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Old 31st July 2013, 11:43   #31
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Default Re: Central Asian Diaries - Kazakhstan & Kyrgyzstan

Loving this travelogue, the first post got me hooked completely. Look forward to the rest.

And for all the "English" related problems over there, the picture of the "Graffiti" is in solid english, with all the right spellings.. Irony, isnt it?
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Old 31st July 2013, 11:55   #32
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Default Re: Central Asian Diaries - Kazakhstan & Kyrgyzstan

Quote:
Originally Posted by akp View Post
Y
Hope you don't cut corners as far as this t'logue is concerned.
No sir, no corners will be cut as far as this tlog is concerned. I can assure that. But detailed writing does take time, I hope you can give me the time I need

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Originally Posted by vb-san View Post
This region has been in our wishlist for a while now. We’ve a couple of friends here from Uzbekistan, and we get to hear a lot about their culture through them. Even though a part of Asia, they are more European in their customs and behavior.
On the contrary my view is that it much closer to Indian culture than European. For example, I was asked very personal questions by complete strangers during our chits chats. Questions like, How old are you, how old is your wife, how long have you been married, Why no kids? I mean one would not expect such personal questions in western countries like US or western-europe. But the hospitality and personal touch in Kazakh/Kyrgyz gave it a very much Indian feel.
There are many such aspects which I'll cover in the log as well.

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Originally Posted by laluks View Post
Its been a while since I had got to use my Russian preliminary skills. I was trying to decipher the boards written in some of your photos. Took me back to my high school days where I taught my principal my preliminary knowledge in Russian in return for some Latin prelims from him. I acquired the Russian knowledge from a course I did in House of Soviet Culture.

It was some priceless moments trying to read the boards and get back some 25+ years in life Thanks man.

спасибо
лалукс
Ha ha ha. That must be precious, I can truly imagine that. Different languages are definitely fun and specially one that has been forgotten for a long long time. There will be many boards to read, so you might want to refresh your memory using the language table attached on the first page ;-)

пожалуйста
Xаpш

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Originally Posted by jkrishnakj View Post
And for all the "English" related problems over there, the picture of the "Graffiti" is in solid english, with all the right spellings.. Irony, isnt it?
Oh well, there were 'some' english signs in Almaty and even in the interiors. Limited though
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Old 31st July 2013, 12:10   #33
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Default Re: Central Asian Diaries - Kazakhstan & Kyrgyzstan

Brilliant travelogue. Fascinating that the distance between Almaty and Delhi is approximately the same as between Bombay and Delhi - explains a lot of the cultural differences

I look forward to the rest of the entries.

How was the flight itself? I didn't know there were direct flights between India and Central Asia. Oh well, you get to learn something new everyday.
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Old 31st July 2013, 12:16   #34
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Default Re: Central Asian Diaries - Kazakhstan & Kyrgyzstan

Quote:
Originally Posted by vardhan.harsh View Post
On the contrary my view is that it much closer to Indian culture than European. For example, I was asked very personal questions by complete strangers during our chits chats. Questions like, How old are you, how old is your wife, how long have you been married, Why no kids? I mean one would not expect such personal questions in western countries like US or western-europe. But the hospitality and personal touch in Kazakh/Kyrgyz gave it a very much Indian feel.
Well, I should have mentioned it differently. When I say European, I mean (from my limited interactions) they are not too traditional when it comes to food habits, clothing etc. I was expecting them to be have more of middle eastern / Persian influence, but they are more towards the Turkish/Greek ways.
But you are absolutely right. The basic nature, thought processes etc. have quite a bit of Indian style infused in. And I noticed that Uzbeks/Tajiks are quite proud of their knowledge of Bollywood
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Old 31st July 2013, 13:52   #35
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Default Re: Central Asian Diaries - Kazakhstan & Kyrgyzstan

Exclusive stuff!

