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Old 1st August 2013, 12:05   #46
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Default Re: Central Asian Diaries - Kazakhstan & Kyrgyzstan

Barren and beautiful place!

A very well covered travelogue. Must say a great travelogue in the recent times.

Rated a well deserved 5*.
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Old 1st August 2013, 13:48   #47
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Default Re: Central Asian Diaries - Kazakhstan & Kyrgyzstan

Quote:
Originally Posted by voyageur View Post
Learning russian seems the tricky part.
Cheers
On the contrary the Cyrillic alphabet is quite easy to learn, that took hardly a day. The difficult is the pronunciation, grammar & of course vocabulary.

Quote:
Originally Posted by yogibear007 View Post
Do keep the flow coming in.
Shall strive my best to be swift.

Quote:
Originally Posted by samarjitdhar View Post
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.
Of course I'm enjoying the attention.
And yes, Borat (Sacah Baron Coehn) is infamous in Kazakhstan, although people hate him to the core. More on that as I narrate my first (and maybe) only cultural faux pas of the trip.

Quote:
Originally Posted by thecdkfactor View Post
And please do post the food photographs
So far till the 3rd day we hardly had eaten anything unique. Have clicked some food photographs only of unique central asian cuisines. Shall share as I move along.
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Old 1st August 2013, 14:12   #48
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Default Re: Central Asian Diaries - Kazakhstan & Kyrgyzstan

Wow! This was my reaction afer seeing those beautiful pictures (And beautiful places too!)! Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan look fantastic, quite contrary to what some people expect. Unfortunately, these countries have slipped under the radar and many don't even know that such countries exist (Yeah Yeah! There are such people)! I didn't even know the capitals of these two countries!

P.S. I usually don't venture into Travelogues section, but your 'Central Asian Diary' forced me to give a look. Due to those exemplary photos and commendable narration, covering even the most minute details, I rate the thread a highly deserved 5 stars. And I'm hooked to this thread!

Keep revvin'
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Old 1st August 2013, 14:24   #49
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Default Re: Central Asian Diaries - Kazakhstan & Kyrgyzstan

Commendable travelogue written, Harsh! Definitely would suggest to put it in a flyer-book ; can be a hot-sale at the Delhi's Pragati Maidan book fair :-) ... deserves 5-stars for the experimental-Indian.
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Old 1st August 2013, 15:26   #50
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Default Re: Central Asian Diaries - Kazakhstan & Kyrgyzstan

The very choice of such a place as a holiday destination has swept me off my feet.
I thus acknowledge the stringent benchmark Tbhp sets to become a member, you all are a crazy lot, getting amazed has become a daily affair for me.

The way you write and compose compliments the superb frames with such fluidity, made me feel as if I am there, present.

Hats off to you and mam, this is the Tlog of the day, looking forward to more in the days to come.
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Old 1st August 2013, 18:09   #51
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Default Re: Central Asian Diaries - Kazakhstan & Kyrgyzstan

Awesome TL! Narration, snaps, information everything is superb. Loved it, please keep it coming!!
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Old 2nd August 2013, 10:36   #52
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Thumbs up Re: Central Asian Diaries - Kazakhstan & Kyrgyzstan

Quote:
Originally Posted by vardhan.harsh View Post
A cold Russian welcome by Kyrgyzstan!


It was 8:45pm by the clock, the sun has just set behind the mountains. The dial gauge read -2°C outside, both of us were cold, wet and shivering like a leaf. We were wearing the only warm clothes we had got for the trip. The rarefied air was a bit difficult to breathe in. The car had refused to start after multiple cranks, the engine was still warm, the rear tyre was completely flat, the jack was broken and the flat tyre had refused to come out. The nerves were still frayed an hour and a half after the vehicle had skid wildly on the gravelly, slushy track on which the tyre had burst while the vehicle was doing 80kmph.

