Excursion on the left side of the Irtysh river

Tuesday afternoon a week ago we went for a excursion on the right side of the Irtysh river. This was organised thanks to Alina which I met during the weekend. Anya, a friend of Alina, took Lena and me up at 13 o’clock. After getting through the traffic out of the city we first visited the Akbaur petroglyphs. Anya told us, that these petroglyphs can be found at many rocks throughout the whole area. There was also a research a couple of years ago from a Russian scientist. On the other side of the valley she showed us another straight rock, which is not well known and visited by tourist. We skipped the hike to the nearby Sorokina mountain in favor of some other sites we would like to visit during the afternoon. During the drive through the valley the route was changed by Anya spontaneously and we just visited a nearby waterfall. As we were now in the countryside there were lots of horses. We stopped at a local horse milk producer. I had to taste this local speciality of fermented horse milk. The first sip tastes a little bit strange but then I got used to it, and eventually each of us took an own bottle with home. If this horse milk is not cooled the level of alcohol rises constantly and it can become very strong. We headed on to a small creek and prepared our evening picknick in the shadow of the trees before we continued our excursion to the Sibinskie lakes. These five lakes are beside to each other and just separated each by a rock ridge in between. There is a myth that once Buddha was sitting on the opposite mountain and just scratched with his hand these five lakes in the rocks. So each lake is made by one of his fingers. But before we visited the lakes we just went to a small pond, through bushes and crossing a creek. Here at this pond we left our wishes…hopefully they come true in the future.

Once we arrived at the middle lake we took an easy climb up the mountain ridge, but as time already passed away we were not able to go on for a longer walk to the nearest mountain. It is also not completely safe as there are living bears in these tree covered mountains. We went just downhill and put our feet into the fresh water. As I was speaking English with Lena a friendly local just came to me and started a short conversation. He was surprised to meet a foreigner their and told me, that he came from Almaty and was studying in Oskemen, but was also the first time here at these beautiful lakes. As the sunset was approaching fast we just went back to the city. Thanks to Alina, Anya and Lena it was a very pleasurable afternoon and evening for me.

Sorokina peak seen from the Akbaur petroglyphs, the pyramid was used as orientation point during star observation in ancient times
One of the many petroglyphs
This heart shaped hole is not just a photo opportunity but was also used for the observation…and nowadays a nice one move boulder…down and up 😊
This is a natural straight rock wall as Anya explained…
…and covered by petroglyphs
In the background higher tree covered mountains are visible
After leaving the city we passed by a few small villages
The waterfall with some water flowing actually down
The horse milk “cafeteria”
Just before my first bowl of fermented horse milk. They say, if you drink everyday horse milk you’ll never get sick. So I grabbed a bottle πŸ˜…
Anya just documenting during picknick that we have the identical Swiss knifes, just in different colours
The former wishes were left here by handkerchief or similar. Anya even found hers from 2011 and she told that all three wishes came true.
With a 4WD it’s easy to make some detours.
The first lake surrounded by some rocks
I guess this was the third one…
…and that’s the fourth one with a tiny beach
In spring the flowers are blooming almost everywhere
Lena, Anya and me…from the right
Doubting about the scene…
…no laughing πŸ˜‚
Driving into the sun. Don’t worry, it is still ride side driving, but a lot of cars come from Japan. So it is quite common to have the steering wheel at the RHS

City tour in Oskemen

Last week, in between my almost daily excursions, I walked several times through the city, either alone or I was accompanied. I also tried to buy postcards, but this was hard, if not say almost impossible. Only with the local advice of Lena and Anya I found one small shop of one of the shopping centres which had exactly two postcards. I guess these were the last remaining ones in Oskemen πŸ˜„.

The city itself is dominated by the heavy metal industry, which refines the raw materials and is mainly owned by international stack holders…from Switzerland. You know that one which was founded by Marc Rich and now led by Ivan Glasenberg a resident of RΓΌschlikon, as Marc had some troubles in the US due an Iran deal, but was eventually pardoned by Bill Clinton itself at his last day in office. And some of the 200 billion dollars of revenue last year was made here. And as such the air pollution is worse, as you can always see at the smoking chimneys. Not only from the heavy metal industry but also from the coal fired power plants, because for sure this is the cheapest energy and hence, takes always care of a very low cost production, which finally just led to an increase of net income.

Nevertheless, Oskemen is a very good base for outdoor activities in East-Kazakhstan, and once you left the city you also left all the air pollution behind you. After staying with Daniil over the weekend, I headed on last week Monday to Natasha another CS host in the city centre as it was more convenient. She was not at home, but her roommate Pavel let me in the flat, where also 4 other guys were living, and I got a key, so I felt like at home.

