A Travellerspoint blog

On to Khujand

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May 15

This is day 11 of my 22-day tour. So far, we have seen amazing architecture, fabulous mountain scenery, and have been overwhelmed by the welcome given us by the people of the first three countries of the tour. I have been enormously pleased with the organization of the tour until now -the hotels, the food, and especially the guides.

As I suspected last night, I have not dodged the bug going around our group. I am coughing and now can only hope that it is not bad. Being a bit sick did not help with my mood as we got ready to leave. After the van seating discussion yesterday, I found the front seat open. I started to get in and was promptly told that I needed to take a turn in the back. I dutifully turned around and got in the back.

Today will be more of the mountains as we take a long drive to Khujand, our last stop in Tajikistan. Bek had said that we were going to visit the market before we left town. He now said that since we will visit bigger markets in a town on the way and then in Khujand, that we would restrict our visit to fifteen minutes. It seemed a bit rushed. Perhaps the time limit made sense, but between that and being sent to the back of the van, at that moment I was not feeling very happy about my group experience.

We were let out at the market and told that we could go on our own, but it seemed that we were expected to stay with either Bek or Begaim so that we would get in and out in a hurry. I ended up walking with Begaim. She helped me buy some bananas which have been missing from our breakfasts.


Michael called out that I needed to take some photos of the cradles and “attachments”. Michael has been great at directing me to photo opportunities. The cradles have a hole in the bottom. There are two types of attachments, one for boys and one for girls. Begaim would not explain more.

I had a fun time in the back of the van with Silvio. I would travel with him anytime. We had great views as we climbed into the mountains. I had to keep asking Silvio to duck so that I could get shots out of his side of the van.


We stopped in a little village on the side of the mountain called Ayni where we admired their water-cooling system using the mountain stream. Bek bought us a samsa, the traditional tandoor baked bun.



Higher up in the mountains, we stopped at a small outdoor market which sold dried fruits. There are a lot of apricot and mulberry trees in this part of Tajikistan. I bought some dried apricot seeds. A vendor asked me to take his photo. I forgave him for wearing a Yankees cap.


We came to another giant tunnel, the Istiqlol Tunnel. This one also suffered from poor construction but has been upgraded and at least has some lights and ventilation.

We came to a toll booth. All the major roads in the mountains are toll roads, which provides revenue to build and maintain them, but the driver said that it is expensive for the locals.

We stopped at a restaurant on the other side of the mountains. We were served a sorghum soup which was great with added chili. The main course was smoked lamb. As I have mentioned, I love lamb. It is a really good thing to love lamb on this tour.

We stopped at a field of poppies.
This is the president in a field of poppies. I actually took this one in Khujand.

We arrived in Istarafshan, an historic city that was founded in the 6th century BC and recently celebrated its 2500th anniversary. It is known for its blacksmiths who handcraft high quality knives. We spent some time at their workshop. The knives are beautiful, although they did not seem to be doing much actual work on knives while we were there.

We then went across to the market. I was with the group to start but stopped in a few electronic stores to try to buy some extra memory cards for my camera. I could not find any, but my search left me on my own. I was happy about that.

I then had great time walking through the market, creating what will be one of my greatest and most lasting memories of the trip. I have mentioned the greeting with the hand being held over the heart. I was doing that as I walked along and got smiles and handshakes from everyone. The vendors kept asking me to take their photos or to pose for selfies. They asked me what country I was from and after my answer would repeat, “Oh, Can ah duh” and repeat it to their neighbors.
We drove on towards Khujand, the second largest city in Tajikistan. There were the normal highway hazards.
We saw many overloaded trucks.

Our hotel, Hotel Firuz, is located a half hour past the city on the shore of the Kayrakkum Reservoir, an artificial lake built in the 1950’s. From the photos you might think that this was a great place to stay or that I am just spoiled. Some of my group thought that it was fine. I was not impressed. On this trip we had seen some amazing alpine lakes. This fake lake was not amazing.

Perhaps it was my cold. I was not feeling well. I wanted a latte. When we checked in, I asked if they had a machine and thought the answer was in the affirmative. After getting into my room and doing some quick laundry I went to the bar area and asked for a coffee. There was no coffee. Begaim came along and offered her coffee. I gratefully accepted. She came back with the press filled with coffee and water, waited the required few minutes and poured me a cup. It was lukewarm at best. She had trusted the bar staff to fill it with hot water. She went back to get some actual hot water and made me another. You have to love her. The coffee helped.