The wide plain nearby was filled with snow - and impossible to camp, and our little stove was not working. It had been around three hours since we had seen any vehicle cross us - and we had little hope of finding one during the impending night ahead. There was no in-habitation for at least a 20km behind us and 50km in front of us...

We had come looking for adventure in Central Asia, and it did not disappoint...
Excellent thread Harsh!
The prologue to your t-log is straight out of a Ludlum thriller. I felt a chill in my spine run down when going through your opening post. Hats off to your writing skills! You have saved the director of the next Bourne franchise, the gray matter's wear and tear of composing the opening sequence of the film.

Quote:
Originally Posted by vardhan.harsh View Post
<snip>


Hi Jignesh,
Thanks for the kind words.


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.
Needless to say your adventure and passion will now help a lot of other travelers consider the option of these destinations in thier subsequent travel plans. One thing before I forget - as most of us are not familiar with the cross-culture differences between us and them, could you please mention a few more DONT's when on thier land.

Cheers!
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Old 2nd August 2013, 13:44   #53
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Default Re: Central Asian Diaries - Kazakhstan & Kyrgyzstan

Fantastic write up Harsh! Very very interesting reading about a region that's usually off the travel radar.

Can't wait for the rest!
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Old 2nd August 2013, 14:46   #54
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Exclamation Re: Central Asian Diaries - Kazakhstan & Kyrgyzstan

Beautiful! Never had I heard anyone visiting central asia, you are the first. 5 * rating for the thread. A must visit sometime later, I never knew that the countries would be so beautiful. Thanks for sharing a new perspective in tourism. How was the food over there? Are there any vegetarian options available or is it more of a meat kind of cuisine?
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Old 2nd August 2013, 15:43   #55
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Default Re: Central Asian Diaries - Kazakhstan & Kyrgyzstan

Thank you Harsh for sharing these excellent experiences in Central Asia. The landscape almost look like our own Ladakh.

How come you missed out Uzbekistan?
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Old 2nd August 2013, 22:48   #56
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Default Re: Central Asian Diaries - Kazakhstan & Kyrgyzstan

Quote:
Originally Posted by S@ndy View Post
Unfortunately, these countries have slipped under the radar and many don't even know that such countries exist
It is true and sad at the same time. These countries are a travelers paradise, specially Kyrgyz and so close to India. Too bad the visa formalities to these countries is so painful for Indians, hopefully they change their rules soon like they've done for Europeans.

Quote:
Originally Posted by car-go View Post
Definitely would suggest to put it in a flyer-book ; can be a hot-sale at the Delhi's Pragati Maidan book fair :-)
Maybe sell to these embassies ;-)

Quote:
Originally Posted by himadrimondal View Post
I thus acknowledge the stringent benchmark Tbhp sets to become a member, you all are a crazy lot, getting amazed has become a daily affair for me.
True, the bunch found here is a crazy lot, and I'm sure you are too ;-)

Quote:
Originally Posted by raveesh_k View Post
could you please mention a few more DONT's when on thier land.
As far as the don'ts are considered : Borat is one of them. I'll try to cover more as I move along, cant really pin point more at this stage. More will come to me when I try to remember individual days.

Quote:
Originally Posted by W.A.G.7 View Post
How was the food over there? Are there any vegetarian options available or is it more of a meat kind of cuisine?
The food is strictly non-vegetarian and that too mostly, lamb, beef and horse in that order. Good chicken is hard to find as well. Vegetables exits only in the form of salads. By the end of it Aarti had resigned to eat mostly bread, sugar and tea.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Fauji View Post
How come you missed out Uzbekistan?
I had only two weeks to spare, and could hardly do justice to Kazakhstan. In fact a good part of Kyrgyzstan was left untouched (the infamous Pamir range). I could not have possible done justice to Uzbekistan. Some other time maybe.
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Old 2nd August 2013, 22:57   #57
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Default Day 4: Almaty - Big Almaty Lake - Yurt Camp

From 35°C to 5°C in 35km


The route map for the day
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Madina reached the hotel at the scheduled time, 10:00 am, and we were ready as well, but the hot receptionist took the longest time to arrange for the invoice. Thus, we were delayed by an hour in leaving. While waiting, we pre-booked our last night’s stay at Almaty (after coming back from Kyrgyzstan) at the same hotel at a discounted price of 9500 Tenge (3800 INR) since our stay would only be for half a day - 6 pm to 4 am.