Nice photo tour...waiting for the more Arti & Harsh

Last edited by jacs : 31st July 2013 at 13:53.
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Old 31st July 2013, 14:53   #36
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Default Re: Central Asian Diaries - Kazakhstan & Kyrgyzstan

I had expected the Kazakh people to look like Russians (white), but they seem to be racially closer to Chinese!
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Old 31st July 2013, 15:59   #37
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Default Re: Central Asian Diaries - Kazakhstan & Kyrgyzstan

Hello Harsh (& Aarti),

I am spelbound. I have no words to express after reading your opening post. You have given me one more reason to explain to my wife / colleagues - why I am generally hooked on to T-BHP?

Your travelogues are really good in general, but this one is a pleasure to read due to the fact that more than you are explaining the culture beautifully.

Thank you for bringing up a unexplored / unthought of destination to us. Rated 5 stars.

Thanks,
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Old 31st July 2013, 20:15   #38
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Default Re: Central Asian Diaries - Kazakhstan & Kyrgyzstan

It's always fun to read travelogues on countries which are rarely visited and documented by anyone. The last time I recall seeing something related to Kazakhstan was in Borat (hope you've seen that movie!) Anyway, hope you don't make us wait to long for updates!
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Old 31st July 2013, 22:13   #39
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Default Re: Central Asian Diaries - Kazakhstan & Kyrgyzstan

Quote:
Originally Posted by invidious View Post
How was the flight itself? I didn't know there were direct flights between India and Central Asia.
The flight was any regular flight between Delhi to Mumbai. Small, no LCD screens, but with better leg space and 'free' food and drink service. Something that has faded from public memory now

Quote:
Originally Posted by vb-san View Post
Well, I should have mentioned it differently. When I say European, I mean (from my limited interactions) they are not too traditional when it comes to food habits, clothing etc. I was expecting them to be have more of middle eastern / Persian influence, but they are more towards the Turkish/Greek ways.
But you are absolutely right. The basic nature, thought processes etc. have quite a bit of Indian style infused in. And I noticed that Uzbeks/Tajiks are quite proud of their knowledge of Bollywood
True, they dress more like Europeans, but are much more conservative otherwise. Google "bride kidnapping" and read the wiki article about this. Wait a minute, read this here. Notice that it happens in almost all central asian countries. Also notice how brides accept this, as otherwise it will bring 'shame' to their families. A concept with which one can relate to, in India.

Quote:
Originally Posted by smartcat View Post
I had expected the Kazakh people to look like Russians (white), but they seem to be racially closer to Chinese!
Remember Genghis Khan? He did capture a lot of territory in this region. It's bordered with China and quite a lot of Russians fled after independence. Some stayed back.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Jignesh View Post
Hello Harsh (& Aarti),

I am spelbound. I have no words to express after reading your opening post. You have given me one more reason to explain to my wife / colleagues - why I am generally hooked on to T-BHP?

Your travelogues are really good in general, but this one is a pleasure to read due to the fact that more than you are explaining the culture beautifully.

Thank you for bringing up a unexplored / unthought of destination to us. Rated 5 stars.

Thanks,
Hi Jignesh,
Thanks for the kind words.

Quote:
Originally Posted by prateekm View Post
It's always fun to read travelogues on countries which are rarely visited and documented by anyone. The last time I recall seeing something related to Kazakhstan was in Borat (hope you've seen that movie!) Anyway, hope you don't make us wait to long for updates!
If you ever travel to Kazakhstan, do not think of mentioning Borat to anyone there. I did that faux pas and regretted. More on that later.
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Old 31st July 2013, 22:22   #40
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Default Day 3: Almaty - Charyn Canyon - Almaty

Too hot a day to walk in a canyon

The day was reserved for Charyn Canyon, a place about 200 km east of Almaty, a 4.5 hour drive away. We’d read in several guidebooks that Charyn is like a mini-Grand Canyon, and we had even seen some footage of it in the Kazakh leg of the ‘Long Way Round’ series. Thus, it became a must-do item on our list. The quoted costs for going to Charyn were exorbitant to say the least. A return taxi with a driver for an entire day was about 18,000 INR, with a park entrance fee of 500 INR. Upon going through some recommendations in one of the guidebooks, we found an alternate solution. We could book ourselves on a guided tour to Charyn on a bus which ferried people on weekends. The only catch was that the guided tour was supposed to be in Russian only. The cost was very attractive though - at 3200 INR all inclusive, it was a steal when compared to 18,500 INR. We requested Madina to make the bookings for us, since the offices were only open on weekdays, and she charged a 10% commission to get the same done. The pickup point was near the town center at 8:00 am, and we were advised not to be late by even a minute.


