe and that penetrating feeling of freedom. First place we stopped was at a National Park just outside the village. It was part National park and recreation area Soviet style. By which I mean for example, a small zoo, in this case with some bison which I enjoyed a lot, but with personal who had no clue about anything except the entrance fee. And the service mindedness is more on the discipline area than on actually helping the visitor. They are more guards than guides. Nearby was a hotel, with a fake beach and sunbeds. I kind of like all these communal things…once you brake through the feeling of having guards everywhere, people are the best of the best.

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But as everything old Soviet it is kind of enormously over sized, harsh, hard and dull. But mind you, I find it in a positive way. I am by the years liking it more and more. It is impressing me more and I feel the greatness in it. Something I definitely felt when we went to visit another recreational area up in the beautiful Karakaraly Mountains. This used to be a place where factory workers during the Soviet Era came to rest. And it does its job, even if one as usual get surprised as regards to the enormous concrete slabs being hotels in the middle of the wilderness, where something more simple in wood feels right. Anyway, as usual it was full, the air crisp and clean and the views awesome.

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We realized during the visit that we were staying overnight somewhere. And I realized if we left early the next day I would probably make it on the plane to Alma Aty with Eva. So far, all recreational hotels where full. So we set off downtown Karakalinsk and found a place for 9000 tenge. It was a place where men stay, say no more. The sound level and dirt level was astonishing to say the least, but it gave us a great family time and since we have had a sofa in front of a TV for over a year now, it turned out a great family evening in front of TV watching raiders of The Lost Arc in dubbed Russian.

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Next day Aibek and his very friendly dad turned up at 8, a crisp morning and we set off for Karaganda. Most people I have come across over 45, who experienced the Soviet era, all say it was better at this time. So far I haven´t met one who said anything different. And the reason are two, first, there were always work for everyone, but for example in the villages today, there´hardly any work, so everyone needs cattle and seep to survive. or move into the big city Karaganda. like Aibeks family did. The highlight of our visit was visiting Aibek´s family in a village half way to Karaganda. We stopped there because the van had been beaten badly by the extremely bumpy roads. It was just like being back in Siberia. The generosity, respect and welcome, the best of the best. So we entered the house, took of our shoes, was initially shown to the big sitting room whilst food was prepared, once finished we had more food then a human can digest! And, I miss those warm houses, the friendliness and the relaxed attitude. Pam said it looked like in my old Siberian images!

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And the people we met where fiercely proud over their heritage and the land they originate from. The same as in Sakha-Yakutia. We said immediately to each other in the car, we want to return soon, Aibek´s family also had horses! The journey in the van ended half an hour later and after waiting for a local taxi, basically hitch hiking and then paying for your ride, for an hour a bus turned up so we jumped on it and came back to Karaganda in time. What a great weekend!

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There´s no doubt that what we have seen so far of Kazakhstan is world class. Not only does it have natural beauty, different levels of history, great people, but it also has this feeling of the not being over exploited or destroyed by big influxes of tourists. It is simply genuine!

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