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Both can be reached on a day trip from Almaty if you’re using motorized transports. By bicycle though, neither of them is so easy to reach. Another nice day trip is the Big Almaty Lake, unfortunately we didn’t go there, but you can read more in the linked article.
Bicycle touring from Almaty to Esik Lake
We head for the lake Esik, an alpine lake about 60 kilometers east from Almaty, at 1800msl.
Before reaching the town of Esik, about ten kilometers from the lake, we stop to visit the Esik history museum (500 tenge per person). It’s a small but nice museum, there is a reproduction of the Golden Warrior found in one of the many Schytian tombs scattered everywhere around here, looking like simple mounds of earth.
After the village, which is quite large and with a big bazaar, we face the last kilometers to the lake, after paying the park entrance fee (350 tenge). A beautiful road that follows a river flowing between the mountains, finally some trees! But quite tough and really steep indeed, the last 5 kilometers we must push and this takes us almost two hours.
Esik lake – the beauty and the beasts
Then a landslide destroyed the natural dam that allowed the existence of the lake, there have been several deaths and the dropping of water has greatly reduced the size of the lake.Here you can camp freely, there are bathrooms (the usual holes in the ground) and gazebos with tables and benches.The night is cold and we sleep very little, because the of four or five big wild boars spilling all the garbage from the bins a couple of meters from the tent. At least they are not bears. And then, it’s not the boar’s fault if humans have left them a banquet for free.
Getting to Charyn Canyon
With donkeys around our tent, we get up and head towards the Charyn Canyon, downhill!We find a nice alternative route to the main road, along the Almaty Grand Canal.
Just pass the gate where we pay the entry fee (500 Tenge again), we are faced with this astounding, unbelievable natural wonder. We haven’t seen the Grand Canyon in the US, so we can’t make comparisons, but it is stunning. And this time the money are really used for the maintenance.
The power of cow poop
Then, all together, at sunset, they enact a cleansing ritual. They have a small bowl with dried cow dung inside. All set fire to poop, everyone has his own bowl.
They say that any open flame has the power to purify for 10 kilometers from the radiation and from all that is harmful. What can I say, the big powers of cow poop.
They really believe, they say it is an ancient Indian ritual, and seem very satisfied by the newly occurred purification. We sleep in the peace of the canyon, there are unfortunately a bit of clouds and we can not see the stars.
Getting out from Charyn and back to Almaty
The morning climb is not easy, we have to redo the path inside the canyon back to its beginning, it’is all uphill now. Along the trail we meet a lot of green pea worms with a sting back (are these the poisonous ones?). Then there are the stairs awaiting us. Bikes on shoulders, here we go.
We go back to the main road through the path to Jarkent, longer one, about twenty kilometers. The trail is dirt for the first 12 kilometers, but not as bad as the southern one (where we came from). Much less washboard, great landscape, really alien. The last 8 km are sandy and not so pleasant.
Again we cannot see the famous little rodent of Kazakh grasslands, which everyone saw except us. Around here is full of holes, so there should be plenty, but they don’t show up.
Once on the road, we hitch-hike back to Almaty (not to make the same road twice and then a third time to go to China). Just arrived on the asphalt road, we wait exactly one minute and a truck stop.
It’s a Kurdish guy. We load the bikes, not without hassle, behind the seat (in practice on his bed). He takes us to Almaty, pays us lunch and buys a lot of strawberries. In short, the usual truck driver… don’t forget to hitchhike trucks in Kazakhstan, it’s really the funniest thing to do here.