The route map from Almaty to Charyn (Source: Google maps)
Central Asian Diaries - Kazakhstan & Kyrgyzstan-001.jpg

The hike in the canyon ends at the river (Source: Google earth)
Central Asian Diaries - Kazakhstan & Kyrgyzstan-002.jpg

We had requested the hotel to serve us breakfast at 7 am sharp and planned to leave by 7:15 am with the same driver we had arranged the night before. Everything went as per plan, but as we approached the rendezvous point, I could not find the receipt of payment for the bus. Without the receipt, they would definitely not have allowed us to board, given that we were foreigners and did not know the language. I was panicking like crazy, but Aarti was cool and calm. As soon as we disembarked, I saw the receipt lying on the floor of the taxi and was reprimanded by Aarti for losing my cool. It is so typical of us. Should anything move away from a set plan, I am the one to panic while she is always cool. So far this synergy has been working just fine.

All were aboard the bus by 8 am sharp, and off we went. Thus began the most irritating bus ride of our lives - the cramped seats, no air conditioning, no way to open the windows, the monologue of the tour guide in Russian - it was all too much. The guide in particular got on our nerves. He had a microphone and kept speaking non-stop for the next 4 hours until we reached Charyn. You have to appreciate this guy’s tenacity for speaking - he was fairly old and it was hot, so continuous speaking would not have been easy, especially when no one was too interested in his ‘guided tour’.

The only ventilation was from two sunroofs along the length of the bus, giving some reprieve from the oppressive heat. The temperature must have been in mid 30s that day. The road conditions were as one would expect on a state highway in India. It was two-laned without a divider in between, tarred but the quality of tar was poor resulting in a bumpy ride throughout. For the longest time the highway crossed through some densely populated areas and thus the scenery outside was unexciting.

Relief from the guide’s monologue came two hours later when we halted at a small pitstop. It boasted of one small shop where one could buy some chips, local snacks and bottled water. The guide came to us with a woman who could speak English and requested us to buy some water and snacks. He mentioned that we were all to fend for ourselves and there were no dhabas or restaurants at the Canyon. This nugget of information came as a shocker as we had absolutely nothing on us to eat. The chips packets were really expensive and the only thing we could buy were some chocolates and some really weird local snack which we had to eventually buy for lack of anything else to eat.

Half an hour after the pitstop, we were out in the countryside where there was little population and nothing but wide open plains with barren mountains on either side of the road. We were moving closer to the Kyrgyz border. About 20 km before the Canyon, the bus stopped, the driver got out, and started doing something on the side of the bus. We thought he was engaging four wheel drive, and our suspicions were confirmed when we left the tarred highway and moved on to a dirt track as soon as the bus re-started. With the AC not working, and the vents now closed so as to stop dust from entering, it was a suffocating hour as we trudged slowly on the dirt track. Finally, at 12:30 pm we reached the edge of the Canyon, a good four and a half hours after our departure from Almaty.


The pitstop to pick up food and water
Central Asian Diaries - Kazakhstan & Kyrgyzstan-day03_0186_stitch.jpg

As we neared Charyn the population thinned out
Central Asian Diaries - Kazakhstan & Kyrgyzstan-day03_0192a.jpg

And what welcomed us were wide open plains
Central Asian Diaries - Kazakhstan & Kyrgyzstan-day03_0194a.jpg

Eventually we left the highway to take this dirt track on the last stretch
Central Asian Diaries - Kazakhstan & Kyrgyzstan-day03_0196.jpg

Lada 4x4, they climb anywhere
Central Asian Diaries - Kazakhstan & Kyrgyzstan-day03_0200.jpg

We jumped outside to get some fresh air and to get as far away as possible from the monologue-delivering guide. He led the entire group down the mountain and into the canyon and spoke loudly even without the mic as he went along. The poor guy was just doing his job, but we chose to stay a bit behind the group to have a quiet walk by ourselves. The sun was out with all its fury, the clouds nowhere to be seen. So much for our prayers the previous night!