Finally, at around 11 am, we drove off in Madina’s Pajero towards the Ile Altau National Park. Our first stop was the Big Almaty lake, or Ozera Bol’shoye Almaatinskoye, which provides fresh drinking water to the entire city and is about 35 km away from Almaty at an altitude of 2500 m above sea level. The road bifurcates at the lake, one leading up to the Ozerny pass and eventually entering Kyrgyzstan which is hardly 20 km away from the lake; the other climbs steeply to an erstwhile Russian space observatory. Little is known on what happens there now. Given the sensitive location of the lake, and the fact that it is located in a well protected biosphere, the government has enforced strict rules on visiting the area.

The older version of Lonely Planet mentions that earlier people were allowed to walk freely near the lake. Hell, they were even allowed to take their 4WDs all the way till the Ozerny pass. However, in recent times, a lot of Kyrgyz illegal immigrants were using this route to enter into prosperous Kazakhstan, forcing the government to block the road to Ozerny completely. Madina had made prior arrangements for us to visit the lake and take a walk around it. She also convinced the ‘guide’ just to take his fees and not accompany us, as mandated by the ‘law’. In fact, some army personnel even tried to stop us when we began to walk next to the lake, but Madina, being Madina, convinced the guys and we continued.

The temperature in Almaty must have been in mid-30s that day, but in the mountains, just an hour’s drive away, it had dropped to 12. We walked for half an hour on the mountain next to the lake, and then turned back since we were too tired from our trip to Charyn the day before. It had also begun to drizzle, making the temperature plummet even further, and so we ran under the shade of our umbrellas to the car.


The Ile Alatau National Park is tantalizingly close to Almaty
Central Asian Diaries - Kazakhstan & Kyrgyzstan-day04_0003.jpg

The road snakes up to the lake
Central Asian Diaries - Kazakhstan & Kyrgyzstan-day04_0014.jpg

The big azure Almaty lake, notice the checkpost
Central Asian Diaries - Kazakhstan & Kyrgyzstan-day04_0025_stitch.jpg

The clouds look menacing
Central Asian Diaries - Kazakhstan & Kyrgyzstan-day04_0030.jpg

The living quarters of the 'observatory'
Central Asian Diaries - Kazakhstan & Kyrgyzstan-day04_0031.jpg

Madina leads the way on the hike
Central Asian Diaries - Kazakhstan & Kyrgyzstan-day04_0039.jpg

Marmots stop to say Helo
Central Asian Diaries - Kazakhstan & Kyrgyzstan-day04_0041.jpg

The roads towards Ozerny pass and further into Kyrgyzstan
Central Asian Diaries - Kazakhstan & Kyrgyzstan-day04_0048.jpg

It was still only 2 pm and we had loads of time to kill. We decided to go further up towards the observatory, crossing our fingers that we be allowed to go ahead. We reached a security barrier and the army personnel posted there stopped us for verification. It was time for us to take our passports out for verification and sing “Jimi jimi jimi, aaja aaja aaja”. Let me explain. Going back a few days, ever since we had come to Almaty, we were recognized as Indians by several locals, and all of them seemed to have heard about our Mithun Da (Chakraborty). Some even sung a bit of “Jimi jimi jimi”, an infamous song from the movie “Disco Dancer”, for us. So while I’d gotten used to the idea of the Kazakhs liking this song, I was still taken by surprise when the security guard at the barrier asked me to SING the song for him! The request did seem a bit odd, but in the context of the country it was “naahrmal”. Nevertheless, I was taken aback, and mentioned to the army personnel that if I were to sing, he would stop enjoying that song foreverl. We laughed as Madina translated my response to him and were allowed to proceed ahead. He requested us to be back in an hour at the most, to which we agreed.

