OCA #22 SUMMER 2016 WWW.OCAMAGAZINE.COM Text by Eugenette Morin

It is calm, silent at the end of the Tian Shan mountain range in the Sayram-Ugum State National Park of South Kazakhstan. That won’t last as the sun rises early, snowy peaks glisten and birds break out into song. The view is breathtaking, bathed in the colors of another beautiful day.

The camp wakes slowly as people stumble out of their tents; whispering good morning to each other and adding a layer to ward off the temporarily fresh, cold air. It is chilly this morning… we are in the mountains after all.

While one of us fills the kettle with sparkling, clear water for coffee from the rushing Sayram Su river, others collect wood, start a fire and get out the breakfast kit for us to fry some eggs before we separate for the day.

The sun comes up over the mountains quickly and those going up Mount Altus, 3020M high, start their hike early. They will return in the early evening; exhausted but euphoric, stunned by the hidden beauty of the hostility surrounding them and awestruck by the demanding terrain set in such splendour. The guides from the Alpinism Federation of South Kazakhstan are instrumental in the success of this excursion.
The climb is difficult with an uneven shale terrain and tall grasses; but the views, the wind and exertion make one feel alive. The smells of sage, mint and wild garlic give this expedition an almost tasty, gourmet flavour. This mountain is a feast for the senses.

A few have decided to trek and picnic at concealed locations, protected by the Sayram Su gorge about 1.5 hours trekking away from camp. Clear, crisp and cold water awaits them at the end of their journey. The lakes are exquisite. The peace and tranquility of nature here is communicative and restorative.

The gorge is amazingly beautiful with sharp, jagged edges. Just follow the river, listen to it as it meanders gently and trickles through fallen logs. The terrain slowly becomes rockier, slightly treacherous but the view will more than reward the efforts of the trekkers. Some flowers do well in this harsh environment and add a dash of red or yellow to the see.
The lakes are clear and you can see right to the bottom, enjoying bright blue surrounded by the hues of grey, beige, brown and green from the gorge. The scene is delightfully inviting and relaxing.

As early evening approaches, activity resumes at camp. While the fire is relit, and water put on to boil, the group gathers to prepare a meal together. There are many stories to share, sharing gratitude for this day in time and space, thankful to have basked in the splendor of Sayram Su; even for a short time.

The evening will pass quickly, sharing stories and laughter around the fire before retiring into an exhausted slumber, perhaps one of the best sleeps ever in the silence and majesty of natural, unspoiled beauty.
Tomorrow, everyone will slowly break camp, relax and breathe in the peaceful serenity of this magical place before returning to the hectic beehive of the city of Shymkent, approximately 50 km away.

We are a small group of 10 people passing through Shymkent who decided to take a few days to get away from the city and enjoy the local mountains. The diversity of activities to do is one of the highlights of Sayram Su. Some of us stayed at camp, lazed around, caught up on some reading and went on short walks along the river, while others indulged in more strenuous exercise.
Weekends or 3 day-2 night excursions of this type are entirely possible at reasonable prices with the Alpinism Federation of South Kazakhstan. Rental of tents, sleeping bags and other camping and/or climbing gear is also available. Guides are absolutely necessary (and very welcoming) for a successful and memorable experience.

This is only one of many possible sportive or cultural expeditions available in South Kazakhstan.

Useful information:

Olga Dashko, President of the Alpinism Federation of South Kazakhstan, is the person to get in touch with at olgadashko77@mail.ru. Olga doesn’t speak English but if you write to her, she can always google translate it or send it to her translator.

She will answer in Russian or have her translator answer your questions. You can also get in touch with the Association for the Development of Tourism in the South Kazakhstan Region at: +7 702 902 5609
or stictourism@gmail.com.

The entrance to the park is approximately 5 km away from the camp itself and you need to pass through a fenced area built in 2010-2011.

Because cars need to be registered with the park authorities, the Federation has cars and drivers that are listed all the time. If you want to bring your own vehicle, you need to get in touch with Olga.

At camp, there is a cafeteria, shower and electricity for those who prefer to concentrate on sports instead of relaxation.