The elusive Abdul Karim apparently exists, and I have been assured that he is not a figment of the imagination and is currently somewhere in Almaty working hard at finding horses for me - and indeed has already identified a suitable candidate. The wait is rather frustrating, especially as I never quite know what is happening, but it will all be worth it if I end up with good horses, and of course I am immensely grateful for everyone’s efforts on my behalf.
In the meantime I have been taking the opportunity for a little sightseeing and having the obligatory snaps taken by all the sites on Almaty tourist route.
Look behind you! In front of the dramatic memorial to soldiers of the Panfilov unit, which was formed in the Almaty region, and all but wiped out defending Moscow in 1941. If you look closely and stretch your imagination, their profiles purport to show a map of the USSR. It is also a rather incongruous venue for Almaty newly weds to have their photos taken.
The happy couples do the rounds of Almaty top spots in enormous white stretch limos bedecked in pink and white garlands, and another popular venue is the Independence Monument. In front of this is a bronze book representing the Kazakhstan Constitution and bearing the handprint of President Nazarbayaev. An inscription reads ‘ Choose and be in bliss’ the idea being to put ones hand in the print and make a wish. So here I am wishing for some decent horses to materialise and put an end to the heel kicking. Whether or not I will be in bliss by the end of the week remains to be seen. One afternoon I took the bus up to Medeu in the hills behind Almaty, where there is an imposing ice skating rink, currently in the process of major renovation works in time for the 2011 Asian Winter Games. The other attraction is the enormous dam behind it, built to protect Almaty from mudflows caused by rain and snowmelt from the mountains - it has already proved its worth in 1973 when it saved the city from a huge deluge of mud and rock. The more adventurous can brave the 841 steps to the top - I decided to be among their number, though it did not inspire me to take part in the annual ‘traditional’ competition of ‘Baspaldak’ which is oddly a special word the Kazakhs have for a run up stairs. Is running up stairs really a traditional Kazakh sport? I could hardly manage a walk up stairs, and had to stop for a breather and tepid orange drink at the rest-stop three quarters of the way up.
The photo shows the Medeu ice rink at the bottom, and yes I did walk all the way up - the white wing things are where the rest-stop is.
You know you are in Kazakhstan when you see eagles hanging out with teenagers in the park.