New Year in Kazakhstan


Every year I travel one time-zone further east than last year, this year Sander Bockting and I chose for Almaty (GMT+6), the formal capital of Kazakhstan in Central Asia. The deal: Sander took care of the pictures (See Best selection, All), I of the programme.

During our ten days trip we met several Couch surfing members to join their life in Kazakhstan, experienced the hospitality of the Uyghur community during New Year’s eve and travelled by train to the mountains near Kyrgyzstan’s for a home stay and horse riding with the park ranger of the area.

Almaty has some places for sightseeing, highlights are Hotel Kazakhstan were got to a room on almost the upper floor for some pictures; the Central Mosque of Almaty – a serene place to contemplate about 2009; and Kok Tobe – the place to make pictures with the famous apple and have a look at the smoggy streets. Most of the nights we slept at So Young’s guesthouse, a lady from South Korea with whom shared with us meals, tea and stories.

Slopes of Chimbulak.

İnanç, a guy from Turkey who fancies winter sport on Sundays arranged a trip to Chimbulak, a nearby ski resort.

Slopes were almost empty, the rental was cheap and Sander taught me the falling leave while practising his 360s.

On this trip we also met up with Gulnara, a teacher at the international school; and Salim, a proud and funny wedding card salesman from Syria.

Butchers working at the Green Baazar.

Together with Diana, a Kazakh girl who is staying for a short period in her home country, we scrolled down the paths of the Green Bazaar in Almaty.

Descendants of the Silk Road’s traders offered their colourful merchandise varying from nuts, spices and even kimchi.

Carrying camera’s and video recorders was not appreciated and after an hour the laser pen of insisting security ended our curiosity.

Father frost visiting the Uyghur community.

For the New Year’s celebration Gulnara invited us to her family at the suburbs of Almaty where an Uyghur community resides.

An evening which started with the warm hospitality of the parents and games with her daughter, ended with a party with members of the community visiting each house to share a shot of vodka, dance and local food.

After the fireworks father frost and his grand daughter hosted a game night, singing songs, speeches and the music chair.

The night continued with Couch surfing at Salim’s place, of which I do not remember that much, I fell asleep just after arrival. Sander had a great night with games of Pictionary.

Cows wandering at the steppe.

It was hard to find a connection in the countryside, eventually we booked a home stay with a company dedicated to eco tourism – strongly recommended!

We travelled 500 km by train to stay for 24 hours in a village south of Chimkent, home to 20 families and edging a national park.

Schoolboys presenting their acrobatic skills on horses.

The train towards Chimkent introduced us to a different Kazakhstan, the language and people have hints of Arabic, mixed with Asia – in contrast to the formal Soviet face of Almaty.

Our host is ranger at the national park and with his sun we rode horses in knee deep snow at 2000 metres, having an breathtaking view on the 4 km summits towards Kyrgyzstan.

The New Year asks for a new hearcut.

The villagers their life is simple, sipping tea and taking care of the land and cattle. In stead of racing around on scooters the local schoolboys had all their horse. I am still smiling when I see the boys do their tricks!

The 12 hours busride back to Almaty was a pain, but I had some fun with the truck drivers behind me.

Our last day we spend with preparing a Dutch meal for So Young and a photographer who is writing a book about the Silk Road and a goodbye party with the Couch surfers.

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