The trekking path climbed steeply down the mountain and into a dirt track between the two canyon walls used by 4x4 vehicles. Despite the searing heat, it was fun to walk in the canyon. It was quite a touristy thing to do, but heck we were tourists, weren’t we?

We met the only desi we came across on the trip here. He was employed in a hospital in Almaty and was on his day out with wife and kid. I did not see him on the bus, so probably he had come in his own vehicle. I was tempted to ask him for a lift back in the comforts of his air conditioned car, but I resisted the urge to do so.


We purposefully let the group go ahead
Central Asian Diaries - Kazakhstan & Kyrgyzstan-day03_0203.jpg

The caonyon had some amazing wind-swept rocks
Central Asian Diaries - Kazakhstan & Kyrgyzstan-day03_0214.jpg

This climb was quite steep, and scary
Central Asian Diaries - Kazakhstan & Kyrgyzstan-day03_0217.jpg

Tourists everywhere are a common breed, with common poses
Central Asian Diaries - Kazakhstan & Kyrgyzstan-day03_0217a.jpg

While walking, another local family ganged up on Aarti and me for a photo opportunity, but this time it was a bit more weird. While the first round of pictures included both of us, in the second round Aarti was requested to step out of the frame, and so did all the male members of the family. I was sandwiched between 4 women with Aarti smiling ostensibly in front of me. She was actually fuming at having been removed from the photograph. Such was her anger that I feared for the family’s safety and urged them to proceed quickly away from us. Jokes apart, it was a bit rude on their part to get Aarti out of the frame. We decided to politely refuse further proposals for photographs.

The walk ended after 4 long, hot and sweaty kms at a very beautiful picnic spot. The Charyn river was in front of us and it was lush green all around. Sort of an oasis in the middle of a desert. The landscape so reminded me of Ladakh - patches of green in the middle of brown.

We now had a big problem on our hands - our tummies were rumbling, rather growling, and all we had to eat were 2 bananas and a very bad snack that seemed to have been baked in hell. To add salt to our woes, there was a family picnicking next to where we were sitting. They had driven down in their 4x4s, and had set up an open barbeque. They were making shashlik. The smell was heavenly, and was making our minds fuzzy with hunger. I almost approached them to beg for food, but Aarti coaxed me not to. I had even thought of an offer they could not have refused - one shashlik + nan for every photo clicked.

There was nowhere else to go, and the aroma kept coming towards us wherever we sat. Those two hours of sitting by the river must be one of the toughest in my life. We ate our bananas and our stupid snacks from hell. If we had only known that we would not get any food, we would have packed some sandwiches. Apart from the hunger part, it was fun to just sit by the river and relax. The river was freezing cold and it helped cool our hot bottle of water.


Caught again on the camera
Central Asian Diaries - Kazakhstan & Kyrgyzstan-day03_0229.jpg

Aah it would have been fun to drive and camp here for a night
Central Asian Diaries - Kazakhstan & Kyrgyzstan-day03_0230.jpg

Aarti shoots me
Central Asian Diaries - Kazakhstan & Kyrgyzstan-day03_0233.jpg

And this is what she delivers
Central Asian Diaries - Kazakhstan & Kyrgyzstan-day03_0234e.jpg

Mother and child
Central Asian Diaries - Kazakhstan & Kyrgyzstan-day03_0234f.jpg

This rock could tumble any moment, or so it seemed
Central Asian Diaries - Kazakhstan & Kyrgyzstan-day03_0241a.jpg

A nice place to chill after a tiring hike
Central Asian Diaries - Kazakhstan & Kyrgyzstan-day03_0244.jpg

There were spots for love birds as well
Central Asian Diaries - Kazakhstan & Kyrgyzstan-day03_0245.jpg

After an hour or so, we decided to start the trudge back to the bus. The guide had asked all of us to be back by 4:45 pm, and since we wanted to walk back slowly, we left the river around 3:15 pm. The sun was even hotter now, and our progress was achingly slow. Every 15 minutes, we had to stop under the shade of a rock to rest and have water. It took us an hour to reach the bus, and we saw that a few of our fellow passengers were already inside the bus, and some were ambling outside. Aarti was tired, so she sprawled on the seat and began to read. I was tired too, but I glimpsed a few good photo ops, and so went on a short photography walk, not far from where the bus was parked.

