“Lot´s of people died here in 1963. I was here, that old lady who you just talked to were here. We survived because we got out of our tents fast enough, but many didn´t because they didn´t believe what was happening and kept on sleeping. The flooding took them all.”
The old lady who just passed us was 93, but looked incredibly strong, healthy and she was climbing a set of stairs like they didn´t exist. This old man was solid as a rock, was carrying a set of medals on his chest and said he had been given them for his physical strength, his bravery during the 2nd WW (or The Great Patriotic War) and for his work as a farmer. They had both had plenty of vodka, but it seemed in this case it was a healthy choice. The setting was another Kazakh gem of a natural stunner, Issyk Glacier Lake in Ile Alatau National Park. An area where snow leopards roam. The home of the rare Tien Shan spruce, a real beauty in itself. They had come here to the park and the lake in homage for the ones who perished. As they did this time every year. Eva climbed the stairs, up and down to the lake from the parking lot, as easily as the almost Centenarians. She had impressed me all day. A day of uttermost beauty.
The journey had begun at 5.30 in the morning. Eva had been happy to get up this early, very eager to set off, like she knew what would happen and it took us more than 250 km:s and three incredibly bumpy hours east of the city to get to one of the rare gems of the world, the Sharyn Gorge. It is the Grand Canyon of Kazakhstan with the same depth, bright red sandstone and the extra ordinary hand of nature who with the help of time, wind and the odd rain during the last 12 million years have chiseled out this profound beauty. My opinion is that Sharyn Gorge is far better than the Grand Canyon. The main reason is tha t it is much less commercial, far less people and you get a feeling of being among the first to see this beauty. Which of course is not right, but that is the feeling. The Sharyn Gorge is a must on any bucket list!
On the bus back to Alma Aty I was dwelling on the fact that it is so unfair that a spectacular country like Kazakhstan is suffering from the fact of either being completely unknown to most people in the world or for that silly film of Borat. And I am amazed that most tourist agencies and travel companies have to partner the country up with other Central Asian countries like Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan on their itineraries. There´s more than enough to see and do for a week or two in Kazakhstan for the busy and time restrained tourist once the infrastructure by air is complete. I also think that the national tourist organization in Kazakhstan have to market their natural beauty and people far more than images of the eternal modern buildings of Astana and the museum buildings from the Soviet Era as the main attractions. They have two world class attractions, the stunning nature and the great and hospitable people and I doubt very much that tourists come here mainly to see the modern buildings in Astana. They might be of local interest to Kazakh tourism, but most international tourists who come here have traveled a lot all over the world and have most likely been to Shanghai and New York and are looking far more to experience people, atmosphere and nature. And the tourism aouthorities need to get in the best of international travelers, film makers, explorers and artists who can enjoy this country and its people and tell the rest of the world. Because in my book, there´s absolutely no doubt, Kazakhstan is one of the most interesting, beautiful and spectacular countries on earth. And I have only seen a few inches of it so far!
Having said all that, I have to admit, I personally do enjoy the old Soviet constructions and the new modern buildings. And one of my favorites in Alma Aty is the park named in honor if its first president, Nursultan Abishevich Nazarbayev. Not only is it full of interesting local beauty and set in a stunning location overlooked by the mighty alpine peaks of the Tien Shan Range, but the semicircular arcade of columns is beautiful and impressive. During our visit there was a wedding going on and I could have easily spent a day there watching people! The Kazakhs are a beautiful people. Especially their ladies! As I have said earlier in my reports from Kazakhstan, as in Yakutia, the women come across as much more charismatic, outgoing and colorful as personalities. After having spent almost 30 years of traveling the world and the last few years being a professional guide I personally rate Kazakhstan as one of the most interesting countries of them all. One main reason for this opinion is that it is still untouched by mass tourism and all bad things which follow such a dire consequence. People are still untouched by the worst commercial aspects of selling, there´s a genuine feeling of being among the first foreign visitors and people are still incredibly hospitable in a true way. And it is one of the most beautiful countries on earth!
And, for somebody who is born in the same area as the great cross country skier Gunde Svan, it is a joy to know that this is the home country for Vladimir Smirnov (who lives in the city of Sundsvall in Sweden), one of the greatest of cross country skiers who took an Olympic Gold in Lillehammer 1994, is Kazakh! And I found out yesterday, that one of my favorite gymnasts from 1974 Olympic Games in Montreal, Nellie Kim, is also Kazakh! There´s so much I don´t know about this amazing country!
Thanks to Zhanar Alchimbayeva at the Tourism Department Of Alma Aty City and Zhanna Rahmatulian at Turan-Asian for inviting Eva and myself for this spectacular tour of parts of the extra ordinary Alma Aty Oblast. and thanks to a great group which gave me lots of joy and info!