My way home
Part V: Kazakhstan (2681 – 3804 km)
Part V: Cycling in South-East Kazakhstan
After my last impression from China – border guards checking my phone for “forbidden” content, me watching the “investigation” of my phone by a border guard who was too dumb to even find the folder with the photos – coming to Kazakhstan felt like a great relief.
Coming to Central Asia made me realize once more, how huge the cultural difference between Taiwan/China and Europe is. Of course, geographically, Central Asia belongs to Asia, but I realized so many things I was familiar with or had seen in Ukraine and Russia before, that entering Kazakhstan rendered me a feeling of having made a big step towards home already. I was happy to hear Russian in the streets again, to eat piroshki and drink kvass and to shake hands with strangers (something very uncommon in China).
My first destination in Kazakhstan was the National Park Altyn Emel (Алтын-Эмель) which invites visitors to get a glimpse of the beauty and vastness of Kazakh steppe and desert landscapes and their corresponding wildlife. I spent two days in a steppe-and-desert-like landscape – on very bad gravel paths. The main attraction are some huge, colorful hills and dunes, some of them of volcanic origin. I arrived late when most of the people were about to leave and was happy to see the places in devoid of humanity.
From Altyn-Emel, I cycled to Almaty, the biggest city in Kazakhstan and it’s cultural capital (capital city in Soviet times). I met some lovely people from France and Russia, got around with them, ate a lot of pancakes and took out some bike maintenance.
Next stop after Almaty was Charyn Canyon (чарынский каньон), a beautiful location aroud the river Charyn that resembles the Grand Cayon in the USA, from where I would head to the Kyrgyz border crossing near Kegen.
I decided not to cycle the main road East, but take a road more South through the spurs of the Tian Shan mountain range. This way turned out to be the hardest I had ever been on a bike: Half the way up, the paved road turned into gravel and later into pure mud. In the evening of the first day in the mountains, after some XX km, I realized I had not taken firewood with me from lower forests I had passed some hours before. Now, I was in a wet grassland, already soaking wet from the rain, with nothing but small streams and wild horses around. Some time later, I recognized some Yurts further up the mountain range to my right and realized asking the herdsman that would probably be around there to give me some firewood would be the only chance to get a proper dinner. I cycled up a grassy way barely distinguishable from the rest, had to cross the stream several times. When I arrived to the yurt, I realized it was abandoned. Luckily, they had left some pieces of firewood under a tarp that were dry enough to make some spaghettis. I put my tent right next to the yurt, had dinner and fell asleep right away. What a day!
Since I had reached some kind of valley, I had expected relatively flat terrain for the next day. Instead, it was going up and down on dirt roads the whole day, including many river crossings. The valley was ineffably beautiful (with nothing but wild horses, yurts, sheeps, cows and snow-capped mountain peaks of Tian Shan on both sides.). I got into some extremely steep ascends in the afternoon, and in the end did not make more than 38 km that day. The following day I reached a last peak, then descended to Lake Bartogay, a drinking water reservoir with a beautiful turquoise color. From the lake it was not far to the main road to Charyn Canyon and the border city Kegen anymore.
Charyn Canyon was nice to see as well, but with an awful lot of tourists. After seeing the main spots with the tourist crowd, I decided to approach the Canyon from the other side as well and didn’t find a single tourist there. Just when I arrived, a strong wind out of nowhere began to blow and it was impossible to go on cycling. I assembled the tent in a hollow between two small hills. When I awoke the next morning, I realized I had a flat tire. It was pointless to fix it, because my bicycle pump was not working either. I waited some 30 minutes if their would be tourists coming in the morning. I had no chance but pack a backpack with some necessities, leave bike and tent behind and walk back to the last village on the main road. It was 20 km and it took me almost 3.5 hours. In the village, I got a taxi go drive me to the canyon again to pick up my stuff. Luckily, they could also organize a pump with that I was able to fix my tire.
The next day, I cyced onwards on the main road and reached the border to Kyrgyzstan in the afternoon.