Ala Archa is my first national park in Central Asia that looks maintained. No one's sitting in a visitor center handing out maps, but Ala Archa has everything you really need: Regular trail markings, the occasional sign post with kilometers to the next landmark, and a little cafeteria at the base of the park that sells light snacks on the cheap.
archiveCategory: Central Asia
Paper cupids and foam hearts; Red roses; White doves; Pink martinis handed out by women in lace; An unseen sound system serving up syrupy smooth jazz. I searched for clues I was still in Kazakhstan, my little-known host country whose holiday calendar melds Persian, Russian and historically Kazakh traditions in pursuit of its own post-Soviet identity...
Along the south shore of Issyk Kul, near the village of Barskoon (Барскон), the single road that hugs the perimeter of the lake splits off to the left. This was once a Silk Road shortcut, providing access over a towering mountain pass into China. Now the road is largely maintained by Canada.
With Uzbekistan getting the lion's share of Islamic architectural masterpieces from the heyday of the Silk Road, Yasawi's mausoleum is a jewel in Kazakhstan. Although it was never finished, it bears the signature stunning tile work and onion-shaped domes of all the great monuments of the day.
Winter in Kazakhstan was not something I was entirely looking forward to. I knew temperatures could plummet to -30°C at night (-22°F if it even matters at that point), with far less extreme but squarely sub-zero days. I was aware that the already noticeable air pollution would increase as the heat was turned on (this is done city-wide, all at once).