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Southeast Kazakhstan

Map of South-East Kazakhstan

The southeastern corner of Kazakhstan, the area of present-day Almaty Region, is known popularly as the 'seven rivers': Zhetisu in Kazakh, or Semirechie in Russian. There are actually more than 800 rivers, many fed by glaciers in the mountains along the Kyrgyz and Chinese borders. Many watercourses running across the region from the mountain ranges of the south and east drain into Lake Balkhash, which runs along the northern edge of the region like a curving cap. This is one of Kazakhstan's most varied regions, with plenty to see and do using Almaty as a base.

This is a region of great tourist potential, offering a wide range of day trips from Almaty as well as more substantial expeditions. The Tian Shan Mountains, running along the southern edge of the region along the border with Kyrgyzstan, offer beautiful gorges, lakes and glaciers, as well as archaeological sites in their foothills such as Esik, the place of discovery of the Scythian Golden Man, which has become a symbol of independent Kazakhstan.

To their north, the Altyn Emel National Park offers the chance to see herds of goitered gazelle and central Asian wild ass, as well as the musical attractions of the 'singing sand dune'. Further north, in a part of the region less frequented by tourists, you will find the undemonstrative regional capital of Taldykorgan and the little-trekked Dzhungarsky Alatau range.

There are impressive petroglyph sites right across the region, the best known being that of Tamgaly, west of Almaty. And the region throws up a good number of quirkier places to visit, including the impressive if artificial set from the film Nomad on the lie River and, at Ungirtas, the Hub of the Universe. It is possible that Taraz, to the east of the Zhambyl Region, is the most ancient of the regional capitals of Kazakhstan, with some fine monuments of the Karakhanid era, including the exquisite Mausoleum of Aisha Bibi.

As my friend from Arkansas pulled down a bulging new scarlet rucksack from the overhead compartment, he turned and made a throwaway remark that seemed insignificant at the time. The last words he addressed to me were, 'Apples are from Kazakhstan.'

In search of Kazakhstan by Christopher Robbins