Thursday, October 25, 2012

Thursday Thoughts and recolections: A Hike to the Monastary in Aksai Gorge

Autumn is in full force in southern Kazakhstan.  The air is cool and crisp and the trees have turned bright yellow, orange, and red.  A couple of weeks ago, some colleagues and I went hiking to the monastery in the Aksai gorge just southwest of Almaty.

We climbed the trail leading up the western slope of the gorge.  The rises steeply through apple orchards and past trees with berries.  In the places where the trees dropped their fruit on the trail to be trampled and crushed into an autumn perfume, the air was thick with the smell of wonderfully ripe apples.

There are very few places along the trail to stop and rest until you cross over the brook and begin to climb into the spruce forest that crowns several of the taller hills and ridges in the Aksai Gorge.  As we climbed, the steep trail was gradually replaced by a well maintained set of steps that led upward for what felt like an eternity under the cool and somber shade of the spruce trees.

Eventually, we came to a gate that marked the entrance to the Monastic grounds, and then after climbing a while longer, we came to a grave that was beautifully marked and kept.  We continued along the trail until at last we came to the new church Which was built approximately a decade ago.  To enter, women must have their heads covered and be wearing a skirt.  Men should be in trousers (not jeans) and should remove their hats.  The interior is small but ornate and quiet. 

However holy and sacred the monastic buildings felt, it was nothing compared to the wonder that hit when we reached the top of the ridge just a few steps beyond the monastery.  Spruce covered hillsides leading up to the distant snow-clad peaks.  Nothing can describe the feeling you get when a scene like this emerges from behind a peak, or a hill or a cluster of trees.

This week I am off for a six day trip around Lake Issyk Kul in Kyrgyztan. As it is unlikely I will have internet for most of the trip, look for posts late next week.

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