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Monday, May 11, 2015

Train-Tripping To Taraz

On Thursday evening, we set out on a trip to southern Kazakhstan with some friends.  Our trip was to begin in Taraz.  From there, we planned to spend a day hiking in the Aksu-Zhabagyly Nature Reserve, then see some sites en route to and in Turkistan, and finally end up in Shymkent, where we would catch a flight back to Astana.  We took the overnight, high-speed train to Taraz, a trip that took about 13 hours.  This probably doesn't sound particularly high-speed, but according to one of our travel companions, the trip used to take around 24 hours because the train would stop at all sorts of small towns along the way.  So, by comparison, a 13-hour option seemed quite good.

The set up was like our train trip to Almaty in the fall, with four seats, and then four beds that could be set up.  Our train departed around 11:30 PM, which was fine because it wasn't too long before we were all ready to go to sleep.  This process was somewhat delayed by one of the train attendants coming by repeatedly to tell us not to pull the red emergency handle in our compartment and to make sure to record all of our nationalities.  (Were we sure we were all from the US?  Someone in the neighboring compartment said he was from Indiana!).

By the time we started waking up in the morning, the scenery was gradually becoming more interesting.  Southern Kazakhstan seems to have much more to recommend itself than northern Kazakhstan, at least from what I have seen so far.  It has mountains, and even when no mountains are in view, you see more trees or at least interesting plants.  I didn't think this would photograph well from the train, but poppies were in bloom, so we saw this amazing bright red color highlighting the landscape.  I watched the scenery and played Farkle with my compartment-mates.

We got in to Taraz around lunchtime, and someone from the homestay near the the nature reserve where we had booked rooms came to pick us up.  We had lunch, and then visited the Aysha-Bibi mausoleum.  The story I've heard/read about this is that Aysha fell in love with the lord of Taraz, but Aysha's father did not agree to the marriage.  They made a pact to marry in secret, but Aysha was bitten by a snake.  The lord of Taraz married her just before she passed away, and later, built this tomb for her.


Old and restored sections
We then visited a canyon.  It was great seeing the scenery along the way, at least when I was awake!  I haven't trained myself to sleep very well on overnight trains yet.  I was startled awake by lurching and noises a number of times, and the bed was a little short for me.  The result was that I was very drowsy the following day.  We saw some bee eaters with very vivid blue feathers from the van, but I was never in a good position to photograph then.  The canyon was very close to the border with Kyrgyzstan.  I think someone said that the small stream in the canyon forms part of the border.

I heard distant thunder and felt occasional raindrops while we were at the canyon.  By the time we approached the place where we were staying, it had started raining pretty hard.  Various livestock were out and about and had to be herded somewhere.  From the van, we saw a young guy on horseback herding quite a lot of cows.  It was a pretty amazing sight.

The place we stayed was wonderful.  It was scenic, and had great food.  I was happy to get a good night's sleep on a perfectly stationary bed before our hike the following morning.

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