June 20, 2008

Silk Road III Day 12: Adios, Almaty!

Pin It

Our last day in Almaty and also in Central Asia. We decide to take it easier and ask Baghad to pick us up from the hotel at 12 noon. We would sleep in a bit, and go out for a bit of last minute shopping. When we asked Baghad about where we could buy some souvenir T-shirts - the same ones we saw on Kok-Tobe that he advised us to buy somewhere else in town - he didn't seem to know.

We go back to Zhibek Zholy and hit TsUM, the big department store in town. In contrast to Ramstor that is around the corner from us, this place seems to be more old-style department store than the newer types of shopping mall. We go straight to the top floor and find many different counters selling anything from cheezy souvenirs to gaudy chandeliers and porcelain dinner ware. After visiting a few different counters and bargaining them down to the same price, we eventually all find the T-shirts that we want. These have the petroglyph designs that we would see later today at Tamgaly, so they seem a bit better than your average touristy T-shirt. Stan also manage to pick up a mace made of leather and horn, which drew some laughter from us. Eric - ever looking for that elusive pot - manage to pick up a small one in silver, and didn't even have to pay over USD 1,000!

We quickly grab a bite of salads and bread at Kafe Keruen, an open-air establishment also mentioned in LP, and do a bit of people watching. There are some very interesting characters that one can run into here in Central Asia.  I honestly can't remember the last time I saw a guy wearing a black fishnet T-shirt...

After checking out just after 12pm (oh, and I finally took a hot shower this morning), we ride west with our luggage toward Karabastau and visit the Tamgaly Petroglyphs. Once again the roads are bumpy, and it is clear that neither the driver nor Baghdad have been there before, and do not know exactly how to get there. Nevermind. After about 3 hours, we finally reach the checkpoint and meet two lonely guys who are stationed there. They live in a nearby village and the area is pretty desolate. One of them accompanied us and showed us around to the major groups of rocks.

Tamgaly is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. These rock carvings, some of which date back to the Bronze Age 3-4,000 years ago, are scattered across this area and number around 5,000. Most of them are in the form of animals such as horses, goats and cows, but many are also of people. It's interesting how these carvings reflect in the sunlight. We also have a chance to look at a few burial sights for people in those times. The graves seem small to us, because in those days people were buried in the fetal position instead of being laid out flat.

We leave the area around 5pm after spending a little more than one hour here. Baghdad and the driver are eager to send us to the airport, even though our flight is at 11pm. After about a 3-hour drive we arrive at Almaty Airport, 3 hours before our flight. This is probably the earliest I have ever reached any airport for flight departure. It was so early that the check-in counter wasn't even open.

We drag our luggage to one of the cafes at the airport, and order a few dishes for dinner. I have my last chance to enjoy my favorite besbarmak here, although unsurprisingly, the dish isn't as good as the ones we've had over the last few days. We also ordered some sausages, sauteed vegetables, and a tomato-based soup with meat that is reminiscent of Hungarian goulash.

After checking-in and dumping our luggage, there was still plenty of time to kill. I stroll into Caviar Palace, the shop specializing in exporting caviar. The export of caviar from Kazakhstan seemed to be controlled, and the customs officials actually asked me whether I was bringing any honey or caviar out of the country. I wasn't thinking about it, but now that there is a shop here selling the stuff, I decided to go and take a look.

Kazakhstan is one of 5 countries bordering the Caspian Sea and therefore a significant producer of caviar from sturgeon. The shop was selling beluga and sevruga in jars and tins of various sizes. While I am not up to date on my caviar pricing, I had a hunch that what they were asking for was reasonable. Effectively beluga would cost around USD 200 per 100g, and sevruga would be around USD 150 for the same weight. After thinking a little I whipped out my credit card and spent about USD 1,000 on caviar. I figured that I could do a lot worse back in Asia or elsewhere.

I have a window seat in cattle class, and I'm not seated next to anyone with smelly feet. Hurray! Time to say Adios! to Central Asia, and get some precious sleep on the flight back to Seoul...

No comments:


Related Posts with Thumbnails

TripAdvisor Travel Map