The road climbed steeply towards the mountaintop which is located at 3400 m ASL. Just before the observatory, there was a barrier with no guards, which basically meant that we could go no further. Since there were no meadows around on which we could spread our lunch buffet that Madina had packed, we decided to lunch on the road itself. And what a lovely lunch it was! Madina had got all home cooked food for us, ranging from sandwiches, breads, salads, coffee, munchies to nutella and chocolates. There were candies too from around the region including Ukraine and Uzbekistan. It was fun to have lunch there, and Aarti and I immediately thought of buying such folding tables and chairs for our own picnic parties on our road-trips back home.

The entire lunch spread was obviously difficult to polish off, but we did eat to our hearts’ content. The temperature had dropped to about 5 degrees by now, and we had to pull out our jackets. It is a strange place, Almaty. Within a distance of 35 km, the temperature had dropped from mid-30s to 5 degrees.

We packed up quickly as we could see a storm coming and were back inside the car just in the nick of time. It started pouring, and the temperature plummeted further. It didn’t matter much to us inside the car, and we headed back to the city. The next agenda was to buy a gas cylinder for our camping stove and to get some USD exchanged for SOM (Kyrgyz currency). The rupee was trading at about 1.2 or 1 SOM = 1.2 rupees. Since we were in the trusted hands of Madina, it was a good idea to get the logistics in place before we left the next day on our all-on-our-own Kyrgyz leg of the journey.


The climb from the lake to the observatory
Central Asian Diaries - Kazakhstan & Kyrgyzstan-day04_0053.jpg

A perfect place to have lunch
Central Asian Diaries - Kazakhstan & Kyrgyzstan-day04_0061.jpg

The clouds parted a bit for a short while
Central Asian Diaries - Kazakhstan & Kyrgyzstan-day04_0062.jpg

Post lunch it start raining cats and dogs, this was the guy who request me to sing
Central Asian Diaries - Kazakhstan & Kyrgyzstan-day04_0071.jpg

Back in downtown Almaty, back to 35°C
Central Asian Diaries - Kazakhstan & Kyrgyzstan-day04_0078.jpg

On the drive to and back from the lake, we had a long chat with her on life in Almaty in general. We figured out that probably the country is even more corrupt than India, and that the people are fed up of the pseudo democracy in place. Madina told us that the current President (a dictator basically) is a distant relative of hers, and recited anecdotes of how she sometimes uses her 'surname' to get things done. We also discussed a lot about India and life here in general. She was fun to interact with, and it hardly felt as if she was a 'tour operator'. She could relate to our travel style, and told us about all the places she would want to visit. She is a major bird enthusiast, and spoke at length about this as well.

We bought the cylinder at an adventure shop in the city, and got the currency exchange done in the same complex as well. This time again the person we interacted with at the currency exchange counter was super rude. Probably ruder than the last lady who changed our Dollars for Tenge. Madina was shocked by her behaviour. Moreover, she could not, or would not, I don’t know, speak a word of English. Should it not be mandatory for people employed at currency exchange counters to speak English? Ah well, we took our money and let the lady be rude to the next person in line.

Chores done, we headed back to the mountains, this time to Madina’s Yurt Camp. It is a small campsite located in the same national park that we were in earlier in the day, but more towards the east from the lake. The setting was beautiful - 6 yurts (4 to sleep, a kitchen yurt and a dining yurt) surrounded by lush greenery with the sound of a stream flowing nearby. A yurt is a large, portable tent with a wooden frame and covered using felt or sheep wool. On the inside, it is typically well decorated with carpets on the floor as well as on the walls. These carpets are locally called shyrdaks and are Kyrgyzstan’s best known handicraft. Yurts are traditional tents used by nomads in the steppes of Central Asia, much like what Rebos are to Changpas in Ladakh. However, unlike Rebos, which are set up in a jiffy, Yurts take at least a day to assemble and one Yurt is typically priced at about $8000.

