We had a nice and relaxing overnight train ride from Nur-Sultan to Almaty in the second class of a modern Kazakh speed train in a very good company. When we arrived in Almaty, we got instantly good vibes about the city. It was warm, sunny and green. We were looking forward to a little bit longer stay in one place and Almaty turned out to be perfect for that.
We enjoyed Almaty for many reasons. It is a pleasant city with many parks, small rivers and modern cafes, surrounded by mountains and numerous natural attractions. It felt like a city where Europe meets Asia, with a little bit of everything. As we had decided to apply our Indian visa in Almaty and had to wait it to get ready, we ended up spending eight nights there. But since we liked the city and our hostel so much, we might have gotten stuck there anyways. Here’s what made our stay in Almaty so special:
The accommodation European Backpacker’s Hostel was a nice base for our stay in Almaty. There was a lovely garden, and even though we were in the city, the roosters behind our window woke us up every morning. Our hostel was located on a hill, so it was super nice to skate down to the city along a small river.
The other travelers at the hostel were very friendly. Every evening we sat together around the big table and had a lot to talk and joke about. You can travel in so many ways and as we changed our experiences, we learned how every way has its good and bad sides. Some were traveling with their land cruisers, some bicycling around the half of the world, some had tents with them, and some traveled more like us. We realized, as the public transport in many parts of Kazakhstan is not existing, that for this part of our journey it would have been great to have our own vehicle or at least camping gear.
The things to do in Almaty
We were a little bit busy with organizing travel stuff and with chilling around at our hostel, so we didn’t see that much of the city, considering that we spent a whole week there. Also, Seri got a flu, so we had to take it easy. We visited a few parks. Our favorite was the Central Park, which seems to be a popular hangout area for locals. There you can find a sports court, a skatepark, a pond where you can paddle a boat and even a fun fair. It was a great park for skateboarding, too.
Another popular hangout area with a funfair is the Kok Tobe mountain in the city, where you can ride with a cable car. This cable car ride was very enjoyable, also for Johanna, and the views from up there were great. The overly happy music in the fun fair was a bit creepy, though.
Also, we liked the Zelenyy Bazar. Mostly because we found cheap and good quality vegetables for cooking and because we got to taste all kinds of local treats there and learned that luckily there were also several vegetarian things to eat.
The things to do around Almaty
The possibilities to enjoy the nature around Almaty are almost endless. You can do anything from hiking a mountain to relaxing in hot springs and many of the things you can reach by local buses. We did two day trips out of Almaty: Visiting the amazingly turquoise Big Almaty Lake and hiking to the Butakovka waterfall. We wrote extra about these daytrips, you can read it here.
Serzhan & Roza
On the train from Nur-Sultan to Almaty we shared our cabin with a local couple, Serzhan and Roza. We had luck with them since they were both really nice and Serzhan even talked English. So, for once we could have a decent conversation in a train. He is a jewelry and metal artist, making traditional Kazakh style art. Because of this he is traveling around the world for different fairs. Since we are travelers, too, we had a lot to talk about. It was funny that out of the blue he asked us if we were vegetarians. We asked how he could tell, and he said that we just have that kind of style. His friend is a vegetarian too and somehow his style was similar. In the morning, before we arrived in Almaty, Serchan and Rosa told us that we were welcome to visit their home one day, if we wanted to. And of course, we did.
Their home was not directly in the centre of Almaty, but a bit out of it in an area where many locals have their summer houses. It was nice to see that side of the city too. We were greeted by hugs and kisses by Serzhan, Roza and Rozas sister when we arrived. First Serzhan took us around at their backyard, showing us many fruit trees and Roza’s numerous roses. Then we got to see his workshop and were really impressed.
We had a tour in their home and were then sat on the table, which Roza had decked with various vegetarian dishes. The food was lovely, and we had nice talks.
It was such a nice thing that they invited us to their home, of which we are very thankful. Johanna asked to see Serzhan’s workshop one more time, because she wanted to buy a pair of beautiful earrings from him as a memory. When we left, they also gave her a scarf as a gift and packed us leftovers of the food to take with us. Soooo lovely people!
On our way back in the bus we also met a very friendly and polite 12-year-old boy who was very enthusiastic to practice English. He introduced himself to us by being completely surprised, yelling “What is happening!!?” when he first heard us talking in English to each other. We talked the whole way about horror films, old console games, english grammar, his girlfriend and many other things. We have realized that if you want to find someone who likely speaks English, it’s the best to ask the young boys in school uniforms!
Applying the Indian Visa
We ran short on time when preparing our trip back home, so we decided to apply for our Indian visas in Almaty. First it felt like a struggle. Often you can get an e-visa or visa on arrival to India, but as we are going to cross the border overland there, we will need a regular visa. Still we had to fill out the form online. It took hours (basically 2 days) until we could finish filling the form, since the page was crashing all the time. We then had to bring the filled form to the consulate. As we had arrived in Almaty on a Friday, we had to wait until Monday before we could go there. Finding the consulate was hard because there were three different addresses online, which we figured out when we had found our way to the wrong address number one. The real address is: Zarakov Street 362 in Al-Farabi, in case someone needs it.
When we finally got to the consulate (by Yandex taxi), that was six kilometers further than we originally had thought, it turned out that we were not going to get the visa as easily as we would have in Europe. We learned that here they usually give it for foreigners only for a shorter time, like three months. It wouldn’t have been a problem otherwise, but it turned out that the three months start from the day our visa is printed, not from the day we enter. In this case, in order to stay longer in India, which was our plan, we would have needed a visa at least for four months. Also, we wanted to have a multiple entry visa, because we plan on visiting the bordering countries and returning to India after that.
After talking about this and our travel plans with the nice secretary, the consul himself wanted to meet us. It was quite exciting to walk into his room and at first, he was serious, asking why we want to go to Pakistan. But we had a good conversation with him, and he turned out to be a very friendly man. He just wanted to make sure we know the possible risks of traveling to Pakistan and about the difficult situation between India and Pakistan. After having a long conversation with us and getting sure that we know what we are getting into, he said he can grant us a visa. He promised to try it with 4 months but wasn’t sure if it will work out and he also said that he can give us a visa for two entries but not more. We were fine with that. He also joked about Seri’s style (beard and ear plugs) and told that we must send him an email with a picture when we have managed to get trough Pakistan to the Wagah border. The consul, being so friendly towards us, reminded us of the nice people in India and made us already to look forward to being in there. After five days we got our visas and were happily surprised: We were granted not only the permit to stay 4 months, but also the permit for a triple entry.
Let the adventure begin
Since we got our visa on Friday, we were ready to leave Almaty early on Saturday morning. Almaty had started to feel so cosy already that it felt almost a bit sad to leave. At the same time, it was good to keep on moving. It was the time to start our journey out of Kazakhstan, towards Kyrgyzstan. We had decided to cross the border from the remote Karaka border crossing, which is not the easiest of the border crossings to get to. On the way we wanted to have our last stop in Kazakhstan, at the Charyn Canyon which was supposed to be amazing. Like said, the public transport is almost non-existent at some parts of Kazakhstan, so we had no idea how we were exactly going to get there. We prepared ourselves for hitch hiking and long walks with our bags on our backs. It felt like the adventure was just now going to begin, because until now moving around had been so easy.