2. KZ – Great Almaty Lake!

Things I learnt about Kazakhstan:

1. Kazakhstan is the largest landlocked country in the world. Stan is an ancient Persian word meaning “land” or “nation,” and Kazakhmeans “wanderer,” “adventurer,” or “outlaw.” Therefore, the name Kazakhstan translates as “Land of the Wanderers.”

2. Kazakhstan has an unofficial taxi system. People wave on the street, cars stop, destination and price are discussed, and they go.

Every car is a taxi; you may flag down any car on the street, tell them where you’re going. They may agree and you hop in, or you may not be going in a convenient direction and they drive off; no worries because you may flag down the next one. You negotiate the price with the driver. Along the way, if someone else waves the car down, he may check if it’s a convenient direction, and the passenger may hop in.

Grabcar without an app, isn’t it? In this way, every driver on the road can get some source of supplementary income.

3. They still have traditions / beliefs relating to their tribes – e.g. can’t marry partner of the same tribe unless they’re 7 generations apart

4. We had a really hard time finding souvenirs in Kazakhstan; such sentiments were echoed by fellow travellers.
Our second day was spent at…. THE GREAT ALMATY LAKE! Such a gloriously beautiful day, how great it was indeed!

The mountains and the rivers and ME!!!!!!!!!!! – HUGS THE FRESH AIR –

I happily skipped step by step as we went on

We woke up early in the morning, walked to the street, took 28 to the presidential palace, and another bus on to the big Almaty lake. The marshrutka dropped us off at a… Random place.

I stared curiously as a man carried multiple big empty bottles, filling them with water that flowed from a pipe. He taped the cap with a scotch tape with each one that was full. Others waited around to fill their bottles.

Was he selling these water? Could he sell these bottles even though the caps have been unsealed? Is that allowed here? I thought briefly. We then departed and walked towards what we thought was the entrance to the national park.

We walked towards a sign with a bunch of Cyrillic list; none matched the one on lonely planet, none indicated anything about the big Almaty lake. Where were we supposed to go? Hmmmm. We stood there for awhile, slightly amused.

(Ah, lack of development in tourism facilities. Almaty, you have so, so much to offer! Kamila mentioned this; she wants to work on this when she works in the tourism industry.)
We laughed, and walked on. Cz stuck out his thumb as we walked on. I walked on cheerily, pleased with the sunshine and the cool air. A car stopped. My heart leaped with joy! A guy unwound his window and we hopped in, telling him our plan.

He could speak perfect English; he was heading towards the Three Bears but could drop off somewhere along the way. We chatted and I learnt that people actually drive up to the mountains to fill their bottles with water to drink. Some extreme ones even use only mountain water to cook and for everything else. For him, he was here to fill his bottles, as many as the ones that he could find. My mind flashed back to the guy with more than 10 bottles.

No wonder there were kids in the cars, shiny cars too. So they weren’t water-sellers! It was interesting to know that people would drive all the way here just to get water from the mountains. How lucky they were! To be able to collect the pure water from the mountains. If I lived here, would I do the same, come to that sort of trouble? Hmmmm.

He dropped us off further than proposed, and we cheered.

 

All ready!

LET’S GO GREAT ALMATY LAKE
We walked our way towards the pipes. We saw steps. Right place, hurray! On we go!

I took in the cool air. I took in the trees, the greenery. I took in the somewhat familiar calmness and quietness that surrounded me, the purity of the bird’s chirping. The little yellow flowers that dotted the grass. I walked and I took them in. I breathed.

UP

love. I just love this. Even looking at these pictures I JUST LOVE the cool air, the silent trotting, drowning in my thoughts (or lack of them). Peace.

UP

eventually…

WAAAAH!!!! I beckoned at the view. So beautiful!!111!!!!111!!!

Cz mocked me because he said I haven’t turned around, which was the highlight.

After I turned around and ‘waaaaaaah-ed’, he says ‘eh you turn back leh, you think that’s the highlight right’

But 0:50 is really beautiful isn’t it, i can’t decide which is more beautiful. IT IS JUST BEAUTIFUL. ALL ARE HIGHLIGHTS.