It was 6 pm by the time all passengers arrived and we finally left the Canyon. The one hour drive on the dirt track was again slow and painful, but once we reached the tarred road, our progress improved substantially. We bought some food at the same shop as we had on our way to the Canyon, and then settled back to sleep some and talk some.


Aah, oh what fun,it would be, to have a 4x4, there (sing along - Jingle bells jingle bells...)
Central Asian Diaries - Kazakhstan & Kyrgyzstan-day03_0253.jpg

Some shade for the tired souls
Central Asian Diaries - Kazakhstan & Kyrgyzstan-day03_0254.jpg

Old & the young tire equally
Central Asian Diaries - Kazakhstan & Kyrgyzstan-day03_0262.jpg

Bumpy ride, which the bus could not undertake
Central Asian Diaries - Kazakhstan & Kyrgyzstan-day03_0264.jpg

We wait for others to return
Central Asian Diaries - Kazakhstan & Kyrgyzstan-day03_0285.jpg

Finally clouds come in, I wish they were here earlier
Central Asian Diaries - Kazakhstan & Kyrgyzstan-day03_0286a.jpg

Relax singh
Central Asian Diaries - Kazakhstan & Kyrgyzstan-day03_0289.jpg

The bus dropped us off near the center of the city around 10:30 pm. We took a taxi from there to the kebab joint near our hotel, where we hogged on one doner kebab each. This was our first proper meal after breakfast, which mind you was at 7 that morning.

The next day was to be spent with Madina, driving around the mountains that surround Almaty, and then eventually going to her camp. She was to pick us up at 9, which we postponed to 10 as we wanted to sleep in a bit. Charyn had taken out all the energy from us, and we dropped off to sleep as soon as we hit the bed that night.
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Old 1st August 2013, 00:16   #41
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Default Re: Central Asian Diaries - Kazakhstan & Kyrgyzstan

Excellent !!! I also followed others in rating this a 5-star, dedicated to your hardwork and willingness.

Learning russian seems the tricky part. Anyways glued to your travelogue.

Cheers
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Old 1st August 2013, 00:50   #42
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Default Re: Central Asian Diaries - Kazakhstan & Kyrgyzstan

Superb log Vardhan. Thanks for taking efforts and sharing. Really good narration and especially the photos. This is a completely different angle to a barren landscape. So many different types of vistas in the land supposedly containing nothing. Do keep the flow coming in.
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Old 1st August 2013, 10:39   #43
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Default Re: Central Asian Diaries - Kazakhstan & Kyrgyzstan

Awesome travelogue. Seems like the quality of travelogues on TBHP is improving by the day with every member now attempting to explore and show far flung lesser known exotic destinations. You really chose your destination well and no wonder were thoroughly able to enjoy your vacation including ahem the attention .

On another note, isn't Kazakhstan also known for Borat played by Sacha Baron Cohen? I do remember the people of Kazakhstan used to hate him when the movie had come out. That is how Kazakhstan became very famous back then.
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Old 1st August 2013, 11:23   #44
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Default Re: Central Asian Diaries - Kazakhstan & Kyrgyzstan

Awesome travelogue Harsh and Aarti coupled with gripping narration. We are getting to see the places we have heard only.Waiting for further posts.

Cheers
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Old 1st August 2013, 11:42   #45
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Default Re: Central Asian Diaries - Kazakhstan & Kyrgyzstan

Awesome TL Harsh. Have been a big follower of your TLs. Rated a well deserved 5 stars.

Eagerly waiting for the rest of the story to unfold. And please do post the food photographs
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