Up to now we haven’t ventured out of Astana, the capital city. Whilst there is much to explore in our new home, there is much more to explore further afield. Kazakhstan is the ninth largest country in the world, and has countless destinations to enjoy.
One of these is a place Borovoe, an area known as the Switzerland of Kazakhstan. It is about 200km north of Astana, so an easy train ride. We decided to head up early on Saturday morning and return on the Sunday afternoon, giving us a whole day to appreciate the lake. This subsequently meant a 5am wake-up call to arrive early at the train station – which comes complete with shooting range – but allowed us more time in the country.
After a three hour train journey through the barren steppe – followed by a tiny, battered bus that apparently was made as recently as 1992, something we don’t entirely believe – we pulled up in a thick green forest. We stayed a little bit away from the main lake, so had to use the same rickety bus to get to the blue lagoon. Well some people got the bus, but the sardine effect meant that a few of us had to flag down taxis on the nearby road.
I don’t think I’ve explained the Kazakh taxi system yet. You get official taxis, but if you hold your hand out for long enough someone, often in a Lada, will pull over. We call them gypsy cabs. You agree on a price before setting off, and then enjoy the ride. The particular gypsy cab we managed to flag down was a decent car, and had a bit of punch in its engine. We know this because our crazy driver was hurtling up and down the winding roads at 150kmh, overtaking on the wrong side of the road on bends with music blaring out of the speakers right behind our bleeding ears. Unnerving. However, he was nice enough to drop us off for free, so no complaints from us.
A short walk through some pine trees afforded us some shadow on this glorious Saturday afternoon, before catching our first glimpse of Lake Borovoe. The water glistened and glittered from the bursting rays of golden sunshine. It is a large area of water flanked by green trees and large rocks.
The rock formations are particularly strange. Kazakh fun fact: When two armies were fighting in the 18th century, a princess was captured and brought to Borovoe, where many Kazakh warriors fancied her as a trophy wife. She agreed to give her hand to the first warrior who could shoot an arrow to the top of Okzheptes. All failed, hence the name Okzheptes, which means ‘Unreachable by Arrows’. We didn’t have any bows and arrows to hand, so instead attempted to scale this particular beast, but it proved a bit too challenging even for us. We made it about 80% of the way, which allowed us some fantastic views.
Another strange one is the formation in the middle of the water. Apparently from one angle you can see the face of young lady with waving hair, but from another you see an old woman. Though swimming is bizarrely prohibited – though the water was a bit dirty and had glass in the bed – it is accessible using a rowing boat. We clambered up the rock and enjoyed the serene, stunning scenery. As well as the brides being manoeuvred through the blue, naturally. Our peace was unfortunately interrupted by some less proficient rowers smashing into our boat and dislodging it back into the water, but it was a very pleasant way to spend part of our afternoon.
After some ice-cream, beer and a snooze on the beach we headed back to our forested isolation with the intention of sitting by a smaller lake to watch the sunset. We…failed. We couldn’t find the lake, and ended up fighting our way through the pine trees as the sun dipped below our line of sight. Instead of seeing the sun, we saw a skull. Remains of a sheep or goat. Or person, but unlikely. The Russian word for skeleton is скелет, pronounced SKEL- yet.
We spent our night making a fire to keep warm – the temperature dips rapidly up here at night – and enjoying a few drinks. What we also did, which wasn’t expected, was spend part of our time in a sauna. Like in other countries in Asia I have used a sauna in, it is a naked experience. As there was one sauna and gender-sharing was occurring, however, we covered with a towel. Very relaxing, and a good cure for a cold (I thought – I’m writing this two weeks later and still haven’t shaken it!).
The following morning we walked over to a stable where we were due to ride horses. There weren’t enough stallions for us all to ride simultaneously, so we split into two groups. Whilst the first group were gone we explored the rest of the complex and stumbled across another animal. A camel. 200T for a lap of its cordoned-off area. It had to be done.
It was great fun, though being male didn’t help when the guide started making the camel jump and causing me to land on parts of my body I shouldn’t really land on. But great fun, and the horse riding through the woods was also pleasant.
It was really nice to get out of the city and into a different part of Kazakhstan. I was unaware of the beauty of this country, and our weekend getaway has reinvigorated my desire to see as much of this country and region as possible whilst I live here. Beautiful. Brilliant. Borovoe.
Love you all