Valley of Castles

Posted on October 8, 2012

2


Castle

From Above

Big View

My first big trip outside of Almaty was to Charyn Canyon with a group of KIMEP International Students on September 16th. It took four hours in a bus driving towards China to get there, but we stopped once at a roadside stand to use toilets and get some refreshments.

Jiun and Lyndon stretching their legs two hours into the journey

Jiun and Lyndon stretching their legs two hours into the journey

This bus stop was much different than the stops I made touring Iceland in 2008 or France in 2006.

This bus stop was much different than the stops I made touring Iceland in 2008 or France in 2006.

This is Korrt, a salty milk-based product that takes some getting used to. A Kazakh student at KIMEP snuck on the bus specifically to get this from the roadside vendors. I like it with the pilsner beers brewed in Kazakhstan, but the verdict is still out for many other non-Kazakh folks who have tried it recently.

This is Korrt, a salty milk-based product that takes some getting used to. A Kazakh student at KIMEP snuck on the bus specifically to get this from the roadside vendors. I like it with the pilsner beers brewed in Kazakhstan, but the verdict is still out for many other non-Kazakh folks who have tried it recently.

The bus ride came with a tour guide named Olga, who talked endlessly in Russian about the Canyon, and one of the Kazakh hosts using my shoulder as a pillow for a few hours. We arrived at the West entrance of the park, an parked in what seemed to be the middle of nowhere. A quick five minute walk behind Olga led us into the “Valley of Castles,” a pathway that toured through massive sandstone formations to the Charyn River.

Entering the Valley of Castles

Entering the Valley of Castles

We were there on a Sunday, along with several other tour buses, therefore with loads of other tourists.

We were there on a Sunday, along with several other tour buses, therefore with loads of other tourists.

Big Rocks

Big Rocks

This rock on the hill reminded me of a cross between a boat anchor and an Imperial Starship from Star Wars

This rock on the hill reminded me of a cross between a boat anchor and an Imperial Starship from Star Wars

We followed the hoards of tourists to the Charyn River, where we tried to scout out both a secluded place to eat, as well as paths to explore more of the river. I ended up sitting with a Finnish friend and an Austrian friend at the furthest point downstream, where we shared some rocks with a group of Russian tourists. A few photos later, and we rejoined some other KIMEP students and made our way back up the Valley.

Charyn River from as far as we could walk upstream.

Charyn River from as far as we could walk upstream.

Looking downstream

Looking downstream

Walking back up the Valley of Castles

Walking back up the Valley of Castles

I really like this photo.  There were plenty of tourists ready to ride back up the valley onboard these Ladas. It's a pretty perfect image of Kazakhstan tourism.

I really like this photo. There were plenty of tourists ready to ride back up the valley onboard these Ladas. It’s a pretty perfect image of Kazakhstan tourism.

Rather than completely retrace our steps, we decided to follow a trail to the non-bus parking lot, which gave us some elevation upon the Canyon walls. Dominik and I “walked the plank,” so to speak, on a rather exposed bit of rock, which made for some great photos.

Dominik on the Plank

Dominik on the Plank

Looking towards where we arrived

Looking towards where we arrived

Time was getting close to 4pm, which was when we were supposed to be back at the bus. All of the crew was ready to head back, but I spied some cars further away that looked like they were at a pretty good viewpoint. I left the others in a slight jog to check it out, and sure enough, it was probably the most beautiful views of the entire trip.

Good view

Panorama. For an interactive version of this photo, click on it.

A mild jog back to the bus, and another 4 hour ride later, we found ourselves back in Almaty, ready for a another week of work and school. Charyn Canyon is an undoubtedly beautiful place, and it was a fantastic trip with a great group of folks.

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Posted in: Kazakhstan, Roadtrip