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Tour Kazakhstan - Hidden Zhetysu Wonderland

Valley in Kazakhstan

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Preliminary Tour Itinerary

Itinerary: Almaty, Big Almaty Lake, Tian Shan Astronomical Observatory, Zaiilisky Alatau, Ile-Alatau National Park, Almaty Nature Reserve, Altyn-Emel National Park, Singing Dunes, Ili River delta, Almaty
Duration: 10 days

Day 1: Guided tour of Almaty and Visit to the Big Almaty Lake
Upon arrival in Almaty, you will be greeted at the Almaty International Airport (code:ALA) by your guides and given a general tour introduction. Almaty is on the route from southeastern Asia to Europe. The Great Silk Road from China to Europe has passed through this city since the earliest of times.

On the first day, we will travel to the Big Almaty Lake (Bolshoe Almatinskoe Ozero) hidden in the Tian Shan Mountrains, then proceed up the slopes of the spectacular Zaiilisky Alatau (Trans-Ili Alatau, Ile Alataūy Zhotasy) Mountain gorge to the Tian Shan Astronomical Observatory, 2,700 m above sea level, about 30 km from the city. We will make a few stops along the way and short guided excursions into the forest, sub-alpine, and alpine belts and explore the remarkable vertical zonality of the region. You will be introduced to the wildlife management system in Kazakhstan. After dinner, we will meet with astronomers at the observatory and view the starry sky through the powerful telescope.

Overnight at the observatory's guest house.

Zailijsky Alatau Mountain gorge to the Tien-Shan Astronomical Observatory, Kazakhstan

Day 2: Visit Ile-Alatau National Park 
On our second day, we will make guided field trips in the Almaty Nature Reserve and Ile-Alatau National Park. Explore endemic species of trees in the vast wild apple and apricot forests. The wild fruit forests of Alma Ata (Father of the Apple) are a unique genetic pool for modern apple and apricot trees and cannot be seen anywhere else in the world. Area birds are represented by a rare blend of Himalayan and boreal ornithofaunas, with a large number of resident species. You will pass through the forest, sub-alpine and alpine/nival belts and observe elevations and landscape changes along the way. Pay specific attention to the mountain ecosystems with vertical movements of bird populations (wanderings). In the evening, we will return to the observatory and you will be introduced to the ongoing biodiversity and astronomy research projects and to the observatory scientific staff.

Day 3: Guided Tour of Falcon Breeding Center "Sunkar" 
Descending back to the foothills, we will visit the lowest parts of the gorge (mixed and deciduous forest). Take part in guided excursions to the mixed and deciduous forest. Visit Saker Falcon Breeding Centre "Sunkar" and learn about its history and breeding/reintroduction programs. Learn about the noble ancient tradition of falconry. Enjoy dinner at the traditional hunting lodge settings. Travel to the state national natural park "Altyn-Emel". While on the road, we'll discuss traditional Kazakh methods of land use that include seasonal grazing at distant high altitude pastures and the nomadic life style of some local tribes.

Deer, Altyn-Emel National Park in Kazakhstan

Day 4: Guided tour of Kazakhstan State National Park Altyn-Emel and the Singing Dune
Altyn-Emel National Natural Park is located on the right bank of the Ili River. Altyn-Emel is made up of desert and serenely beautiful rocky terrain. Whenever the wind blows, the "Singing Sand Dune" (Singing Barchans), a large dune famous for the sounds it produces, makes a low melodic hum. Receive an introduction to the history of the Altyn-Emel State National Natural Park and to the biodiversity conservation projects in the park. Explore park’s flora, native medicinal plants, local customs, and traditions and discuss general problems of nature conservation and wildlife protection in the area. Enjoy guided trips inside the park and see its most famous natural wonders. Overnight at the park.

Day 5: Guided tour of National Park Altyn-Emel
On the 5th day of our trip, we will continue the guided excursion in the State National Park “Altyn-Emel”, with visits to archaeological monuments from the stone, bronze, and iron ages. Marvel at vast unexcavated burial mounds (20 meters high and 100 meters round) that dot the lowlands. Drive through the gorges of the Chulack Mountains (Tchulack Mountains) that conceal the Grand Besshatyr Burial Complex (so called the kings' burial grounds), and observe burial tunnels in hillside rock. The area is famous for its high level of endemism of animal and plant life. Extremely rare Prezewalski’s horses, a symbol of Central Asia, inhabits the park and can be seen occasionally. Explore the bird and mammal population of Altyn-Emel. You will receive an introduction to the ecological problems of the Ile-Balkhash basin, such as assault by invasive species.

Day 6: Tour Sandy Desert Saryesik-Atyrau  
You will take a trip to the Ili River delta with lunch along the way. The road goes through clay, hilly semi-deserts, and then along the edge of the sandy desert Saryesik-Atyrau. Short guided excursions and bird watching during the stops. You will be given an introduction to the local economy and traditions and witness the growing impact of human activities on the fragile ecosystem. Common local plants and birds will be viewed during the stops. Explore the role of the Ili River delta in nature conservancy. Overnight stay at a guesthouse on the Ili River delta.

Day 7: Travel through Ili River delta 

Ili River delta, Kazakhstan
Enjoy a boat trip into the Ili River delta and a visit to the famous pelican colonies. See the river gradually split into a series of channels and streams that empty into Lake Balkhash. Find yourself in the unique landscape of meandering channels surrounded by shrub thickets which shelter many rare bird and animal species. The delta also supports an ecosystem of the so-called tugai forest seen in only a few places in Central Asia. It consists of dense growths of Asiatic poplar, Russian olive, several species of willow, tamarisk and salt tree tangled with a variety of herbaceous creepers, such as clematis. This almost impenetrable vegetation fortress is of the most important wetlands of Central Asia. The remarkable diversity of water fowl in the region includes the largest nesting populations in Eurasia of Dalmatian and Great white pelicans, and many rare and endangered species. The Ili River shelters giant catfish and other trophy fish species. Learn about the invasive species management, water recourse management, the effects of global warming, and the effects of the neighboring Aral Sea disaster on the local ecosystems. Overnight at a guest house in the Ili River delta.

Day 8: Learn about Ili River Desert Ecosystem
In the morning, drive through the desert into an Asiatic poplar forest with many mature specimens having grotesque burls and large hollows on their trunks and branches that attract the hollow-breeders such as the Turkestan tit, white-winged woodpecker, saxaul sparrow, pallid scops-owl, pale-backed pigeon, and European roller. Drive back into the desert and explore its surprisingly diverse ecosystem. Observe examples of adaptations in plants and animals to the Ili River desert dominated by saxaul trees and shrubs which provide staple food for the great gerbil.

Kazakh traditional dance
Day 9: Tour Almaty 
Travel to Almaty. Free time in Almaty. Hotel accommodations close to shopping, souvenir stores and other landmarks.

Day 10: Depart from Almaty 
Free time in Almaty and a transfer to the airport.

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