The main reason that we flew down south was to explore the Kazakh countryside and spend time outside of the city. To make our experience a bit more traditional, we decided to stay in a yurt. Not your usual yurt, however. If glamorous camping is called ‘glamping’, then this was definitely a ‘glurting’ experience. I might have to patent that before it catches on.
Before explaining why glurting is a must-do, I should probably tell you what a yurt actually is, and the symbols and meanings that make them so special to Kazakhs.
Yurts have been used extensively across Central Asia for centuries. They were created by nomads with the aim being to have sturdy yet portable accommodation for several people within a tribe. The frame is a wooden lattice which is covered by a heat-retaining material, often the hide of an animal. This is called the kerege. The interior is often decorated with vibrant, colourful carpets which also keep the inside warm: vital in winter.
The yurt is joined at the top with what is called the shanyrak: the crown. Legend has it that the shanyrak would remain intact, passed from father to son upon the father's death, even though the yurt itself would often be repaired and rebuilt. A family's length of heritage could also be measured by the accumulation of stains on the shanyrak from decades of smoke passing through it. The status of the shanyrak has not diminished either, even as Kazakhstan has modernised. Its place in memory is permanent due to its prominent position on the national coat of arms.
That would be a traditional Kazakh yurt. Alas, times have changed, and the number of people who still use yurts as their primary accommodation has waned. My burning desire to stay in a yurt thus took us to the Aul Resort, approximately 35km from the centre of Almaty.
This was not your back-in-the-day, how-the-Kazakhs-used-to-do-it yurt experience. From the TV and hot shower inside the yurt, to the swimming pool outside, this place had much to give it a 5-star rating. There was a price to match, but the size of each yurt meant that it would become more reasonable if a group all stayed together.
Sitting outside our yurt, we had a breathtaking view of the rolling hills with ominous mountains lurking behind. Other Kazakh items, such as a swing and a pretty tea set, added to the relaxed ambience of the resort.
The remoteness of the camp can be highlighted by the fact that we had to walk close to two kilometres in order to find a shop. Any shop. This does have its advantages, however. We were able to roam freely through the fields of bemused farmers who were tending to their livestock. Our nostrils buzzed with the contradictory smells of fresh manure and flowers. A fresh breeze occasionally whipped through to cool us down as we scaled the hills. Essentially, it felt like the British countryside.
So, to the big question of sleeping in a yurt. It’s…very comfortable, cosy and ostentatiously cool. Snug as a bug in a rug.
It’s clearly not a real yurt experience. Did it have to be? No. Was it worth it? Absolutely. A very relaxing stay and a worthwhile activity in verdant countryside such as this. Definitely a box worth ticking off whilst staying in Kazakhstan.
Love you all,