The car went all the way to the campsite, albeit on a tricky and narrow 4WD track. We were exhausted, primarily from the day before, and decided on taking a short nap. Aarti crashed immediately, but I can never sleep in the afternoons, so I stepped out to take a walk around. I found 3 locals sitting and having beer and decided to join them, and thus began the longest Russian conversation of my life.

After I introduced myself as an Indian, they immediately broke into "Jimi jimi jimi, aaja aaja aaja", and all of us had a hearty laugh. I’d downloaded an English to Russian dictionary on my phone, so I tried my best to converse using broken Russian. They on the other hand relied on signs and signals to communicate. The conversation went on for nearly an hour, during which we discussed a range of topics, including their family background, children, lifestyle, earnings and why we were still without a child after 6 years of marriage. Oh yes, Kazakh people are warm, as warm as Indians and can ask you the most personal questions. They also offered me a stick of cigarette, although there was not tobacco but something more potent inside. I politely declined, of course.


Comrades from Kazakstan, staying at the same Yurt camp
Central Asian Diaries - Kazakhstan & Kyrgyzstan-day04_0081.jpg

A lovely setting for the camping site
Central Asian Diaries - Kazakhstan & Kyrgyzstan-day04_0083.jpg

A delicous dinner spread
Central Asian Diaries - Kazakhstan & Kyrgyzstan-day04_0086.jpg

Madina's beast parked pretty next to the Yurt at the camp site
Central Asian Diaries - Kazakhstan & Kyrgyzstan-day04_0091.jpg

The Yurt
Central Asian Diaries - Kazakhstan & Kyrgyzstan-day04_0095.jpg

After Aarti woke up, we went for a short stroll in the hills nearby, and came back to a wonderful dinner spread served in true Kazakh style with low seating and a long table. Tea was served the traditional way, in small quantities and without sugar or milk. It is interesting to note here that they call tea ‘chai’ and sugar ‘shakkhar’. For the main course, there was ‘plov’ which is nothing but our ‘pulao’ with meat, onions and carrots. It is more of an Uzbeki dish than Kazakh and is served in the entire region.

Post dinner, the tripod came out, and after taking some shots, we called it a night. The next day we were to leave for Bishkek, the capital city of Kyrgyzstan, and begin our ‘real’ trip.


Abandoned
Central Asian Diaries - Kazakhstan & Kyrgyzstan-day04_0114.jpg

Finally the sun sets
Central Asian Diaries - Kazakhstan & Kyrgyzstan-day04_0122.jpg

And time to take out the tripod, that's Almaty city in the distance
Central Asian Diaries - Kazakhstan & Kyrgyzstan-day04_0132.jpg

And the stars come out, time for us to hit the sack
Central Asian Diaries - Kazakhstan & Kyrgyzstan-day04_0137.jpg
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Old 3rd August 2013, 16:42   #58
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Default Re: Central Asian Diaries - Kazakhstan & Kyrgyzstan

I salute your spirit of exploring the unexplored!
One should have the guts to chalk out such a plan and make it a huge success & that too accompanied by the better half is something which majority of us would never even think of.
Had neither seen these countries in photos nor thought that they would be such good places to visit. Thanks a ton for sharing your experience, it has opened a new getaway destination for many aspiring BHP'ans!
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Old 4th August 2013, 22:09   #59
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Default Re: Central Asian Diaries - Kazakhstan & Kyrgyzstan

Brilliant travelog! Epic journey to lesser known places brought alive by your eloquent prose and photography. Kudos! Rated 5 stars
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Old 6th August 2013, 18:44   #60
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Default Re: Central Asian Diaries - Kazakhstan & Kyrgyzstan

Oh spectacular stuff. I've read a lot of ride reports on ADVRider about these countries and it is wonderful to see that you guys made a trip there. Amazing, offbeat!!

Now, to plan a ride there. But would be super-expensive....
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