Yesterday we traveled to Altyn Emel national park, located approximately 260 km north of Almaty, with a Kazakh tour guide named Talgat. The two founders of the website through which I had booked the tour (Indy Guide) happened to be in Almaty too and came along with us on the trip. After having done some grocery shopping, we left early with a long drive ahead of us. Luckily the weather was much better than the day before!
In the car, Talgat told us that he has traveled all around Kazakhstan, and said that we should tell our friends in the Netherlands how beautiful this country is. So here you go: please visit Kazakhstan! However, he also expressed his concerns about the political situation, with real democracy still seeming very far away. The gap between rich and poor in this country is also significant, with many people struggling to make ends meet while a few rich guys buy whole islands with oil and uranium money.
After driving for a couple of hours, we approached the national park through a gorgeous mountain pass (so great that I forgot to take photos!). We stopped in the small village of Altyn Emel to register our visit, before entering the park. Hearing people talk, we noticed that out here most people speak Kazakh instead of Russian.
After a short drive through the steppe, with snowy mountains in the distance, we stopped for lunch. There was way too much food - I guess that is Kazakh hospitality. During lunch I also found out that my name, although pronounced more like Merieke, means "party" in Kazakh.
After lunch, we drove to one of the places that Altyn Emel is famous for: the singing dune. It gets its name from the sound it makes because of the wind, a low humming noise. Although there was no wind, we heard the sound when we kicked the sand down with our feet. Talgat (or Elton John, as he called himself) was happy to sing some songs as well, while filming everything for his online vlog.
We walked up the dune to enjoy the views of the park, which were breathtaking. Not a single house in sight - only steppe, mountains and the Ili river...
At the singing dune, we also saw some flora and fauna. We were told that the plant on the picture below is an endangered species that takes a 100 years to grow. Its roots are 50-60 meters long, in order to reach the water deep in the ground!
At around 5pm, we started driving back to Almaty where my mom and I had dinner before she flew back to Amsterdam on Monday. I am going back to work as well, but next weekend I will be in China for a few days! Already looking forward to it.