Sunday, May 19, 2013

Sunday Story: Altyn Emel National Park

Altyn Emel National park is a 4600 square kilometer park northeast of Almaty.  It lies north of the Ili River above the Kapchagay dam and reservoir.  The desertous park is famous for it's "singing sand-dune," for a tree that has been around for seven hundred years, and for the white mountains.

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Last weekend some friends and I took advantage of the long weekend to arrange a tour to the park.  Tours are quite easy to arrange with any tour guide and are becoming more affordable as park fees have been reduced to just under 1000 tg for both Foreigners and for locals, so our costs included a guide, a driver, one night's stay at the ranger's station (later changed to a hotel), and food.

We drove North through poppy dotted fields and emerald sloped gorges, past the flashy casinos and blue waters of the Kapchagay reservoir before turning east toward the park.  We finally arrived at the small village of Basshy, found our hotel and the ranger who was to guide us through the park (all visitors must be accompanied by a park ranger/guide).

After a quick lunch, we were off again, into the park.  Once the paved part of the road turned to dirt, we picked up the pace, turning into two clouds of dust racing across the sage green plain. It would seem that freshly grated dirt is far easier to navigate than the pot-hole ridden pavement we had been on since Kapchagay.

It took us a little more than an hour to reach the dune.  The singing of the dune is unusual to hear without provocation.  In other words, if you wish to hear it sing you must first climb the 120+ meters of sand (plan to spend 30 to 40 minutes on this) and then charge down it, preferably in unison with as many people as you can find.

On the way back to the village, we stopped at the ancient Oshaktas Stela.  The origins and purpose of this stone construction are unclear.  Some legends say that they are part of Genghis Khan's encampment when he traveled through this area in 1219 (a decent write-up on the park is here).  Another hypothesis is that that they encircled a signal fire.

After our long car ride, we weren't ready to settle down for dinner, on returning to the village so we went for a walk through the tiny town.  Donkeys grazed serenely on the side of the dirt streets that were lined with homes and sheds made of mud and surrounded by sagging grey picket fences. The sky slowly turned pink by the light of a setting sun.

The people we met on our walk were friendly.  A farmer let my friend Dee climb into his tractor for a photo, and a passing wedding party invited us to their festivities. Although we politely declined the invitation, we partook of the party through the walls and windows of our hotel until well after 2am.

 8:00 on the 2nd morning of our weekend trip saw us racing back
along the dirt track leading into the park.  Our destination was the White mountains.  After almost two hours of speeding along the road, we arrived at the White Mountains.  The Mountains are really more like hills, and while they are white from one direction, they are also bright red and yellow in color.  We hiked for about forty minutes along a dry riverbed of cracked red mud that curled under the hot desert sun before we reached the white cliffs near the end of the canyon.

After lunching at the really old tree (the claim is around 700 years old) and feeding a couple of mosquitos, we began the long drive back to Almaty.

1 comment:

  1. OK, not really a story. I mean there were plenty of stories but most of them are not repeatable publicly, but I had to call this something so I called it a story but forgot the "The end"

    We got home safely.

    The End