2018 Tian Shan travel: Part 28

2018 Tian Shan

August-September 2018 travel to Kazakhstan reviewed in 2021

Commentary from 2021

This post originally comes from 26th of August 2018. This is a big post about my night trip to Charyn Canyon, in Kazakhstan.

Original blog posts links:
Original post from 26.08.2018 is copied below.

Charyn canyon – in the night

The Charyn canyon is one of the main attractions of south-eastern Kazakhstan. It is often compared to the Grand Canyon in Colorado in the US of A, due to similar form, though it is much smaller. It is a national park, near Uygurstan in China.

Charyn canyon is about 100 km from Chinese border. As for meteorological data, temperature in the night +20 C, wind some 6 B, enough to kick up dust into the air – but almost 0 B inside the canyon itself. Pressure of 885 hPa suggests 1146 metres above sea level altitude.

Yurts in a restaurant during a stop.

Now, apologies for few photos, but the tiny Sony G lens cannot capture enough light – almost nothing was seen through the camera, and even less through smartphone. (but then how the much smaller lens in the human eye catches so much more?)

Path to the canyon led through flat steppe with Tian-Shan mountains in the background – and daunting thunderstorm roaring in a distance.

Sony G struggling to take a photo of a lightning over the steppe in almost full darkness.

The place itself looks like a crack in the middle of a flat desert. You approach its edge and go down through provisional stairs. Inside the canyon, the strong wind that made you feel real cold stops – and suddenly, marching in 20 C you again can walk in a t-shirt.

Hand watch saying “it’s warmer here than it feels”. They asked to take a jacket – not much use downstairs, very useful above the canyon.

Again, my camera doesn’t catch much light, as seen on the photo – the torches were not really necessary, as full moonlight was so bright that we saw everything clearly. Shapes of rocks gave out fantastic impressions.

These rocks are related to a superstition. You can’t see it well on the poor photo, but near the end of the trail, there are two large boulders leaning on each other, and a passage underneath them.

The rock to the left is white, the rock to the right is pink-ish. The left rock is told to be related to masculinity, the right one – to femininity. You are supposed to make a wish: if it’s related to money or practical affairs, pass through touching the white rock. If it’s related to people, relationships or having children – pass touching the pink rock. If it’s universal, then if I understood right, go just through. Then you need to spin three times and clap to make it true. But if you don’t word the wish right, it might recoil at you.

Not being much a superstitious person, I passed right through, though it was tempting to pass, leaning onto the right side. Just for support.

Kicked up dust reflected the camera flash – it almost looks like it’s snowing. However, that dust was completely unseen by naked eye and I wouldn’t notice it if it wasn’t for the camera.

We encountered two scorpions – they were really tiny. Not sure if what’s on that photo is a live one or just a shed husk, but later on we met another, and this one wasn’t happy to be in the middle of several flashlights and flashes from six to seven cameras at once. Are they dangerous? They are obviously venomous, but how much can they do to an adult human I don’t know without knowing the species.

There were deadly snakes nearby, but we did not see any. There are also grey wolves roaming around, but thankfully, we did not meet them either, as we were unarmed.

The trail ends in something like a plaza for tourists – we saw several off-road cars (pickup trucks, jeeps), tents and yurts, as well benches and tables. All on a very fast-flowing river that made quite some noise. Its water was very transparent!

Of course, the guides tell you that this is clear, mountain water and is good to drink as it is – don’t do that. Even in the mountains. You think the water is clean, but you don’t know if 100 metres upstream there isn’t a dead elk rather busy decomposing in the river. Maintain limited trust to nature.

The sky was astonishing – you see with naked eye more stars here than with a telescope back in my home city, and this is even with my bad eyesight and full Moon outshining many stars! Of course, I tried to catch a photo of the moonlight coming through the tree, but even with longer exposure and on a stable tripod photo above is best that one can see. But hey, on the right you can see a tiny reddish dot – it’s Mars!

Sony G camera did a much better job, though, photographing the Moon itself – here you see it with 20x optical zoom and more with digital zoom, adding up to 40x magnification, albeit through a tiny, tiny lens.

Pitiful attempts at photographing Mars – even through longer exposure and on a tripod, this is best that Sony G could do. Well, it’s a daylight camera, so it’s excused.

Back upstairs, I took my jacket, and while folks got busy singing at the campfire, I tried out the telescope – for the first time in true darkness.

This is the Moon seen through a $100 Celestron Travelscope 70mm telescope with photo taken with a Blackview BV8000 mobile phone at 40x optical zoom. I’m pleased.

Through the scope, any point in the sky was littered with countless stars. The view was amazing. Of course, much like my camera, the telescope is much more impressive as a daylight land spotter scope – but used for astronomy, it was satisfying.

After all, this is what made me come here!

Altair star, slightly smudged out. To eliminate shaking, the telescope would have to have weights attached to it against the wind, and the phone would have to have its own tripod.

Folks singing by the campfire.

At the end, we could let lanterns go. I suppose they were made of some decomposing paper, since national park was fairly close (but we were outside of it at that point). They were very fragile, mine was completely torn.

The trip was super fun and I enjoyed it a lot. To anyone in Almaty, I heartily recommend Charyn in the night.

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