We had dinner at the hotel. A group of us bought a bottle of Georgian wine from the hotel, which as we have so pleasantly learned, means that it was good. We wanted another. That was their only bottle. Evonne had a bottle of Tajik wine. Michael opened it and handed it to me to try. As soon I poured, we had to laugh. It was the color of mud and tasted not much better. These Central Asian countries are beautiful, their food and tea are great, the people friendly, but they make bad wine.

We discussed the plans for tomorrow. According to the printed agenda, the afternoon activities are to be optional, spend all day in town with one group or come back to the hotel in the afternoon with the other. We were asked what we wanted to do. Considering how lousy I felt, I said that I wanted to answer the question the next day.

Back in my room, I picked up my laundry from the patio and called Po. I was really losing my voice. There were many flies in the room. The corridor was full of them, and it was impossible to keep them out.

There are those moments when you travel that you wonder why. I am doing this for fun? This was such a moment. But I knew that I was going to see some more amazing things in the morning.

Posted by Bob Brink 06:01 Archived in Tajikistan Tagged tajikistan central_asia kalpak_travel khujand Comments (3)

The Seven Lakes

A Mostly Magical Day

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May 14

I have mentioned that Michael has had a bad cough for several days. Our ladies, including Begaim, are also suffering. I woke up with a scratchy throat and now wonder if I might be coming down with something. I hope I can fight it off.

The breakfast room is a dark, windowless area on the second floor, just near my room. When I walked over I found that Begaim was busy making coffee for everyone with her French press. We cannot have Nescafe on this tour.

We loaded up the vans, me once again in the front one, and headed to the mountains. We made a quick stop. Last night Bek took me to the little store next door to the hotel to find a replacement mouse for my computer. I had no success. This morning he had the van stop at a somewhat bigger store. There was still not much to choose from. The one I lost was Bluetooth, but they had nothing like that. I bought a cheap Chinese mouse. It has nice flowers on it.

I took more photos in the Zaravshan Valley.


Soon we were on a windy and rough gravel road. We passed a gold mine. There were two bands of water in the river. The band from the mountains was clear, but the gold mine side was quite brown. There was a waterwheel pumping water to a garden. It was coming from the gold mine band. I wondered what else besides mud was in that water.


We stopped in a small village.


I had lots of handshakes with the men. The standard greeting in much of the Muslim world is “salaam”. The Tajiks usually have their hands over their hearts when greeting people. It is an wonderful way to introduce yourself.


The younger people and children all wanted their photographs taken.


The women of the village were busy doing their washing on the other side of the river. We all took photographs. Rita later pointed out that the one woman was not washing clothes, instead it was dinner. I could not tell if it was a goat or a sheep.


We were on our way to the Seven Lakes. There are various legends about their formation. Bek told us something about seven girls wanting to be protected from invaders. Another legend tells of seven daughters and their flood of tears. Or, you can believe that the lakes were formed when earthquakes caused landslides that made natural dams on the river.


Our lunch stop was at a guest house near the fourth lake. We sat outside where they served us some very small trout. They reminded me of eating capelin, the little fish that come in early summer to Newfoundland. Unlike those, these tasted good.


The houses along the road in the different villages are enclosed by walls. I have been impressed with the metal gates.

After lunch we carried on to the fifth and sixth lakes.


We stopped in a small village after the sixth lake. We were to walk from there to the seventh lake. I had some granola bars in my pack which I had thought might be used for snacks. Considering how much we have been fed, it has become obvious that I will never eat them. I decided to give them away. These children received the first package.

What was really great about this outing was that we were seeing so many people.

I looked over and saw Silvio stalking donkeys.

I had thought that we would start walking from the village, but our fearless drivers took us up a hill to save us that climb. Then we had a most fabulous walk to the last lake.


