2018 Tian Shan travel: Part 1

2018 Tian Shan

August-September 2018 travel to Kazakhstan reviewed in 2020

The year now is 2020.

We need to agree that this is not the best year for travelling. So, instead, I will revisit my old trip from 2018 to Kazakhstan. After all, I have had plans to rearrange, rethink, resummarise that voyage for over a year now, not to mention the plan to move old Tumblr blog content onto shining new Mountain Villa.

Below you will find the contents of the original blog post. It was written on the 12th of August 2018, shortly before the journey started.

Original blog link: https://2018tianshan.tumblr.com/post/176919766656/why-kazakhstan

Why Kazakhstan?

Originally posted on 12th of August 2018

The question I get asked most often: why there of all places?

Ten years ago, being seventeen, I visited Siberia. I saw Novosibirsk and Baikal areas, with quick tours also across nearby areas, including Krasnoyarsk. A year later, I crossed the same areas to the triple border point where Russia (Siberia), Mongolia and China meet at Zabaikal’sk-Manzhouli crossing. Grand steppe known from tales of the Mongol empire coupled with blood-chilling stories about frozen Siberia despite its natural beauty and legendary vastness of both etched themselves in my mind.

To crown it all, night sky seen from a small Siberian village over lake Baikal begun haunting me for years and I needed to repeat it. So as early as 2012, I decided to visit Kazakhstan.

That trip didn’t work. Whether due to lack of money, or lack of time, or both, it felt like an impossibility to make ends meet for long years of study, not to mention exhausting formalities to acquire a visa. In 2018, that situation changed, especially as since 2017 citizens of Poland were allowed to visit Kazakhstan for 30 days without a visa. This made it finally possible.

Europe is much different from northern Asia.
It’s a cramped peninsula with long history, where population is high, land is all processed and every metre is owned by someone. Where light pollution is high enough to block us from seeing what true night sky looks like.

Kazakhstan is also interesting from a cultural point of view. Speaking as someone still with little knowledge about the place, it seems to me that Kazakhstan is an extension of the Grand Eurasian Steppe of which mostly Mongolia is known. Indeed, there seem to be similarities between the two countries ranging from cultural to genetic.

However, Kazakhstan is much closer to Europe, it was part of the Golden Horde in its larger area, it adopted Islam, and (unfortunately) became heavily Russified by the Russians marching south from the Russian Empire and then even moreso by the Soviet Union. Mongolia, somehow, avoided that fate. Kazakhstan is also a genetic border between Europeans and Asians, between Slavic/Turkic nations and the Mongolian/Chinese, resulting in beautiful people that inherited the most attractive features of both. In that, it is unique.

Still maintained great nature, as well as impressive cities make for a good tourist destination, especially Almaty city located in the south of the country, in Tian Shan mountains, with a beautiful night sky reigning above them.

With that in mind, I go on an expedition all alone, armed with a camera and a telescope, to see what Kazakhstan in year 2018 looks like, how people live there, how is the nature, to observe the barrier between Eurasian and Mongolian-Chinese worlds, to watch the starry sky, and visit many lakes, cities and mountains. Above all, to rest.

So, where is it?

Zoom in… Thank you, Google Maps.

Kazakhstan is a large country in Central Asia, 9th in the world by land area, with a population of approximately 18 000 000 people. Languages used are Russian and Kazakh. People generally look Asian or European, or inbetween, depending on location. The dominant religion of Kazakhstan is Islam. Currency is tenge (code: KZT).

Flag of Kazakhstan, with an eagle under the sun, on a great, blue sky.

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