Following the popularity and success of our spring tours to Kazakhstan’s Tien Shan Mountains, where we have so enjoyed the magnificent displays of tulips and irises, this summer tour offers an opportunity to explore the high alpine meadows of the region, at a time when the glorious carpets of alpine flowers are at their best.
Although Kazakhstan is still largely unknown to Westerners, it is the ninth largest country in the world and, since gaining independence from Russia, has become a most exciting new frontier for travel, particularly for botanical and ornithological exploration. The Tien Shan Mountains, our focus of attention on this tour, is the Central Asian extension of the Great Himalaya, and extends along Kazakhstan’s southern border all the way to China. We will be based initially in the Aksu Dzabagly Nature Reserve, which takes its name from the two rivers that run though its deep gorges, and is the oldest protected area in Central Asia. The reserve is an unspoilt and spectacularly beautiful place, dominated by high mountains, lush juniper forests and alpine meadows. Long renowned as a naturalists’s paradise, it has a huge and interesting flora, with many endemics, as well as an abundance of birds and mammals.
We begin our holiday with a flight from London to Almaty. After a day in the city we travel by rail and road to the village of Aksu Dzabagly. By early evening we arrive at our comfortable guesthouse to be welcomed by our hosts. In order to explore the area as widely as possible during the following days, we will have the use of 4- wheel drive buses, but will travel primarily on foot (although, for those happy to ride at times, ponies will gladly be provided).
Our exploration of the area begins with a visit to the Koksay Valley. Here we will walk over feathergrass steppe and along the shores of the Ters Lake, returning to Aksu Dzabagly village for the night. The following day we will leave the village, bound for our hosts’s mountain house. This sits in a spectacular location at 2,030 metres (6,660 feet), and we will spend the next three nights here in order to explore the region fully. On day walks the high passes and alpine flowers of the Tien Shan will be within easy reach, and just as at our hosts’s village guesthouse, we will be able to enjoy some delicious homeproduced food during our stay here.
The special flowers that we will hope to find are too numerous to list here, but two late-flowering tulips, Tulipa kaufmannia and T. dasystemonoides, remind us that our own garden tulips originated from here, almost certainly via the Silk Route. More typical of the colourful alpine flowers at this season will be Delphiniums, many species of Allium, Pedicularis, louseworts, Eremostachys tienshanica (a tall labiate with strange hooded flowers), a bright blue teazle, Dipsacus azureus, and several Campanulas including Codonopsis clematidea, a native of the damper slopes of the Tien Shan and Himalayan mountains. Beside mountain streams we will see the Globe Flower, Trollius altaicus, with its large orange-yellow flowers; Aquilegia atrovinosa, a dark wine-coloured columbine, and a bright yellow poppy, Papaver croceum. Beneath our mountain guesthouse, we should find the beautiful thistle-like Morina kokanica, growing alongside abundant roses; whilst above we will find several species of gentians, including Gentiana turkestanica, and most exciting of all, a beautiful high alpine plant, Paraquilegia anemenoides, which grows in high rock crevices and is another speciality of the Himalaya and Tien Shan.
Of course, this fabulous area offers much more than its flora alone. We have a chance of spotting Isabelline Brown Bears from our mountain retreat, whilst on excursions higher into the mountains we may encounter Red Deer and Ibex. Raptors look down upon us (and their prey the marmots!), and the eerie calls of Himalayan Snowcock echo across alpine valleys. We will even find Bronze Age rock engravings to satisfy those with a cultural craving!
Returning to Almaty by overnight train, we travel from the city high into the nearby mountains, where we stay for three nights at a former Soviet Astronomical Observatory. This is an area of great beauty and offers relatively easy access to a variety of habitats at over 3,000 metres elevation, ensuring a wonderful selection of montane plants. A large lake nestles in a valley below the Observatory and the surrounding meadows are also notable for the profusion of wild flowers growing there. The strange Ibisbill, a specialised Himalayan wading bird, occurs on the shores of the lake adding ornithological interest to the excursion. At the end of our stay we descend to Almaty and early the following morning catch a flight back to London.
Our 8 members all got on well together and Neil and Anna [the leaders] were great. I thoroughly enjoyed my holiday...Anna and Neil are treasures!
The UK leader, local botanist and Kazakh translator were superb.
The venue is spectacular. Lots of plants and local people were helpful.
This was a fantastic holiday - I enjoyed every minute of it and would like to do it all over again. We were extremely well looked after at every stage and our translator Nezira in particular was on duty the entire time, always with a smile.
T. & J.W.
The leader is an excellent naturalist who was patient and helpful.
I have just enjoyed the holiday of a life time in Kazakhstan. As always with a Naturetrek holiday the organisation was excellent. The three leaders were marvellous and Nezira, in particular, worked so hard to ensure everything went like clockwork. This was my fifth holiday with you and I don’t think you will ever be able to match the vision of the Kazakstan flower meadows, they were out of this world!
Mr & Mrs D.
This was an interesting and enjoyable trip...the flowers were wonderful, the wildlife, birds and scenery were excellent.
N. & A. F.
The translator proved to be an excellent leader - enthusiastic, flexible, attentive and informative.
Taken as a whole this holiday was a wonderful experience. The exhilaration of riding in the Tien Shan is a memory I shall long cherish. Maureen led the group very skilfully: combining an almost encyclopaedic botanical knowledge with unfailing good humour and concern for everyones welfare.
A very enjoyable, well-organised and informative trip. Thank you.