After some weeks of extreme cold and the amazing landscapes of Siberia it was time to move on. Next stop Astana.
We decided to go there by bus, as it seemed both cheap and convenient — or at least as convenient as a 15 hour night bus including a border crossing can be. We might have been a little too optimistic about this option though.
The bus broke down within the first 10 minutes after departure. The drivers did a brave job trying to fix it (bought spare parts from a 24-hour Lada shop), but eventually had to turn around and call a mechanic. After some long hours the bus had been fixed, and we were ready to go — now about 4 hours delayed.
Besides the inconvenience of no breaks and no toilets for about 8 hours, and crossing the border between Russia and Kazakhstan at 4.30 in the morning, the rest of the tour went well and we finally arrived in Astana only three hours late.
In Astana we had some great days exploring the crazy architecture of the young capital, as well as familiarising ourselves with the post-USSR history of Kazakhstan. We do not really enjoy neither architecture sightseeing nor museums, but Astana is one of a kind!
However, it was really cold and we seriously needed to warm up again after Siberia, so after some days we took a train to Almaty, the former capital of Kazakhstan.
The hostel owner in Astana recommended a place in Almaty and after a long and mostly sleepless night on the train we just headed straight to the hostel. And here we were welcomed to our new home!
The hostel turned out the be the most warm and welcoming place we have encountered so far, and we literally spent most of the day just socialising with the other guests and the owner, Shakir. After some vain attempts to plan excursions out of the city we decided just to slow down and do some day tours on our own and hang out at the hostel.
We did two day-hikes in the Tian Shan mountains hiking up to the Kok Zhaylau pass. The first day we just followed the crowd of locals from Prosvetcenets (Medeo) enjoying their Sunday in the nature. On our second day we felt more adventurous and decided to hike from Big Almaty Valley across the Kok Zhaylau pass and down to Prosvetcenets.
This track was definitely less used during winter. Our best bet is that nobody has used it after the snow fall. It was a little rough with deep snow, but we were rewarded with some spectacular views of the Tian Shan mountains when we finally walked up above the clouds.
During our first few nights at the hostel the other guests took turns cooking their national dishes for everybody. So after eating something Polish as well as enjoying Uzbek plov (плов) we decided to cook for a Danish night.
Most of the other guests do not eat pork and there were no oven at the hostel, thus we were a little challenged to come up with traditional Danish dishes. We decided upon ‘hakkebøf med bløde løg’ and left the hostel to go shopping.
However, in the supermarket we came across the Russian version of tartlet shells. They are not really like the Danish ones, but as tartlets with chicken and asparagus is the all time favourite in Gitte’s family we simply had to give it a try. So we quickly decided upon a two course Danish dinner 😀
Back at the hostel we started cooking and tried to answer the myriad of curios questions from the other guests. They couldn’t really grasp the concept of tartlets. However, they were convinced as soon as they got to taste them 😉
After some quiet days in Almaty we wanted to go out and about again. About two hundred kilometres east of Almaty is the Charyn Canyon, and local rumours go that it should be a great alternative to the Grand Canyon in the US. It sounded too good to be true so we off course had to go there and see it 😀
We joined a tour through the local eco tourism center. After a lot of hours in the bus we spent some great hours walking through the ‘Valley of Castles’, the most popular part of the canyon.
We have never seen the Grand Canyon in the US, but this Kazakh version was amazing! You can compare for yourself or just enjoy our pictures 😀
After eight days at Almaty Hostel Dom we have decided to move on to Shymkent and Turkestan, a Muslim pilgrimage destination for Muslims all over Central Asia.
We are going to miss our new home in Central Asia and the great people living in the hostel! We tried so much homemade Kazakh food, we watched movies, played games… In eight days it felt like we got to know the people so well along with their backgrounds for living at a hostel. We have to come back to Almaty Hostel Dom one day 🙂