Thursday 23rd September.
I have reached Taraz, having covered five hundred miles across Kazakhstan. We are all enjoying a day off, Zorbee in a cowshed on the edge of town, Bakhram and I at the Taraz hotel where we can avail ourselves of a hot shower and wash all our smelly clothes, though in the tradition of all rundown ex Soviet hotels, the bathroom does not have plug, cistern cover or loo paper.
The riding over the last few days has been quite scenic with the reappearance of the snow-capped Zailisky mountains to the south. We will soon be leaving the Tian Shan and its outlying spurs for good, so here is a final reminder .
A beautiful morning
By the Zailisky mountains
Flying mountain top - it is above the first layer of cloud.
On Tuesday we took the back road to the peaceful and little-visited ruin of Akyrtas, although as the site is being developed with a museum and hotel, that may not hold true for much longer. It is still a mystery exactly what these ancient ruins are - possibly a caravanserai or Nestorian monastery - the archaeologists are still researching and debating. As it appears to have been abandoned before building was complete, it holds few clues to its real purpose. Here I am with one of the retainers who was most surprised to have a visitor on horseback bound for London, and even took a photo of me.
No visit to Taraz is complete without a visit to the Aisha Bibi Mausoleum, which stands as a salutary warning against the dangers of snakebite. This lovely mausoleum set among red rose bushes was erected by Shakhmahmud, Governor of Taraz, for his lover Aisha, who ran away to join him but was tragically bitten by a snake en route and died at this spot.
I have in fact seen three snakes of various sizes since I have been in Kazakhstan, but happily they have all been focused on a rapid exit stage left.