6th August 2009
Almaty – the home of enormous apples’ – Celestial Mountains Action Adventure Begins. When you travel in countries with Turkic heritage, you soon learn that apples hold a special place in poetry, art, cuisine and music. Almaty – the former capital of Kazakhstan – derives from the Kazakh word for apple. Up until early 20th century apples grew up to 0.7kgs. The first thing which strikes you in this slightly dull but pleasant city, is the high level of ethnic diversity. It is like being fired at from all angles – whilst the brains want to classify people, it is simply impossible. A huge boiling pot of people created by centuries of people passing by, settling and moving on. The regions has been occupied and conquered by everyone who held power: from the Central Asian plains to the High Pamirs and all the way to China, Russia and Macedonia – the big guys have all passed by here and have left their traces in the gene pools. I met the group this morning – there are 9 of us and after breakfast (cabbage, meatballs and brown bread – enough to keep an old Viking happy!) we headed out on wander about town. It was the annual Memorial Day for Kazakhs fighting in the Russian military campaigns in Afghanistan (or something of that nature)– hence the city parks were packed with veterans in classic old school communist uniforms, their families and picnics. We passed by the wooden Russian Orthodox cathedral and witnessed a holy communion before heading to a supermarket to stock up on vodka and nuts for the first adrenaline hit of this remarkable action adventure. We are heading up to KaraKara Mountain camp in the foot hills of Kan Tengri, one of the highest peaks in Tian Shan range. There we will spend some days trekking and doing a thrilling helicopter ride in an ancient (but well maintained!) Russian Mi-8s up onto the Inylcheck glacier. This will be one of the many highlights on this trip but the one I look forward to the most. Off on a great start, nice people, lovely local guide and the sun even shines! Life is good and I keep wondering if I will ever get a ‘real’ job when all these travel treats keep coming my way.