The only visitors to the lake were us and a Dutch couple. I told them of my recent search for my Dutch roots and the dinner that I had before I left but could not remember the name of the dish with mashed potatoes that my friend Dorothy had made. She immediately said, “Stamppot”. They are moving back to Amsterdam from Australia, taking the long way. They have rented a vehicle in Kyrgyzstan which is good for all the 5 Stans but are waiting for their transit visa for Turkmenistan. The man even shaved off his beard for his visa application photo because he had been told that the authorities do not like beards on younger men. They must be okay with old guys because Michael and I are getting our visas.


There was a herder at the lake. I gave him a granola bar and took his photo, but as I started walking away, he came and asked for another (a photo, not another granola bar).

There was a herd of goats walking on the ridge above me. They needed to cross a stream. I waited to get a photo of a flying goat.

I was just enthralled with the view as we returned to the village for a ride out. I stopped for a minute. Begaim asked if I was okay. I told her I was fine, I just wanted to take it all in. It was such a fabulous view. It was definitely a magical moment.

I took a few more photos in the village.

On the way down we stopped at one of the lakes to take a photo that we missed on the way up (I think it was Lake 2?).

There were four girls. I asked to take their photo. The two youngest were keen, the older ones turned their backs.

There were really tight turns for the drivers to navigate. We really needed the 4-wheel drive.

We drove right across the dried-up portion of one lake before having to cross some water. I think our driver was showing off. On a ridge we saw a vehicle racing towards us with his lights flashing. He pointed to rocks that were falling and then backed up to allow us to race past.

As we arrived at the hotel, we had a bit of an unpleasant conversation regarding seating arrangements in the van. It was stated by one tour member that another was monopolizing the front seat. It was also stated that others were also upset. The “others” had to be me. I was surprised to hear that, since I had said nothing. My later efforts to defuse the situation were not successful. You have a group, there will be group dynamics. This will go on the negative side of taking a group tour. Last year it was Sam and me. We had our own issues.

Back in the hotel I unpacked my new Chinese mouse and reviewed my photos from this amazing day. I was pleased and hope that my readers will agree.

Our restaurant was just down the road. We sat outside and enjoyed some more lamb. Michael had brought a bottle of wine. It was quite bad. As much as I love Tajikistan, they do not make good wine.


Many of us opted to walk back to the hotel. It was lots of fun as we became a great attraction. We ended up walking with a large group of young men. According to Begaim, they asked us to come for tea. There were many women and children on the street.


When we got back to the hotel I tried to WhatsApp with Po. Once again, the connection was really bad, very robotic. Even worse, I had lost my voice. Was my scratchy throat from this morning the start of something bad?

Po is looking after our vacation house rentals in my absence, which mostly means answering any inquiries. She was not sure how to handle one. I would normally just do it, but of course I need internet for that. I could not explain with a bad voice and a bad WhatsApp connection. She was very frustrated. It was not a great ending to what had been a great day.

Posted by Bob Brink 16:06 Archived in Tajikistan Tagged tajikistan central_asia kalpak_travel seven_lakes Comments (3)

Alexander's Lake

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May 13

I just love these wonderful high-tech rooms. It takes ten minutes to figure out which switch controls which lights. The lights do not work without your room card, which is usually a good thing to conserve energy, but not always as I found out this morning.

I woke up quite early and tried to turn on the lights. Nothing happened. I could see light coming from the closet, so that seemed not to be connected to the other lights. My bathroom facilities were totally dark. I found my headlamp (packed for our one night of camping) so that I could at least do some of my morning activities.

After getting dressed I played with all the lights, turning them on and off, and put the card in and out of the holder. Nothing worked. Then I realized that I was outside of my room with the door shut and my room card in the slot. I was ready for breakfast, so I just took the elevator down and walked to the desk. They assumed the problem was the card, and I needed another anyway, so the gave me a new one.

I went into breakfast, a buffet of course. Evonne asked for a coffee from the machine. I had not thought about that. I did the same and got a great cappuccino.

After breakfast I went back to the room armed with my new card. The lights still did not work, so no shaving today. I threw my last things into my suitcase and went downstairs to check out. I tried to explain the issues at the desk, but the two guys did not seem too concerned and just kept thanking me for staying there.

Our ultimate goal for today is a town called Panjakent (or Penjikent among other spellings), but first we have our visit to the Fann Mountains and Iskanderkul Lake.

