The weather here has kept us on our toes. It isn't as hot as we expected and parts of the day are beautiful. Then at some point, the clouds rush in, the wind picks up, thunder cracks, lightning flashes and it pours rain, turning streets into rivers in places. Then it stops and everything is nice again. The rain helps clean the air and the streets and breaks the heat, as well.
The weather forecast predicted no thundershowers today so we seized the moment and took a bus into the foothills to hike to the Bolshoy Almatinskoe Ozero (Big Almaty Lake). From Almaty, the foothills like like a rumpled velvet gown brazenly tossed from the snowy but wrinkled shoulders of the great dame of the mountains. Once in the foothills, the city disappears and the mountains rise up ahead. The hills are covered with dark, tall straight fir trees, light stretches of grass or open rock.
The bus dropped us off at a street popular for weekend picnics. Here we saw our first working yurts. Weekenders could rent some and others served as cafes. They lined the lower part of the road behind signs advertising shashlik (kebabs), beshparmak (a Kazakh dish), plov (pilav) and a variety of drinks. On our left, a small river wound past rocks and trees.
As we walked, we were passed by a number of young men who jogged by. Later we came upon them boxing with each other next to the river
The first half of the hike was along the road but the second part followed a water pipe up a steep incline.
Once away form the road, we noticed all the purple flowers emblazoning the landscape, the hum of bees, the whirring of grasshoppers and the occasional scream of a falcon.
It was a steep hill but it eventually leveled out a little and finally brought us to the lake, which was a glacial silty green. It was actually more of a reservoir since it had a dam and was concrete lined. But it had an impressive location with a snowy peak rising from the far edge and smaller green rocky mountains on the other sides. We eagerly dived into our lunch. As we finished we noticed how big clouds seemed to be filling in the surrounding mountain passes. Thinking the weather forecast might have been wrong, we headed back. Reaching the road, we found that every available picnic spot was occupied. Cars lined parts of the street. Some parties blasted recorded music while others sang, accompanying themselves with a guitar. The smoke of multitudes of fires and grills was filling the area. Wood powered samovars stood in rows heating up water for tea.
We had reached Almaty's picnic area. Further down the yurt cafes which had been empty in the morning, also looked full. Closer to the bus stop, the street was lined with decorated limos and BMWs bringing elegantly dressed wedding guests.
Deciding it was definitely time to leave, we headed back to Almaty. (This last image shows a kid opening the skylight of a yurt).