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Kazakhstan's natural beauty

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Kazakhstan: Steppe and beyond

Pelorus heads to Kazakhstan in Central Asia, exploring an area the size of Scotland in a seven day adventure across the south east

Words by Geordie Mackay-Lewis

We arrived at Almaty, the largest Kazak city, in the early hours of the morning. Previously the capital city during the Soviet Union it was then moved to Astana in 1997. The city is in the foothills of Tian Shan mountains in the extreme south-east and therefore offers its residents stunning views of snow-capped mountains year-round.

 

Our expert guides from Tian Shan Expeditions picked us up in a fleet of Toyota Landcruiser’s and we began our journey into the Kazak steppe and beyond. Our aim was to see as much of the south-east as possible in seven days and the challenge was covering the distance of this enormous country. Kazakhstan is the same length as Europe and the area we were exploring the same size as Scotland. And to add further perspective, the largest farm is the same size as Wales.

As we travelled deeper into the mountains towards the Kyrgyzstan border the landscape unfolded into lush green mountains with streams and waterfalls emerging from each valley. The grasslands stretch as far as the eye can see dotted with nomadic yurts and hundreds of horses roaming free across the steppe.

glacial lake surrounded by forests
Tian Shan Mountains, snow capped all year round

Our first camp was nestled in a beautiful valley next to a river. Three yurts had been built, one dinning yurt and two separate sleeping yurts for men and women. The cultural traditions blew us away from the outset. We were met by two hunters in traditional dress armed with a Golden Eagle and Kazak Falcon. Although out of season the hunters keep their birds fit and trained for the upcoming winter.

Hospitality was given a new meaning as we entered the dining yurt to discover a feast fit for Genghis Khan himself. The variety and volume of food was overwhelming with lamb as the main course which had been especially slaughtered hours before. After multiple toasts and thanks we finished the evening listening to Altay our guide playing the guitar and singing traditional songs around the campfire and beneath a blanket of stars.

hundreds of horses roam free across the Steppe riding a narrow path above a glacial lake
one dinning yurt and two separate sleeping yurts for men and women Cultural tradition - two hunters in traditional dress armed with a Golden Eagle and Kazak Falcon

The following days would see us travelling through canyons, deserts and high above the snow line. No Kazak adventure would be complete without a riding expedition which took us deep into a valley with a series of glacial lakes surrounded by pristine forests. We paraglided in the Tian Shan mountains and discovered petrified sunken forests in turquoise blue lakes. We planned helicopter excursions to Khan Tengri the highest mountain in Kazakhstan and so much more. As you can see 7 days was never enough and follow up adventures are already in the pipeline.