Yesterday we heard about the kingdom of the Persian Samanis, from the 10th century. Today we are visiting Iskanderkul Lake with a history going back many centuries before that, to 327 BC, when Alexander the Great came to present day Tajikistan, battling various forces (burning and killing is another way to put it) all the way. Legend has it that it the he pursued Spitamenes, a high-ranking nobleman who was waging a guerrilla war against him, into the Fann Mountains as far as the lake. Or perhaps he made a dam which created the lake. Choose your legend. Iskander is the Persian pronunciation of Alexander, and kul is lake in Turkic.

I will write more about old Alexander in a later blog, since we are headed to Khujand, which has a lot of his history. Today will be about beautiful scenery and the wild drive.

I have been happy to have company on this trip. But already I am feeling a bit overwhelmed with company all day long. We have a German speaking contingent. They often speak German to each other. One of them seems to giggle at just about anything. Today I wanted some peace and quiet, so I watched which van they got into and chose the other one. It turned out that I chose the van of the lead driver. We were out in front the whole time.

I took a few photos of the city as we left.

There are several big houses (dachas) along the river.


One is a place for the president.

We had to share the road.

Things got really interesting as we began our climb into the mountains. It was a spectacular drive with many hairpin turns. There were several tunnels to protect against avalanches.


We then entered the Anzob Tunnel which is over 5 kilometres long. For much of it there were no lights or ventilation. It has only two lanes which are not well divided. The tunnel has had the reputation of being one of the world’s dangerous, but there have been some improvements. It was quite spooky but kind of fun, too.

The tunnel saves about four hours when driving between Tajikistan’s two largest cities, Dushanbe and Khujand. It avoids the numerous avalanches and saves travellers from having to pass through Uzbekistan, which as was necessary in the past thanks to Stalin’s crazy long-ago mapping. Sometimes Uzbekistan would close the border depending on what its leader was feeling about relations with Tajikistan.

There was certainly a class divide.

The colors were fantastic as we neared the lake.

Iskanderkul Lake

The itinerary mentioned swimming. With the cool temperatures, no one was tempted to try, but the sign seemed to say that we were not allowed.

Our lunch was beef with cabbage and carrots, very similar to what we call a Jiggs Dinner back in Newfoundland. In years past, before commercial agriculture, the Newfoundland people required a way to store their root vegetables over the winter so they built underground structures called root cellars. We would later see a Tajik version on our walk. Put grass on top and it could be in Newfoundland.


After lunch we walked to a waterfall which was described as the “Niagara Falls of the Fann Mountains”. The views along the way were quite beautiful.


I have seen Niagara Falls many times. These waterfalls are nothing like them. In fact, it was difficult to even get a good look at them. I concluded that the walk was definitely worth it, even if the falls were a bit overstated.


Our drivers came to pick us up near the waterfall, saving us a walk all the way back. We headed back through the mountains towards Panjakent. The views continued to amaze me.


Eventually the mountains ended, and we came to the green Zaravshan Valley. Much of the country’s rice production comes from this area.


We have seen police stops, but Bek has called out that we are tourists, and we have been waved through. This afternoon we were stopped, and our driver had a long discussion with the policeman. He was driving fast. We were eventually allowed to carry on. Later the driver made some arrangement (or so we were told).

We went directly to the Hotel Umariyon. It is quite basic, both in size and finishings. But the good news is that they do not use cards. You just turn on the lights.

There was an Australian family staying there, three generations. One of their boys came right over and introduced himself. He asked if I had ever been to Australia. I showed off and told him yes, and that I had been to Alice Springs, and asked if he had ever been there.

For supper we went to a place along the river. It was very peaceful. We sat outside. It was extremely pleasant. We were served lamb once again. There was a bit less food, which was a good thing. It helps that I really love lamb, which is always a bit of a special treat back home.


Back in my nice basic, low tech room I tried to use the internet to call Po. I then went out to the lobby to try. I then gave up.

Posted by Bob Brink 07:57 Archived in Tajikistan Tagged tajikistan central_asia kalpak_travel iskanderkul Comments (1)

Tajikistan, Stan Number Three

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May 12

We had a very civilized departure time of 11:10 for our flight to Dushanbe. We left our guide Gaukhar in Kazakhstan. I will miss her. She is just so bright and enthusiastic. And I assume that she chose our restaurants which were fantastic.

