Monday – Thursday was spent at the Zhabagly village in Kazakhstan. I did not want to leave. It was serene, simple and beautiful. I made the mistake of checking work emails on Tuesday night, and oh boy did that send me back to work mode for an hour.
We stayed at Yevgheny and Lynda’s charming guesthouse
in the village. They are from Ukraine, and moved to Kazakhstan in 1978. We met quite a few backpackers at their guesthouse, from Netherlands, Australia and Sweden.
Again, I loved the village. Mind you that when I say village, try not to think of all the negative connotations that come with that word. The villagers were educated, they had lovely yet simple houses. You could tell that the Kazakhstan government took good care of ensuring good education and infrastructure for the villagers. It also made me more angry at the Malaysian government. They like to boast of being quite a progressive country, but try going to the remote areas….
I have to talk about the horses, cows and sheep. When we arrived on Monday, around 7pm we heard a lot of mooing going on. I walked out of the guesthouse and joined the Dutch tourists on the street. The cows were coming home!
So there are about 2000 residents in this village. Every household has an average of 2-3 cows, some sheep and maybe 1-2 horses. Everyday, around 6:30am they take turns gathering all the cows and sheep from each house to take them high up into the mountains to graze. Then at around 7pm, all the animals come home. It is quite a lovely sight, because you see an entire herd walking together, and the cows split off by themselves one by one and they know which house to go home too!
So since that Monday, mom and I made it a point to sit outside by the porch everyday and watch them come home. One day, we were waiting for about 30 minutes, and my mom goes “aha we are literally waiting for the cows to come home!”
Moving on to Tuesday, we went hiking in the Aksu Canyons. We had Svetlana as our guide, a Russian who moved to Kazakhstan in 1991. You could tell she loved nature. So down she took us, explaining everything in detail and with a lot of patience. Tulips originated from Central Asia (although they are often associated with Netherlands), so we saw quite a few of the original Greig Tulips which are plentiful in the Aksu-Zhabagly nature reserve. Mom and dad were really impressive at their age! They managed to get down and up and they were even at the same pace as the forty something Dutch couple we met halfway.
When we returned from hiking, Svetlana was kind enough to invite us to her home. Actually, mom stealthily devised a plan earlier on so Svetlana would invite us over. There we met the same Dutch couple Svetlana’s backyard and learnt that they had built their own RV and had driven all the way to Kazakhstan from Netherlands with their two dogs.
Now Wednesday was my favorite part. We went horseback riding into the mountains! This was my first time, and so I worried that the horse was going to fling me off its back! But no, my horse, Patron (Russion for Bullet) took great care of me. I began to trust her, and if I did fall, it was because I was a bad rider.
You could tell that the people of Kazakhstan are natural horse people. I’m so certain they train their horses better than the trainers in the Western world. The horses were great, maneuvering their way about the mountains steadily. I had a lot of time to observe my horse, and thought to myself, no wonder handsome strong men are called stallions. 🙂
Svetlana and Talgat (our ranger) again took good care of us. They were extremely patient trying their best to explain and answer all our inquisitive questions. I was quite amused and proud of my mom when she sat Svetlana down, took out her notepad, and asked Svetlana how to bargain in Russian. We also learnt of the sport Kokpar, a Kazakh version of Central Asian sport where two teams on horses try to catch a sheep’s carcass and bring it to their respective goals. This is where horse polo originated from. Reuben plays polo and he had a polo horse, so that was the context it was brought up in.
Horseback riding was awesome and quite a funny experience because of mom and dad….but oh boy, did we pay the next day. Never has my back and butt hurt like this before…
I’m now back at my brother’s lovely apartment in Almaty and about to fly back to London in a few hours. We spent the past two days in front of CNN and BBC watching the coverage of Osama’s capture and death. I have a lot of opinions about how the days after have panned out, but I’ll refrain from going into it.
Kazakhstan was awesome, and thanks to Reuben for organising and hosting us!