A weekend trip to the area around the Kolsai and Kaindy Lakes, back in June. And a stop in the Charyn Canyon. Spoiler alert: Kazakhstan is beautiful. Book your tickets now!
After the dust settled from the epic roommate trip, we made plans to visit the Kolsai Lakes, a beautiful set of lakes I had yet to visit. We arranged with a couple friends to go, though in the end, only Maki and I were able to go, so we had a nice weekend away with Sergei, our trusty driver. He came by to pick us on Saturday morning. After stopping for provisions, we headed towards the canyon. The scenery was beautiful, as always.
We took a stop at a defunct military lookout point, a relic from some Soviet-era concerns about the nearby Chinese border, which obviously had some action.
The stop also had nice views over the Charyn Canyon basin (though not the grandiose park nearby), and then we stopped at the first of the Kolsai Lakes. Sergey snapped a quick picture.
The first lake is pretty accessible by car, but we didn’t really have the time or energy to do the entire route to the more remote lakes (there are three in all, but visiting them involves a lot of hiking and camping). So we just walked around the lake for a bit.
We got caught a little in the rain storm.
After we walked around a good chunk of the lake, we headed back to meet Sergey to head onwards to another part of the national park, Kaindy Lake, an otherworldly place that was formed in the aftermath of the 1911 earthquake. The area, previously forest, was submerged after a landslide. The colors are truly unreal, and the sunken trees, long since dead, stand as an eerie testament to the past.
While Sergey set things up for the evening, we took a nice walk, seeing the lake from various angles as dusk settled in. Lots of snails and slugs out on the trail, too!
When we returned, we found a campsite completely set up, complete with a tent and a small cooking area. Sergey had even started to boil the water to make our simple dinners. The place was also wonderfully quiet, without a single other camper in site. We had a great chat over the fire into the evening, as Sergey told us of his military service and life in Kazakhstan.
We awoke to a clear morning, and we scrambled to take all sorts of pictures (most of the pictures of the lake above were from the morning) with the glorious blue sky as a background. We had a small breakfast and packed up camp and started to head out just as the day’s tourists started to arrive. Perfect timing. From there, we headed out the gate guarding the road to the lake.
We weren’t the only ones out on the road, either:
On the road, we passed several abandoned cemeteries, and seeing our interest, Sergey pulled over so we could explore one of them. Inside, a mix of Islamic and Soviet symbols, with names mostly in Cyrillic script but with a few in Arabic script, and death dates mostly from the 1960s, 70s, and 80s, that seemed out of sync with the run-down look of the place.
Some structures had faired especially poorly…
For more on Central Asian cemeteries, what photographer Margaret Morton called “Cities of the Dead,” check out this article and the photography project’s website — it’s fascinating, and the photography is stunning.
But anyway, we continued on, heading home with a stop at the Charyn Canyon, another stunning natural site in Kazakhstan that I visited in 2012. I was so glad our path to the Kolsai Lakes gave us the chance for Maki to see the canyon on our way home, since we hadn’t found time to get out there. It may be no Grand Canyon, but it certainly stuns!
The landscapes were exactly as stunning as the last time I went…
We scaled down the canyon via a back route, which seemed pretty treacherous at first, though we ultimately prevailed (not without a little sliding!), and, feeling the lightness of our breakfast, we were relieved to find that in the three years since my last visit, a decent restaurant stand had developed near the canyon base. Perhaps not the most natural addition, but we were grateful for the plov and beer that awaited us. Selfie time!
We also spotted this most unusual caterpillar while we hiked around the canyon.
As we returned to the car above, we even convinced some passersby to get a proper photo of us — always nice to improve upon the selfie…
And with that, we headed back to the car, and to the miles and miles of steppe, with the mountains looming in the distance. Oh Kazakhstan, I miss you so much!
Before we knew it (literally: we both fell asleep pretty thoroughly), we were approaching Almaty, happy and grateful for the wonderful weekend behind us.
Next time, though, I swear I’ll make it to the other lakes!