Zharkent to Chundzha
We set off later than usual on our first full day in Kazakhstan, but for good reason. Breakfast included in the hotel price, so wont complain there then.
Breakfast was a good start. Then we got on to the roads. They are like a poorly built, pot-holed pump track. Bouncing along until we got to a new road. A lovely, smooth, fast road. I think the Chinese have been here, building roads so that more Kazakhs can get to the border to buy cheap tat from the neighbours.
We loved the cheap tat if it gave us good new roads though, but sadly, it didn’t last forever, and we continued along the pump track to Chundzha. The road was long and straight and we could see our fate for the next bouncy couple of hours. There were however, plenty of beautiful birds flying around to keep us chirpy! The Hoopoe and the Eurasion Roller bird, both beautifully coloured birds (Google them, I’m not that good a wildlife photographer).
It was only just after lunch and it was hot, so we stopped for a break by a shop in Chundzha to refuel for the next 20km we had planned to camp near the Charyn River. That was until a lady came out of her shop next door, and invited us back to her house. We had heard about the generous hospitality in this part of the world so we couldn’t turn it down. We followed her to her house, where we met the family, were fed lunch, drank a lot of tea, met more family, had a big family dinner, and drank more tea, followed by some beer and vodka.
Chundzha to Shelek
At breakfast we were fed more food, mostly of bread and sweets. Most people in Kazakhstan had smiles of gold. The sun glinting off every gold tooth, of which there were many.
We then bounced along to the gorge. It was fairly dramatic and camping here would have been beautiful, but we wouldn’t have been fed quite as well, so who cares about the camping?!
The road took us down into the gorge and to the Charyn River. The dry barren landscape briefly went to lush green forests, fed from the water that meandered through the canyon. The road crossed the river, then out the other side up a short climb and back to a desolate, scrub desert, with some mountains in the background. This soon got boring, particularly with the awful bouncy road, making our derrieres feel like they have been in some kind of S&M dungeon.
There were parts of the road where the gravel next to the main road was better than the main road itself!
The road then continued down through the stunning Kokpek gorge, where the wind was channelled straight at us. The rocks all around were full of colours. Out the other side, a short climb before a bit more desolate landscape.
There was then an unplanned rest day in Shelek, still waking up before the alarm, but with my body’s own alarm – rushed to the bathroom and the toilet and that is where I stayed for much of the day. There and in bed. Welcome to Central Asia.
Shelek to Almaty
We got on a new (probably Chinese) road all the way to Almaty, smooth and fast. There were some snow capped mountains in the distance which borders Krygzstan so the view wasn’t all bad, but on this route there were no shops or towns to stop at, so it was heads down all the way.
Almaty to camp spot
The city wasn’t particularly hard to get out of, just busy like any other city.
As a lorry came past it alerted us so we were aware, but rather than a beep of the horn, it was a soft, squeaky toy like a dog toy instead. China should have these. There are some nations that shouldn’t be allowed or trusted with the normal car horns; they definitely need to be given squeaky toys instead.
The road was much more enjoyable to cycle along once out the city, it became quieter and rather than flat straight roads with boring scenery it was rolling hills with exciting corners, and snow capped mountains in the distance bordering Kyrgyzstan, with hundreds of eagles soaring high up in the sky.
We also encountered yet more generous hospitality from the Kazakhs – we had stopped for a coffee break and about to sit on the pavement and boil up some water on our stove, when a woman called us over to her house. She offered us water. And then a picnic table came out, full of goodies. Enjoying the comfort of the shade in her garden, we then had to endure Kumis – a favourite drink in this part of the world; fermented mares milk. It was disgusting, like a gone off and fizzy milk. I drank it all, with a very good impression that I had enjoyed it. I Think we’ll be saying no to that in the future.
Camp spot in the middle of nowhere to Korday
Just before we started the climb out of Kazakhstan and towards Bishkek, we encountered another typical friendly gesture by a shop keeper on the corner. When we asked for water from a tap that we could use to boil for a coffee, he instead gave us a 5 litre bottle of drinking water straight from his shop – and refused any payment.
The road climbed up a little then went down for about 23km – a nice gradual down so it wasn’t over too quickly. The bikes however are still slightly sluggish even on descents, with a max speed of 60kph – they just didn’t want to go any faster.
Then annoyingly, when loading our ride onto Strava later, it showed we were 2nd overall on the descent. Will have to streamline the panniers now.