The riverbank of the Irtysh which comes from China and which is the same river as in Pavlodar, you might remember…just colder
The mosque across the river
A memorial of the Afghanistan war victims
Sunset at the mouth of the Ulba into the Irtysh river
The (almost hidden) residence of the president across the river. He visits Oskemen from time to time to supervise the businesses and take a healthy bath with ingredients from Maral stags.
Small Baiterek tower

Hiking in the western Altai mountains

Saturday a week a week ago, Daniil and me woke up early in the morning at 4 o’clock. After a short breakfast we headed to a garage in order to load our Minibus. But as we are in Asia our driver was late and we needed to wait approximately 20-30 minutes. After everything was fixed, we drove to the meeting point and all of the girls entered with their backpacks the Minibus. After a couple of minutes delay we started finally to the town Ridder. Half-way to Ridder we met the remaining three boys for the first time, as they were driving with a separate car. After getting the key for the hut we picked the boys and their luggage some kilometers behind Ridder. Now the Minibus was full, I mean really full and the adventure could start, as we drove up the mountain. The path was just straight ahead, no serpentine at all. But our 4WD Minibus managed it without any problems.

After getting a short breakfast we started our tour. In the beginning very fast, and I was pretty impressed about the pace and thought, wow if they manage to keep them up until the top, then they are really fit. But after about β…“ of the track the first slowed down and one of the guys had severe problems. Now it became really slow, not that hundreds of pictures were taken πŸ˜…, but we stopped every 100 meters (and I don’t mean altitude). After getting lunch we were approaching the last about 200 meters altitude at the north ridge of the “Right Brother” of the Three Brothers. The last meters were a little bit steep and we needed steps in the snow before we reached the peak without any further difficulties. A video can be seen here: Video

After our guides went snowboarding and an exhaustive break (typically I’m not longer than 20 minutes at the peak, but we stayed for more than one hour) we headed to the more western ridge for going down, which was pretty easy and not exposed at all. On top of the wall between there were several cornices and also an avalanche went off due to the warming in the afternoon. Back to the hut was the same way than uphill.

When I arrived at the hut Yaroslav, one of the snowboarders immediately offered me a beer. And I thought well OK, a beer is not Vodka, just take it…well, that’s just the beginning. Because after dinner it was told to me, that they have a surprise for me…and they don’t meant the hookah which was also prepared by Yaroslav. No…now I need to taste the Samogon. I don’t like the hard stuff, but I agreed to take it, just to be a good guest…not sure if it was the right decision, or was there any option at all πŸ˜‚?!? In the end I don’t know how much Samogon I had drunken, but at one extend Andrei saved me and took me to the Banja, which was now free after the girls were finished. This was the next interesting experience, but somehow it helped to overcome the Samogon. After several rounds, I don’t remember how much, of getting really heated up and eventually diving into ice cold water (in that case you don’t feel the low temperature), I got even a typical massage in the Banja. And for sure I also have worn such a special hat.

The next day started with a slight hangover as you might imagine. After breakfast I went with the girls for a walk through the forest, where they took some pictures. Then we got lunch and I was asked what I’m going to do after the weekend. I replied, that I’m looking for some other outdoor activities and asked them what I could do in the next days. Well I didn’t got directly an answer, but after several discussions in Russian I turned out that they already organised the next week for me with activities 😳. After a three hours drive back to Oskemen I got all information for my next adventures in the evening messaged.

The UAZ-452 from the Ulyanovsk Automobile Plant…you know the town which is formerly known as Simbirsk but nowadays named after the first dictator of the 20th century
Katja hidden by her dog, my host Daniil in the middle and Yaroslav to the right
Nice and cold creek passing by the hut
On the left hand side the Banja and the hut in the background
Start of the hiking beside the creek
During one of the breaks Β© Vika
Hiking up already through the snow
Also strong flowers find eventually their way through the snow to the sun
View back to Ridder and the tree limit. In the far background other snow topped mountains are visible.
North side of the mountain chain
Panoramic view during lunch
Just us crossing the last meters through the snow at the north ridge…see these black spots in the snow πŸ˜‰
Side view in the north ridge, just before the last meters in the snow
Lookout to the surrounding mountains Β© Vika
Peak of the “Right Brother” at 2300m
Me at the peak with a nice scenery around me
Our group at the peak
Beautiful scenery during peak break…to the south
…and to the west, with perfect weather
The north wall was full of cornices
Lena and me having a nice chat on the way back to the hut Β© Vika

GPS track

Pavlodar – Charsk – Oskemen

Thursday evening a week ago I already need to head to the railway station after dinner in order to enter the next train. I was quit surprised when I was on the platform, because the train was very new and after the last two trains in Kazakhstan I did not expected such a train. Probably it was purchased for the Expo 2017 in Astana last year. As the train starts in Pavlodar, it was already on the track and I could directly enter it.

