Thursday 26th August
We have made steady progress over the last three days through a largely desert area, irrigated in places. Here is Alimjan and me with a group of grape sellers by the side of the road - we bought a whole box for a couple of squids….
..and here is Alimjan again with Rosa, our friendly Russian hostess in Shunzhe, in front of her house. The gold car is Alimjan‘s pride and joy, and is carrying Kanat, our baggage and a bag of maize for the horse.
We were just about to set out to cross the Charyn river and 70kms of uninhabited waterless desert - a late start as it had been pouring with rain all morning. Why does it always rain or snow when I hit a desert area?
On the edge of the Charyn valley, which becomes a dramatic gorge in its higher reaches. The green belt of trees in the background is the protected remnant of a vast ancient forest of Sogdian ash which covered this area after the last Ice Age.
We camped in the middle of the desert. Unfortunately Alimjan and Kanat took it upon themselves to disappear up a side track in search of a mythical house just before dusk fell, leaving me tramping grumpily on up the road in the dark. By the time we were reunited it was pitch black and not worth fiddling around with tents, so ’the boys’ slept in the taxi while I opted for my sleeping bag wrapped up in the tarpaulin and hoped it would not rain again.
Our camping spot - a road sign makes a handy tethering post for the horse. The Tian Shan mountains in the background are a niggling reminder of one of my frustrations - that I will not be able to take the route through the mountains that I had meticulously planned. Having given up on packhorsing, circumstances have then conspired to make it too much of a gamble.
Yummy - mashed potato for breakfast.
Kanat left today, hitching a lift with the truck taking the two other horses back to Almaty. However, to my surprise he reappeared when we reached Kokpek on the other side of the desert. More problems. The papers for the horses had been mislaid, and the police were making it difficult for the truck driver at checkpoints - he had already had to pay one bribe. As there were several more possible checkpoints before Almaty, it was decided that I would follow the truck to Almaty in the taxi to provide support. Luckily we were only stopped twice and only had to fork out once, thanks to the letter provided by the British consulate. The checks are supposed to counter horse theft, but since if the horses are actually stolen all one needs to do is bribe the police, it makes a slight mockery of the process! A very long and late evening, though cheered up by the fact that Alimjan knew a nice little Uighur restaurant set under trees by rushing water on the way back, where we stopped to eat laghman and watch the locals bopping very elegantly to Kazakhstani rap.