Hidden routes around Almaty. Kok Zhailau. Kazakhstan
One of the alternative routes for trekking is called by locals Kok Zhailau, located in the Medeu Valley and is easily reachable with city bus number 12 which goes up Gornaya road. The peculiarity of the path is to offer beautiful views both towards the peaks of Zaiyliskiy Alatay, both in the inner valleys, birch woods, apple orchards and large green plateaus ideal for picnics. It takes about 3 hours to get to Kok Zhailau (about 2250 meters high above the sea).
Get out from the bus two stops before the cable car to Shimbulak. Close to the bus stop there’s a well on the right of the road, usually full of people collecting potable water. A few meters down begins a paved road that leads to a group of houses clinging on the side of a bare hill. On the left a small stream flows. If you are in the car this is the last stretch where you can park.
Continue then among the last houses where there’s the indication of the beginning of the path, always on the right. A few meters ahead you will be between a romantic white birch forest on the left and a large apple orchard that occupies the entire opposite hill. Between September and October, the inhabitants of the city come here to collect the famous apples, symbol of Almaty. At one time the apple orchards stretched from urban boundaries to Medeu; but the savage construction of the last two decades has deprived the territory of this treasure, including the famous apples as large as an adult face. If you come here in season, I suggest you try the small wild green apples, sour and delicious.
Climbing to Kok Zhaliau
Starting now the ascent, walk upwards on the often muddy trail and continue on the left. From here it is possible to admire both the peaks above Shimbulak, always covered with snow; both, on the other side, the city, under its blanket of smog. Follow the path that turns inwards. Cross hills more or less steep, green in spring, colored by trees in bloom; or snow-covered during the winter. The splendid crown of peaks accompanies you along the path on your left, until the mule track advances on the high right side of a narrow valley. At the top you will find pines and deciduous forest. Descend slightly, until the road curves to the left. Then climb the last hill before reaching the highlands of Kok Zhailau.
The more sporty families come here for picnics and to practice cross-country skiing in the winter, or simply have fun with the sleigh and snowballs. Continuing towards the valley, there is a waterfall with a fairly large basin where, from late spring onwards, the locals bathe in anything but warm waters!
For the return you can redo the same road or continue on the opposite side, until you reach the Valley of Ayo Say, towards the Great Lake of Almaty. Even here it takes three hours of walking. Gradually descend towards the valley floor, crossing murmuring streams; up to a more steep descent into a broad-leaved forest.
At the end of the slope, you find yourself on a paved road surrounded by small houses. Continue for about an hour with the creek on your left. This street, Kokshoku, is famous for its pleasant green rest areas, where many families come to cook shashlik. At the intersection with Dulati street, you find the bus stop number 28 to get back to the city.
The route to Kok Zhailau is open all year round; however, during the winter, if a lot of snow has fallen, the path will be difficult to practise, unless you are well prepared. I reached the highlands in February and I admit that it was not an easy walk, especially on the way back. I have not counted the times when I fell, risking to finish even under a passing horse …
The second time, at the beginning of May, for me it was much easier and more pleasant; especially for the green hills and the presence of wildflowers everywhere. In any case you need good hiking shoes and will to walk!
For more info about hiddern routs around Almaty, click here.