Explorer Mikael Strandberg

Kazakhstan: A Love Affair

I fell in love with Kazakhstan as quick as I got out of the plane. I could see the endless grass plain in the haze of early morning and even the officials at the airport were friendly. The trip from the airport to the University made it even better with a gigantic feeling of old Soviet and new Central Asia. As good as it gets in my book as a traveler and human.P1070608

Three weeks later I love it! Me and my daughter Eva have just returned to our little flat at the University after spending three days in the magic Kyzylarai Mountains slightly eastsoutheast of Karaganda. We both feel very happy, if slightly tired after an intake of way too much food and vodka, and I can tell you readers one thing, this is a paradise and most people just have no idea what is waiting out there. In a world were we think we know everything, we say, been there, done that, let me tell you, no you haven´t.

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What strikes me with what I have experienced in Kazakhstan, even though I have visited over 120 countries over 30 years, it is very much the same feeling as visiting Yakutia, but even more here, it is untouched and still extremely genuine. For a professional traveler and tour guide, that makes the difference. And the joy for me to do this together with my daughter Eva is just pure happiness.

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We were both honored to join Vitaliy Shuptar and Jelena Kim and their company Nomadic Journey´s to visit the Kyzylarai area during three days and there is so much to share, so I will cover an article per day. Eva and me to the taxi into the center to meet the rest of the group there which was compromised of 5 young and very friendly Germans and as friendly locals from Alma Aty, Astana and Karaganda. As is normal the level of discussion was the loudest initially, so we all set off heading for the village of Shabanbai Bi. It was a very enjoyable journey. Even though Eva slept most of it, since she had been so happy to know we were going the night before, so she couldn´t sleep, I even enjoyed the videoshown on a screen, even though I didn´t understand anything. Normally, this cultural difference, Westerners generally want everything to be silent in the bus, so they can relax and enjoy the surroundings through the windows, and non-Westerners want music or videos, I really don´t know why, but the quality of the “noise” was fine this time. So time just passed incredibly fast. The villages we past were very similar to north-eastern Siberia. Power lines, houses, outdoor toilets, VAZ, Kamuz and OAS, blue and white houses, satellite discs, low, tight barns for cattle, heated by themselves and grass and earth as insulation, groups of horses, healthy cattle and stray dogs and solid villagers moving about their business in no great rush.

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As quick as we arrived t the picturesque village of Shabanbai Bi, we were offered a traditional meal of horse meat, pasta and goat meat by the homestay Nomadic Journeys have set up. The generosity and kindness is boundless and the group was split in two and Evan and me where lucky to end up with the ladies, since I found the Kazakh women generally much more charismatic and outgoing than the man. Same feeling as in Yakutia. With exceptions of course! Vitaliy is such a guy and the job he and his partner Jelena are doing to promote eco tourism in its first phase is extremely commendable. And as usual, I always find it more joyful to be there in the first phase, because everything is than genuine. However, it will most likely stay genuine for ever here in Shabanbai Bi!

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After lunch we all went to the bronze age site of Akshkol and Begazy. The first thing which struck me was the extreme beauty of the surroundings. Endless plains, old rounded mountains, the autumn colors and a deep valley and in all this, a small site from the Turkic Era, say around 3000 years old, has been excavated. It is not one of these sights where you immediately get knocked out by the sheer size of it, but after spending an hour there, in this great setting, you feel honored to have had a chance to come. Still, the highlight for me was meeting a few of the locals, one on a horse and the other a grandpa with his daughter, where Eva could meet somebody her own age. Priceless!

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Eva is really a good partner travelling. She is warm, interested, cuddly and have the most astute observations and she really seem to love this life outdoors and travelling. I am indeed a proud father! After the visit we all headed back to our home stays, which means we were staying with two families in the village and this evening we all gathered for dinner and vodka at the boy´s camp, slightly more rustic (outdoor toilet for example) than the female camp, but with a great owner who personally served us all another endless and great meal!

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And what a great group of fellow travelers! Best of the best!

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