Finally! Not just time for an excursion outside Almaty, but also the weather for it. You might remember, my first weekend in Almaty, as exciting as it might have been, suffered a little bit under a weather condition that one might call “raining cats and dogs”. Which basically meant, that our chance to explore anything outside Almaty was restricted to a very brief trip up the mountain to Shymbulak. But, here we go:

Approximately 210 km East from Almaty is the Charyn Canyon located in the Charyn National Park. There is a variety of tour operators offering day trips from Almaty - so it is easily accessible and not overly adventurous.
Approximately 210 km East from Almaty is the Charyn Canyon located in the Charyn National Park. There is a variety of tour operators offering day trips from Almaty – so it is easily accessible and not overly adventurous.

After the best part of four hours we arrived from Almaty at Charyn. We hadn’t booked a tour, but some local friends called on of the tour operators for us to check whether seats were available. We showed up at the bus stop at the Central Stadium in Almaty (East side), found the bus and, again with the help of a local friend on his mobile phone, bought the ticket here and there for 4000 KZT. It would be helpful to have a vocabulary of 300 words in Russian. Unlike on other Asian countries (if you ever bought a bus ticket for an express ride in India you know what I’m talking about) it was a direct ride from Almaty – one stop to fuel up and another to visit the restroom:

Refreshment stand at along the road to Charyn Canyon.
Refreshment stand along the road to Charyn Canyon.

So, all in all an easy trip. The bus wasn’t new, but fairly comfortable, the air-conditioning worked, the roads, once outside Almaty, were a bit pot-holed but not too bad and the general behaviour on the road was acceptable. Our journey went along with a range of mountains in the South on tarmac roads, just the last maybe 10 km were on gravel roads. The canyon didn’t show until we arrived – there it was, like a gigantic hole in the ground. We had a nice and experienced guide who led us down a little bit off the beaten track. The canyon itself is quite impressive. I haven’t been to Grand Canyon and would expect that to be even more impressive (bigger, deeper, faster, stronger – in other words: American), but I have hiked in the Colca Canyon in Peru (which I was led to believe is the second biggest canyon in the world) – Charyn canyon rocks! You walk among impressive rock formations, you see some huge rocks seemingly ready to be tipped down by the next gust of wind – it is an exciting display of natures forces. Some say that the big creator has done a particular good job in creating this part of the world – seeing that Moshe, Ali and Peter would have a hard to even agree on who the big creator I’d say thanks to the River Charyn and nobody else!

Impressibe rock formations in the so called Valley of Castles, a relatively narrow part of the canyon. The whole canyon is approximately 150 km long (almost 100 miles for the non-metric folk), but the Valley of Castles is the most impressive part. So I have been told. And impressive it is.
Impressibe rock formations in the so called Valley of Castles, a relatively narrow part of the canyon. The whole canyon is approximately 150 km long (almost 100 miles for the non-metric folk), but the Valley of Castles is the most impressive part. So I have been told. And impressive it is.
All the way down Charyn Canyon you'll see the river which carved the structure out of its surroundings. A very pleasant and relaxed place - you'll find plenty of people there who enjoy the tranquillity of this place. Except there's not much tranquillity left with all the enjoyment. Still, it is pleasant and relaxed.
All the way down Charyn Canyon you’ll see the river which carved the structure out of its surroundings. A very pleasant and relaxed place – you’ll find plenty of people there who enjoy the tranquillity of this place. Except there’s not much tranquillity left with all the enjoyment. Still, it is pleasant and relaxed.

This has been a very enjoyable day, crowned by the spotting of a bird of prey (something in me wants to believe that it has been a golden eagle, but something else says: you have no clue of birds, so stop pretending.) circling over the canyon. The way back was uneventful, but 8 hours in a bus in one day is a lot of time.

An eagle circling over Charyn Canyon. Well, I think it is an eagle. Looked impressive enough to me. Anybody who can identify the bird - please comment!
An eagle circling over Charyn Canyon. Well, I think it is an eagle. Looked impressive enough to me. Anybody who can identify the bird – please comment!