 

I uploaded this muted video onto an insta account and I re-downloaded it to upload it here. This explains the poor quality. Still, good memories worth placing here!!

Walked down this road for awhile, sticking out my thumb

FINALLY! Someone stopped.

We hitchhiked our way back to Almaty. Using Google translate that works offline, we switched phones back and forth, Russian – English, and I learnt that the 20 year old law student was from Shymkent, studying in Almaty, and liked sports.

We eventually reached Almaty; I snapped a Polaroid hastily, likely not so pretty, waved them goodbye in the rising traffic and we parted.

How interesting that we could communicate even though we didn’t speak each others’ languages. A world without borders? Thank you Google Translate Offline!

Thank you people who stop for hitchhikers. 😀
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1. KZ – Almaty, Kazahkstan

I didn’t know much about Central Asia before May this year. I didn’t even know some of the countries, much less how to spell them, I admit. 
 
Central Asia is sometimes also referred to as ‘Middle Asia’, and, colloquially, “the ‘stans” (as the six countries generally considered to be within the region all have names ending with the Persian suffix “-stan”, meaning “land of”).
 
Since the earliest of times, Central Asia has been a crossroads between different civilizations. The Silk Road connected Muslim lands with the people of Europe, India, and China. (Look at the world map!) This explains the richness and diversity in their culture, the Turkish / Asian / Russian influences, the East-Meets-West aspects apparent in their food, culture, dressing etc. Interestingly, from its beginning in 1917, the Soviet state never included Kazakhstan in Muslim Central Asia, preferring to give it a non-Asian identity by linking it closely to Russia and Siberia. 
 
These countries only came into existence after the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991. The five Central Asian countries gained independence after  Kazakhstan (pop. 17 million), Kyrgyzstan(5.7 million), Tajikistan (8.0 million), Turkmenistan (5.2 million), and Uzbekistan (30 million), for a total population of about 66 million as of 2013–2014. Afghanistan (pop. 31.1 million) is also sometimes included.
 
The Silk Road: 

The Silk Road was an ancient network of trade routes that connected the great civilisations of East and West / Europe and Asia. Traders, merchants and diplomats all travelled the Silk Road, exchanging ideas, goods and technologies (e.g how to make paper!) in what has been called history’s original ‘information superhighway’. Some key routes of Central Asia were important trading points throughout history.

We flew in to Almaty, Kazakhstan from Dubai (sg > dubai, dubai > almaty, because it’s cheaper). My first ever FlyDubai flight was alright, quite comfortable enough. In fact, I quite enjoy these long travel hours where I have the free will to decide what I can do with my blank space of time.

 green market

mountains, mountains 🙂

my favourite memory of Almaty

My travel read: 49 Rules of Love by Elif Shafak. 

On hindsight, it was a random yet surprisingly appropriate trip for the read. I knew nothing of Rumi prior to my trip, yet spotted a quote by Rumi at the end of my trip on the plane. A few weeks later I spotted an article about the Shams of Tabriz.

The universe is one being. Everything and everyone is interconnected through an invisible web of stories. Whether we are aware of it or not, we are all in a silent conversation. Do no harm. Practice compassion. And do not gossip behind anyone’s back – not even a seemingly innocent remark! The words that come out of our mouths do not vanish but are perpetually stored in infinite space, and they will come back to us in due time. One man’s pain will hurt us all. One man’s joy will make everyone smile. (Shams of Tabriz)

It was an easy read that hooked me in almost immediately, and already I feel somewhat connected to its themes. Why? I feel like I’m attracted to books that discuss things about eternal love, love, the complexities of affairs of the heart. I remain intrigued.

“Every true love and friendship is a story of unexpected transformation. If we are the same person before and after we loved, that means we haven’t loved enough.”



overnighting in Dubai to catch our second flight to Almaty – well prepared 





apple almaty


Day1: Airbnb, dinner with lucy

Day2: big Almaty lake + Kamila


Almaty’s green, clean. We drove past some shiny buildings.