Our two tour flights were with Air Astana, both on small planes (Embraer 190’s if that is something that interests you). The seating in economy was 2 x 2. There was no personalized entertainment system (not that it is really important on a short flights). Instead there was a monitor for several rows. I glanced up and saw that it was showing a documentary on Antonoly Tarasov, the famous Russian hockey coach. The several mentions of Canada caught my eye. As the Kyrgyz border official had said, “Canada. Hockey champions”. I actually watch very little hockey and never played. I watch basketball. No one cares when I check the Toronto Raptors’ results and say "My team won last night."

I pulled out the Air Astana in-flight magazine. There was an article on Georgia! Coincidence? Or an omen? I found out that the cheese filled bread that I love so much is called Khachapuri and is registered as part of Georgia’s intangible cultural heritage. You have to love a country that would make a cheese filled bread part of its heritage.

We were flying over mountains most of the way.

Landing in Dushanbe

There was a little delay at immigration since there were not enough forms. Finally they brought more. We waited a few minutes and were the last to pass through. After collecting our bags (mine was checked this time) we met our new guide, Farhodbek. He said to call him Bek.

We were taken straight to our hotel. Need I say that our hotel is nice? It is another luxury hotel with another big room, our second Hilton Hotel. It took me a few minutes to figure out the lights. I have a nice view from my room.


Bek took us to a Turkish Restaurant for lunch. He said it was hard to find places for lunch because so many restaurants are closed until the evening during Ramadan. We have had Turkish food a few times on the tour and each time I think back to how badly I chose my restaurant on the first night in Istanbul. Thank you again, Trip Advisor.


We could see that the city is still has lots of Soviet architecture. There was an interesting sculpture (?) beside the building next door. Or maybe they work on tractors?


Our first activity was a visit to the Navruz Palace. It was originally to be a tea house but then became more. Bek kept bragging that his contacts got us a special visit on a Sunday when it is usually closed. The palace is used for official meetings. One room is available for the public to rent for special events like weddings. It is an incredible place. Does one question the cost? Bek said that he was quite proud of it.
And here is a portrait of the president with his good friend.
Our group photo

When we finished with our inside tour, we were given some “free” time to take photos around the grounds. That is where the fun started! I really enjoyed the next couple of hours. I walked around the corner. There was a lake with paddle boats.


And then I saw the fountain.


The people of Tajikistan are Persian, in look and language. The women wear traditional dresses.

Bek took us to the botanical garden. We visited the peacocks and then walked around the lovely grounds. Everyone was so friendly.



I passed these young women who were standing under some trees. I walked on and was blocked by some bushes. Something made me decide to back up. I found them posing for me.

Bek gave us a talk about Tajikistan. Unlike the other Central Asian countries, Tajikistan suffered through a five year civil war which began the year after independence. Estimates of numbers of killed go as high as 60,000 and refugees of around 1.2 million, inside and outside of the country. The conflict devastated the economy. The country is still catching up to its neighbors. Bek blamed the civil war on outside groups.


Bek explained about religion practices in Tajikistan. According to him the people were generally not overtly devout. He said that are no open prayers and no call to prayer. The government has restricted certain religious practices for Muslims, especially related to participation in the Hajj (pilgrimage), the wearing of hijabs, and the attendance at mosques of youth and women.

Maybe some of the women in traditional dresses would have preferred to wear something else. It was clear that Bek would be supportive of Government control in this area based on his (and I would think many of the citizens) fear of fundamental Islamists and the devastating impact that the civil war had on the country.

President Rahmon Nabiyevhas been in power since the civil war. One difference between the Stans is how often you see the president's portrait. We saw lots of the ex-President of Kazakhstan when we were there. Remember, he had just recently resigned. There were no public portraits of presidents in Kyrgyzstan. President Nabiyevhas’ portrait is everywhere.


From there we went to Rudaki Park, stopping first at the Rudaki Monument. Rudaki is an acclaimed Persian poet from the 9th century.


Then there is the Independence Monument.

Bek stopped beside a giant map of the once great kingdom of the Persian Samanis, which flourished in the latter part of the 10th century. Its capital, Bukhara, was the preeminent city of the region. The silk road flourished and helped to disseminate the Persian culture and language.


The large Ismail Somoni monument commemorates the 1100th anniversary of the Samanid State.