After a short night I need to get out of it in the middle of nowhere in the morning, as the train further drives to Almaty. In Charsk I just set down on a bench at a square and for sure all the locals were staring at me. Also two started talking to me, and especially the first was only interested in money, so I decided to find another place to stay for the next 5 hours. After about an hour I just found the small restaurant, bar (or night club, maybe all together in one) called Alladin. At least they had some tea in the morning and I could escape from the sun. Also they had free WiFi, so everything was fine. When I almost want to go back to the train station, one of the locals wanted to speak to me. And for sure with my little Russian skills I tried to answer all the questions. Back to the railway station, it was mir crowded than in the early morning. Now all the small stalls were served by the babushka’s. And I entered the next modern train, where a very friendly conductor welcomed me.

After arrival in Oskemen my mountain guide Daniil messaged me and said I could stay at his place. So after a long tram drive to the city center we met and then drove with the bus to his flat. In the evening we met two girls Katja and Vika, and had dinner together. With Vika I was already in contact the last days, as she helps to sometimes in translation from Russian to English and vice versa.

New night train from Pavlodar to Almaty
The grass topped landscape is almost flat with only some hills in the background. Agriculture seems to be very limited.
An old steam locomotive in Charsk…maybe the only attraction in that town
The entrance to the Alladin
My next modern train, which drives from Almaty to Oskemen with the stalls at the left hand side
Some rocky hills can already seen in the background of the flat stepp
View from the Oskemen railway station
My two train tickets

Pavlodar

The day before yesterday I had a short walk along the riverside of the Irtysh river. There is even a short beach where some locals got some cooling down, as it was very hot in the late afternoon. But I had my large backpack with me and also need to buy the next railway tickets, so I decided not to take this opportunity. Also as I would have been meeting with my host Yuriy and his family. After passing the cathedral I took the next bus to the railway station. Well here now it become a little bit complicated, as there were no ticket machines available. So I discovered, that I need to take a number. But at this ticket machine there were plenty of options…all in Russian…which I not really understood. But as the queue after this getting longer, a women took her smartphone and with Google translator I told her that I need a ticket and then another man pressed the button. OK, it was just the top one. In the end, it didn’t mattered at all, because everybody just went to one of the three ticket counters. While I was waiting, I got the information that I couldn’t take the original train, because this one is going via Russia. So…eventually I was in a hurry, as I thought I might be going to the counter soon, and now need another connection. After searching a while, I found also two opportunities. A direct one and one with inter connection. In the end both take more or less the same time. Ok I thought now I’m prepared…nevertheless, I was still waiting. In the end I waited three hours in total. But then I had luck, as the young women which served me spoke some English. The direct was driving but without any free seats, so I took the other option. But all in all also this took me 20 min until I got my two tickets. So I was pretty late when I headed to my host, but Yuriy welcomed me warmly.

Yesterday in the morning I had with his family a nice breakfast. After this I got his bike and went with it through the city for some kind of discovering. It was my first bike trip in Kazakhstan and I didn’t knew how the reaction of car drivers are, because there are quite less bikes on the road. But as Pavlodar is a small city the driving behaviour is much more calm than in Astana and even more than in Russia. So after a while I felt quit comfortable. I made a longer stop in a park. I was just sitting next to a fountain and near some entertainment attractions for children. Doing nothing and just enjoying the time being, could be also nice. Afterwards I headed, I guess to the only, shopping mall in Pavlodar for a cup of coffee. While I was driving home, I just crossed the backyard from some appartement blocks. It was looking a little bit scaring in the first, but then I saw families, grandma’s and grandchildren playing and I thought, OK they won’t kill me now. The weather was pretty muggy and it looked that a thunderstorm will pass by, but in the end nothing appeared. While I went back to Yuriy’s, only his wife and the five children were at home. After a couple of minutes I was surrounded by them and they just climbed to my lap. So I had no other chance as to play with them. Yes, it was also lots of fun, even if we couldn’t talk to each other. But even the small ones can speak at least some words in English.

One of the main squares with the large hotel behind
German companies are just everywhere in the world…
Riverside view with the small beach
There is even a bicycle lane along the riverside
Aleksandr Nevsky (you remember him…right πŸ˜‰) cathedral
View from the 8th floor of Yuriy’s flat, which is directly located at a sidearm of the river, where you can also go swimming
Beside large appartement blocks, there are still a lot of small houses in the city…mainly from wood.
One of the larger streets with the tramway in the middle
Minions can be found nowadays everywhere πŸ˜†
As well as fast food restaurants
And also an eternal flame is in the city, which was surprising for me, but I guess this one dates back to Soviet times.
There are some really nice houses in between…
… but also the opposite with the unpaved streets belonging to them.
As well as appartement blocks…
…where the front mostly looks a bit shabby. But the interior of the flats might be the complete opposite.