The first day, we reached Almaty in the evening. We walked around with Lucy and had kebab and pizza. The apartment had a beautiful kitchen and it was cosy, absolutely recommended as an apartment. Russian signs, so fascinating to me in my first Cyrillic city of Bulgaria, don’t faze me anymore, I realised as I walked around trying to read them. I’ve been learning some Cyrillic / Russian before the trip, but learning Russian is really difficult right now despite my increasing Duolingo levels. Can’t. Remember. Them.



Quite frankly THE best value-for-money airbnb accomodation I’ve ever stayed. 

For $15 SGD for 2 people a night, and such a comfy and conveniently located place, coupled with a gorgeous kitchen (MOST BEAUTIFUL KITCHEN EVER where we sat and drank hot tea in the cold but I can’t seem to find the photo… 😦 ) it is amazing and highly recommended!





Ascension Cathedral

Day 1, when I still bothered to look nice for pictures

Green market!

Here we found many stalls selling nuts, dried fruits, fresh fruits, spices, bread, vegetables, and some Korean stalls selling Korean salad. How curious. Why so many Korean food stalls? And Koreans selling them!

Something to do with the history, as I gathered from talking to some people.

Now, as I’ve googled:

‘In 1937, Stalin began a campaign of massive ethnic cleansing and forcibly deported everyone of Korean origin living in the coastal provinces of the Far East Russia near the border of North Korea to the unsettled steppe country of Central Asia 3700 miles away. 180,000 Koreans became political pawns during the Great Terror. The Koryo Saram (the Soviet Korean phrase for Korean person) were designated by Stalin as an “unreliable people” and enemies of the state.



 Many of the Koreans in Central Asia are descendants of 182,000 Koreans that were forcibly deported by Stalin from Vladivostok to Central Asia in 1937 because Stalin feared they would spy against the Russians for the Japanese, who had just invaded Manchuria. Ironically many of the Koreans that were deported had escaped from Japanese labor camps and hated the Japanese. [Source: Encyclopedia of World Cultures: China, Russia and Eurasia edited by Paul Friedrich and Norma Diamond (C.K. Hall & Company]

More to be read here (Deportation of Koreans in the Soveiet Union) and here (Koryo-Saram)

Interesting! Interesting how I pay attention to the ethnicity of the people, which links back to its history (duh). I just never thought about Singapore’s that much, how we became an multi-ethnic nation because of our history. We learnt about it but I’ve never really given much thought to it… I wonder if other tourists look at us and wonder about that. (am sure they do)


Almaty is such a… City. I had no impression of Kazakhstan before I arrived, much less of Almaty. It was neat and had so many trees. People sat in the parks, we walked part the Church on a Sunday and it was lively. There were flowers blooming by the streets. We walked past one flower lying randomly; did you leave this for me? I asked. Yup, you played along. I brought the flower to the Big Almaty Lake.
Met the dearest Kamila for dinner after our hike from the Great Almaty Lake:


I was a little stressed because I was worried about being late in meeting Kamila. Unfortunately it doesn’t seem that easy to get free wifi in the public space of Almaty, unlike Sofia (SOFIA HAS THE BEST PUBLIC WIFI!!!)  I had to walk some distance to search for the free public wifi.

We ran to meet Kamila, I called with my M1 simcard for the first time travelling. We took a taxi to a wonderful place where we could sit down, wrap a warm blanket around ourselves, sheltered from the rain by a curtain-draped square to ourselves. We sipped chai, we ate the manti and the plov and the lagman and the salad and the broth, and we laughed and we talked and we laughed. The waiter said they were closing; we eventually reluctantly left. I shook Kamila’s hands as we said, we had so much fun, we really enjoyed our time with you, thank you for everything, I squeezed her hand and I hope she knew I meant it. It was so fun. We waved goodbye. I went home and sent her a text and our photo together, our adorable Polaroid.

^ I wrote this that night when my eyelids were slowly coming to a close

This was one of my favourite dinners, ever! Really glad we met Kamila, talking in the rain, in the cold. We sat and chatted amidst the lightning, but the blankets were really warm. I LOVE the concept of the place. Being allowed your ‘private’ space to eat, with those beautiful curtains, your own seating spaces, and blankets! Pillows! How cosy, I truly made myself at home. Sipping tea and chilling. Loved it.