Tajikistan has even named its currency, The Somoni, after Ismoil Somoni, father of the Samani state.

But the sad thing about the story is that Bukhara is now part of Uzbekistan. Stalin did that when he mapped the Soviet Republics and left the predominantly ethnic Tajik cities of Samarkand and Bukhara in the Uzbek republic.

One person we did not see is Vladimir Lenin. He used to be the main attraction in the area.

There were few tourists, but some locals were enjoying the park.

When we were finishing there was a group of soldiers getting their photo taken. They were very friendly. We were just asked to not take our own photos of them. There was one lone tourist. Bek was asked if he was “ours”?

We had a good dinner, just maybe not of the same high standard we have been having. There was a mural on the wall. It was the Registan in Samarkand, which should be in Tajikistan but is now part of Uzbekistan.

We had a brief look at the bright lights as we got back to the hotel. They do not compare to the ones in Kazakhstan. No one was interested in joining me for a short walk.


We will be off to the Fan Mountains tomorrow morning, on our way to visit a lake named after Alexander the Great, another big name in the history of Central Asia. 

Posted by Bob Brink 17:37 Archived in Tajikistan Tagged tajikistan dushanbe kalpak_travel Comments (3)

Day in Almaty

Or Was it Hawaii?

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May 11

Rather than my usual discussion about how I slept and my breakfast choices, I will give some facts about our home for two nights, the city of Almaty. The first things we noticed is that it is quite green with all the trees and is surrounded by mountains. It could not be any more different than Astana. Being an older city, it also has more Soviet era buildings.

The city has a population of almost 2 million. Just over 50% of the population is Kazakh but a third of the population are ethnic Russians, which is higher than in Astana which has only 24%.

Like seemingly everyplace we have been, Almaty has had numerous names over years, originally being called Zailiyskoye when established as a Russian military fortification. It became Verny and then Alma-Ata based on its Kazakh name of Almaty which means “Place of Apples” for the many apple trees in the area. At independence it was renamed to local name of Almaty.

It was the capital of the Soviet province and the newly independent Kazakhstan until December 1997 when the capital was moved to Astana (now Nur-Sultan).

One reason given for the move of the capital is that the city is subject to both earthquakes and mudslides. Almaty city has been destroyed by earthquakes several times including 1887 and 1911. There was a destructive mudflow in 1921.

The first stop on our Almaty tour was the Shymbulak ski area. We took 3 different gondolas to get up to the top. At the first level we found a resort which looked like it could have been in the Canadian Rockies. It was the last day of skiing for the season and was designated as Hawaiian day. Of course, alpine skiing is very popular in Hawaii. With the theme and warm temperatures there were young people dressed for the beach (not that I noticed the girls in bikinis).


The hunting eagle was not something one would find in a Canadian ski resort (or even Hawaii?).

The gondola went over the speed skating rink which had been an important training facility for the Soviet skaters. Gaukhar pointed out the big dam that had been built to stop mudslides coming down the valley. In 1966 an artificial landslide was triggered with explosives to dam a gorge. It was tested in 1973 when it held back a large mudslide. The dam has since been raised to 140 metres. I noticed many downed trees on the hills and assumed that they had been knocked down by avalanches. Gaukhar told us that there had been a tornado in 2011.


For lunch we went to a Georgian restaurant. I had asked about pizza before leaving the ski area. Our food came out. It was Georgian Pizza!! Actually, it was Georgian bread with cheese. I have discovered a new favorite food. I love the Georgian spicy sauces and wonderful breads. I asked about the country and found out that Begaim had been there. She told me it was a marvelous place. Georgia is another former Soviet Republic. I must know more. Is Georgia a destination for my next trip?


Our very charming guide, Gaukhar

Our first activity in the afternoon was a walk in Panfilov Park. Our first stop was at Zenkov Cathedral, which is built from wood and without nails. It is one of the tallest wooden buildings in the world. It was completed in 1907. The architect, Andrei Pavlovich Zenkov, designed it to withstand earthquakes. Gaukhar told us of the story that during the 1911 earthquake when Zenkov went running to the church to check that it was still standing. It still is. The inside is under renovation but had just been reopened to visitors.


We met some chess players.

There was a couple hitting a badminton birdie back and forth. They greeted me and asked where I was from.


