Southern lands of Kazakhstan are a unique geographic margin, a distinct border, separating two orthographic extremes. To the north of the country, up to the very Arctic Ocean, there stretch the greatest plains and lowlands, and to the south, up to the Indian Ocean, there tower the highest mountains of the planet.
And this border is so obvious that in the clear day one can see from the mountains hundreds of kilometers of surrounding steppes and deserts, and from the hot plain one can view from the same distance the sparkle of glaciers at the mountain peaks. There are not so many places of this kind on Earth. Very few, to be exact. And to be entirely exact, there are no places like this at all! And the first among equals is Alma-Ata, snuggling up at the foothills of Zailiiskiy Alatau. Many of its residents see glaciers and deserts from the windows of their apartments.
…Mountains aggrandize a human. The higher climbers get, the prouder they become. The one who climbed up the stairs in Medeo looks scornfully at those who are just at their start. Mushroom hunters crawling among the fir trees feel sorry for eaters, who are thronging near shashlik grills down by the riversides. And from above, from ice-covered peaks, arrogant mountain-climbers observe all of them with a smile. (Imagine, if only mountain goats possessed human traits and thought like we do, they would just burst up with hoity-toity!)
But mountains are interesting not only because of their ability to boost someone’s pride. They are a unique manual for studying the nature, too. All those who learnt geography some time ago (and this science, the most people’s one of all sciences, all of us did learn) certainly remember about the altitudinal zones of mountains, which vertically repeat Earth’s natural zones, encircling our planets along its latitudes.
So, to reach the arctic ice, we, Almaty residents, do not need to go thousands kilometers up to the coast of the Arctic Ocean. We only need to take a cable car at our Medeo, and, provided we have enough money, within two hours we’ll wander about the real eternal ice of the glacier Bogdanovich, which differs little from those of Greenland or Spitsbergen.
But mountains are the Earth shrunk not only in space, but also compressed within time. The thing is that mountain slopes environments do not just repeat climate zones, moreover, they maintain conditions for the existence of relic plants and animals, which once swarmed these places. And thus, they are a unique shelter for many natural kings of the past and the source of species diversity for us. Examples are not far to seek: woods of wild apricot trees and famous apple thickets that gave our Apple city its name are relics of the past epochs as well. Just like alpine spruce forests.
For the convenience of outdoorsmen the nature thoughtfully cut mountain ranges with deep gorges. Each of our gorges is peculiar, each keeps its own zest down in its depths, and each possesses its own beauties and tourist attractions.
Thus, in Aksayskoye gorge, at the spot where two monks were shot by Bolsheviks, an Orthodox chapel was built, a popular place of pilgrimage today.
Bol’shaya Almatinka gorge is noted by its alpine lake and a series of unique scientific institutions. Among them there is a sun observatory with its Carl Zeiss telescopes, which fell to the Soviet Union’s lot as a war booty after the World War II.
At the banks of Malaya Almatinka River there are famous sports bases of Kazakhstan: the alpine ice-skating stadium Medeo and Chimbulak ski centre with its piste of international class, going down 3,200 metres long.
The Talgar gorge leads to nature reserve of Alma-Ata, the oldest one in Kazakhstan, where under the protection of humans (from humans) a lot of unique species of mountain fauna live. And among them there is the animal that is the symbol of Kazakhstan, but not everyone can run into it. It is a snow leopard.
The Issyk gorge is known for its tragic event in 1962, when the severe mud flow devastated the alpine lake that was there, a popular place of public out-of-door recreation. Today this lake is being reconstructed and Issyk is returning to life again.
But in recent years the most popular place for tourists is the neighbouring Turgen’ gorge with its beautiful waterfalls, forests full of mushrooms, lakes, alpine meadows, and the trout farm, where everyone at his/her pleasure can pay for the bite beforehand, cast the fishing rod to water and take out a strong wriggling fish.