Monday, October 31, 2011

Almaty - Turgen Gorge

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Today one of my friend's connections had arranged for a driver to take us to Turgen Gorge, a waterfall that's about an hour and a half outside of Almaty. The fee was 15,000 Tenge ($100) for us 3 for the entire trip, which is much better than what any travel agent offered. (Although on their web site, at least one travel agent listed the price as much cheaper than what they said when we emailed them. My guess is part of the reason is that we weren't doing a group tour. If we went on the weekend with a large group, it could probably be $20 - $40 a person, not over $100 as they said.)

Our train was to leave at 7 pm; we were to meet the landlord at 5:40 pm; and we wanted to make sure we'd be back in time. So we left at 8:30 am.

The driver was very friendly, although he speaks no English. He said he is Uighur (a people from western China) but he lives in Almaty and is from a small village near Almaty, which we drove through. He has 3 children, the youngest is only a few weeks old. (Yes, my limited Russian helped me learn all that!)

We had a nice, bumpy ride through small villages and then we turned right, paid an entrance fee, and road on a windy road near a river, through some hills similar to the ones we'd seen on the way to the canyon.

After a while we were there, at a picnic area by the river, an empty building that said "Restaurant" in Kazakh, and a signpost that said "Waterfall" in Russian and pointed to our left. Our driver said he'd sleep in the car and wait for us.

So we hiked.

I'd expected to be cold--I'd been warned that the mountains were colder than Almaty. But maybe this wasn't mountainous enough--it wasn't cold! Soon we were taking off our jackets and sweaters.

The hike was entirely uphill, and at times we had to cross the stream. At times the path was a branch of the stream--perhaps there was more water than usual due to yesterday's rain. Luckily, the weather today was beautiful--sunny and perhaps 18 degrees Celsius (about 64 Fahrenheit), although maybe it was cooler and it felt warm because I was hiking.

We passed by the remains of a bird fight; whatever the bird had been, it had beautiful, orangeish-brown striped feathers. Sophia collected a few.

Finally, we made it to the waterfall! A beautiful waterfall, tall and thin, nothing too extraordinary (I've seen quite a few before). But still worth it. We had to cross the stream to get to the picnic area, so first we decided to see if we could climb to the top. Sophia had discovered a path and had started to scramble up it.

She hadn't gotten too far when we realized that just because we could climb up didn't mean we would be able to get down. It was rather steep, and the surface was just loose rocks. Indeed, I had trouble coming back down. But maybe it led to the top of the waterfall and the struggle would be worth it? Or maybe it would result in a twisted ankle and have us stranded here, a kilometer's hike away from a driver who speaks no English, an hour and a half drive away from the city?

I decided to climb ahead, see if it'd be worth it. It was quite a climb, enjoyable and very tiring, and I quickly discovered that if it led somewhere, that somewhere would take quite some time to get to. And it wasn't safe going down--not for an 8-year old, at least! So I took some pictures and returned down, disappointing Sophia with the news that we wouldn't be continuing upwards.

Then it took her 20 minutes to get down from where she was, and I think that convinced her that going higher would not be worth it!

We trekked across the stream (icy cold water! -- but luckily we barely got wet, using the stones as stepping stones). There was a bench and plank of wood for a picnic table, so we stopped, ate, admired the view, and took more photos. In the distance we could see snow-capped mountains.

Then we crossed the stream again and returned to the van. The trek down was a lot easier than the trek up.

On the way back, we stopped at a trout farm to fish. The driver told us that this place gets extremely crowded in the summertime, but there were very few people there today.

We went in and were given a primitive fishing pole (no reel or wind-up thing or whatever it's called.) The woman who gave us the pole tied a piece of red plastic to the hook. There was a small, rectangular man-made pond stocked with fish, so we fished. Other people had corn tied to the end of their hooks, and we were wondering why we only had plastic.

Sophia caught no fish for quite some time; finally, the woman came by and showed us that we could take some corn from a can that was lying around. Maybe that was what we were supposed to have done first.

I started to wonder if we looked like dumb foreigners, giving Americans and Indians a bad name.

Finally, Sophia caught a fish. We shrieked in excitement and ran to her and screamed some more--she had a fish at the end of her line. Of course, this is to be expected, but we are not fishermen, and we did not want to touch a life, flopping fish.

So we took a few pictures, with the fish flopping around pathetically, and then managed to convince Sophia to set it free. We didn't have time to cook it, nor did we really care to eat fish. But then we had to figure out how to get the hook out of its mouth, and that involved touching.

Finally, we set it free, and were happy that we did. Although, really, I'm sure the other people there were thinking that Americans and Indians are incredibly dumb.

Our driver led us to other parts of the farm, where we saw tons of baby fish, and another section with huge fish.

Finally, we returned home. We made it back with an hour to spare. My friend realized that she'd have nothing to eat that night--she'd been planning on eating in the train's restaurant, but the Hindi festival Diwali was starting, and so she couldn't eat meat. And, of course, it's hard to be a vegetarian and eat in Kazakh restaurants. So she called one of her connections and had her call Pizza Hut, for a last-minute delivery of a cheese pizza.

I ran to Hardee's; there was one a few blocks away, and I was craving a Hardee's milkshake. In the US I never go to Hardee's, but last weekend, two of my co-workers got milkshakes from Hardee's and they looked so good! Indeed, the milkshake was delicious!

We checked out with the landlord, who then drove us to the train station.

All in all, we had a very wonderful three days in Almaty!

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