I was not sure what this guy was all about. I raised my camera, he waved his hand for me to stop, I did, he then decided that I should take his photo.

We visited the war memorials in Victory Square. We first arrived at a one for the war in Afghanistan. I was momentarily confused until I thought about the Soviet war which took place before Western countries began their own ill-advised adventure.


The Soviet Glory Memorial depicts 28 soldiers commanded by General Ivan Panfilov and consisting of recruits from the Kazakh and Kirghiz Soviet Republics. They were said to have held off 50 German tanks on the outskirts of Moscow in November 1941 with all losing their lives. The park was renamed to Panfilov Park in 1942. The story was not entirely true, but the Kazakh soldiers must have suffered great losses. There are also monuments honoring first and second world war soldiers.
There were still children leaving flowers as part of the Victory Day celebrations.

We were then off to the Green Bazaar, Almaty’s market. There are sections for vegetables, dried fruit and nuts, Korean products, flowers, and meat – including sheep, pork (very small section), beef, and horses. Gaukhar got us samples of first camel milk and then fermented mare's milk. Most of us were trusting (or foolish) enough to try them. And the general agreement was that camel milk was the least objectionable, although I am not sure you can tell from my facial expressions.


There were lots of Korean vendors. In 1937 Stalin ordered the deportation of Koreans from the eastern border areas to Central Asia. More than 170,000 persons were deported. Ethnic Koreans in the post-Soviet states refer to themselves as Koryo-saram. Almaty has the largest community in Central Asia.

I found it interesting that Gaukhar chose for us to visit the apartment museum of the former leader of the republic, D.A. Kunaev. There were other museums that seem to rate higher on the visiting lists.

Outside the museum was his one and only car, a white Pontiac Grand Prix, a far cry from a Mercedes.

It was interesting to see the apartment. Kunaev had apparently lived a simple life and been extremely popular. Many of the decorations were small gifts from world leaders. And by choosing for us to visit this museum, Gaukhar showed her great respect for him.


Kunaev was loyal to Brezhnev, but was fired under Gorbachev rule. His replacement by a man who had never lived in the Kazakh Soviet Republic sparked street riots in Almaty in December 1986. This event is referred to as December. We saw a photograph of the event at the Alzhir Museum outside Astana (back on our day before tour). It was also mentioned on the chart on the of the great events that caused massive deaths to the people of Kazakhstan, but with a “?” for number.


We had one more stop for today, at the small Almaty history museum. Some of the group wanted just wanted coffee, so they went with Begaim and museum folks stayed with Gaukhar. I was torn. I really wanted the coffee but was quite interested in my history lessons. Being a travel trooper, I went to the museum. It was a relatively quick visit. There was a motorcycle at the entrance that had belonged to a Kazakh man who had travelled around the world on that bike.


I was intrigued by a video showing a Soviet “Road Show” movie, which was shown during what Gaukhar and Begaim refer to as "Soviet Times".

We had a short break at the hotel before supper. I went to the lobby, expecting to order a coffee, but Michael had opened his last bottle of wine since we were leaving Kazakhstan by plane the next morning. I accepted his offer of a glass.

Supper was at another great restaurant. Our meal was like a Newfoundland Jiggs dinner, boiled vegetables and meat. But this was spicy with whole heads of garlic. And the breads and salads to start were amazing. I could say that the food we have had in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan has been far beyond what we expected, but it is better to just say that it was been outstanding. They have taken us out for the type of meals that you would buy your friends if they were visiting.


There was entertainment.

Some of us walked back with Gaukhar. We went up a tall hotel to their roof top bar to check the view. I was impressed with the parks with fountains. Some young men tried their English on me. How are you, where are you from, and what is your name were all expected. Then he asked, “How old are you?” I hesitated and then told him. He and his friends walked on. Gaukhar told me that these are the standard phrases for the English classes.


So ended another of our long tour days. Even though we were in one city, we spent most of the day on the go, only stopping to eat lots of food. With a late morning flight tomorrow, we do not have to worry about an early morning wake up. So I did not book Pouch Cove to call me.

Oh, and for anyone following the story of my sore feet, that issue is over.

Posted by Bob Brink 17:10 Archived in Kazakhstan Tagged kazakhstan almaty kalpak_travel Comments (3)

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