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The mountain guide from Kazakhstan, Andrey Gundarev
Nomads’ Inspiration on the Khan Tengri Peak
As I continue traveling in the most amazing and incredible places, I understand that there are similar places in Kazakhstan as well. I was lucky enough to visit them.
Having completed my weekly work in three days, I take a map again, draw thick dots on it, inspire my friends and on weekends we turn into regional ethnographers and discoverers.
The destination of such exploratory excursions may be different, for example, the Khan Tengri Peak — the highest point in Kazakhstan and the northernmost of the 7000-metre peaks in the world (7010 m above sea level). On January 20, 2011 a group of three Kazakhstani citizens climbed the peak in winter for the third time in history and set there the flag of the Winter Asian Games 2011.
It is not necessary to repeat the mountaineers’ heroic deed in order to admire the beauty of this giant. You just need to set out from Almaty along Almaty-Narynkol motorway eastwards to the Chinese border. The distance is about 300 km. Destination point — the shore of the Tuz Kol Lake. There you’ll have an amazing panoramic view of the whole Central Tien Shan, including its Chinese and Kyrgyz parts. In order to get there you need to pass the cities of Chilik and Kegen, then turn right at Karasoz village. It is better to get there in the morning when the air is clear and transparent. The majestic Khan Tengri pyramid lit by the first rays of the rising sun prevails over the entire landscape. However, the other giants — Pobeda Peak and Marble Wall — are also shown in all their glory. The most impressive is the reflection of the mountains in the lake. Sometimes Khan Tengri gives us a present and shows its northern slopes in the sunset. At that time you can understand why it has received the ancient Turkic name Kaa Too (which is translated as Blood Mountain). Opposite the lake, in the north, is the valley of the Kegen River, along the banks of which warriors of Genghis Khanmarched through the territory of Semirechye. Ketmen Range and Dzungarian Ala Tau on the horizon are seen very well.
Khan Tengri was a very significant character for the nomads of Semirechye who practiced ancient religion Tengriism (religion of Attila and Genghis Khan). Tengri was the main God of the Sky of Turkic-Mongolian origin. It was also called as Eternal Sky or the Lord of Spirits. The Turks used the word «tengri», which means «heavenly, divine» for describing everything grandiose or especially significant, like the Khan Tengri Peak in our region or the Kantegir in the western Sayan Mountains. Nowadays, the derivative word «Tanri» used in Turkey and Azerbaijan means «God» and is used as an alternative to the Arab word «Allah». Even now traditions and rituals of Tengriismare very popular among the Kyrgyz people, since the Khan Tengri Peak’s southern slopes are located in the territory of the modern Kyrgyzstan.
In the late XIX century stories about Khan Tengri drew the attention of famous scientists and travelers of that time such as Pyotr Semenov-Tyan-Shansky and Nikolai Przhevalsky. The german geographer and mountaineer Gottfried Merzbacher was the first to reach the foot of Khan Tengri and study its southern slopes in 1903. The data obtained by Merzbacher were the main source of information about the geography of the region for many years. His name was given to a huge glacier lake located in the point of merger of two of the largest glaciers in the region — Southern and Northern Inylchek. That amazing lake disappears twice a year: in winter and summer it flows down to the Inylchek River. The participants in one of the expeditions said that they happened to witness the mysterious phenomenon — the lake disappeared with a rumble right before their eyes leaving ice blocks on the bottom. But when they came there again in the next year, they found the lake at its usual place.
The first successful ascent of the mountain was made by a team led by its founding father Mikhail
I’d recommend visiting on the way back another symbolic place for nomads of Semirechye — the valley of the Karkara River. In order to get there you need to set out from the city of Kegen and turn to the south towards the Kyrgyz village of Tyup. There you’ll see a wide and picturesque mountain valley. Once upon a time it was a part of the great Silk Road. The Karkara fair, where livestock was sold for the most part, existed there for centuries and was famous in the whole Central Asia. Droves of horses, herds of cows and flocks of sheep consisting of many thousands of heads were brought to fertile dzhailyau (high-mountain pastures). Due to abundant fodder the fair operated during the whole summer. Many other goods were sold there apart from cattle — from small handicraft products to khan’s yurtas.
The Karkara River itself is interesting, exciting and sometimes even dangerous as people go rafting and osman fishing (fish species related to trout). In summer many citizens from Almaty and Bishkek go to the centers of population named Karkara (there are two of them — one on the Kazakhstani bank and the other on the Kyrgyz) in order to treat their health with ‘koumiss’. This ancient drink is considered to be traditional for all nomadic nations of the Central Asia. The first records about koumiss were found in the works of the ancient Greek historian Herodotus. He described the way of life of Scythians and wrote that their favorite drink was made from mare's milk whipped in deep wooden vats. That ancient method has not been changed yet.
On the Kazakhstani bank of the river there is the base camp of the international mountaineers camp Khan Tengri — Karkara. You can get to the legendary peak in 30 minutes by helicopter flying over the Central Tien Shan. This is the starting point for numerous walking, equestrian and bicycle routes. On the way back to Almaty you can stop on the bridge on the Karkara River and admire the beautiful views of Charyn Canyon. Of course it is not the Grand Canyon of Colorado, but it is just as impressive.
When the journey ends, it’s time to start working again, but your working capacity will be doubled for sure! And soon there will be the next journey…
Adrey Gundarev, mountain guide, photos of the author