Across Continents

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Back to Almaty


Forty miles. Over six hours. An unrelenting uphill gradient for the most part, never ending false summits. Charin Natural National Park. An empty wilderness, parts I thought resembled a moonscape. Sometimes loud buzzing sounds from bushes besides the road, but nothing to see, from a distance at least. I didn’t want to inadvertently disturb anything that might swarm.

And then the start of the Kokpek Gorge, unassuming at first. The village sharing the same name appeared to be no more than a collection of cafes, a few small shops. Some quite smart, others rather run down. A water fountain. Cool. Refreshing. Cars coming and going, the occupants scattered about the place. The odd coach, some passengers striding off purposefully to replenish with water and a few snacks, others just milling around, mostly enjoying a cigarette.


Swift descent, a short respite from the earlier climbs, soon dropping down on to the plain that would eventually lead to Almaty. Still a hundred or so miles remaining, I’d decided to stop in the town of Shilik, a couple of hours beyond the gorge. The layout was confusing, the centre difficult to discern, but I eventually found another workman’s hotel. Ten pounds. No shower, just a sink. But a nice clean room. And no cockroaches.

Back on the road the next morning, the traffic steadily increasing as Almaty edged closer. Sweat mixing with the blackening exhaust fumes of passing lorries, many racing by perilously close. Black streaks on exposed arms, rivulets of dirt down my legs. Quickly got my bearings once more in the city, within the hour reaching the house I’d stayed in previously. First part of the plan complete.


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