Zhetisu - The Land of Seven Rivers
Seven main rivers flow down off the steep slopes of the Tien Shan and the Zhungar Alatau to the northeast; they gave their name to the fertile hills and plains that they created: Zhetisu (Semirechye in Russian), the "Land of Seven Rivers". These rivers include the Ili, which flows in from China, and the Shelek, Tentek, Lepsy, Aksu, Koksu and Karatal; along their banks numerous settlements have turned the land southeast of Lake Balkhash into the most densely inhabited area in Kazakhstan. Today, the term Zhetisu refers to the entire Almaty Region, the capital of which has been Taldykorgan since 2001. With a land area of 224,000 square kilometres, the Land of Seven Rivers is larger than the US state of Utah, and almost as big as Great Britain.
The subject of frequent boasts is that in a matter of few hours you can drive or even walk across six different climatic and vegetational zones in Zhetisu - from desert and semi- desert through scattered deciduous and mixed forests, the conifer forest taiga, the treeless alpine meadow or tundra zone, to the eternal ice of the glaciers, the arctic climatic zone. The region is relatively well developed for visitors; for some time tourism as a source of income has been seen as increasingly important, and the development of infrastructure is in progress accordingly.
Zhetisu can be roughly divided into the mountainous areas of the Tien Shan in the south, the Zhungar Alatau in the east and the core area of the Land of Seven Rivers, characterized by steppe, desert and river valleys, which stretches to Lake Balkhash and the lakes of Alakol and Sasykkol, marking the boundary of the area to the northeast.
Guided tours to all parts of Zhetisu are possible, using many different forms of transport: on foot, camel- or horseback, by mountain bike or with a jeep, on river boats or canoes, by bus or even in a hot-air balloon or helicopter. A large number of travel agencies offer their services (a selection are listed at the end of this chapter), and anyone deciding to go on an extended trip, whether as part of a group or alone, should always use a guide-the deserts and steppe are vast and broken, and the mountains are treacherous, especially at heights above 2,500 metres.