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It turned out all wrong as planned – it turned out as it turned out. If someone asks about the goal of this expeditions, I cannot clearly answer this question. I can only paraphrase the immortal phrase of Athos: “I fight, because I fight”. I use every opportunity to look more closely at our strange world and I still cannot get enough of it.

“Tourism – a form of escapism – a kind of escape from reality” – one educated lady diagnosed all travelers, – “Some people don’t want to work or are afraid of the responsibility of the adult world, therefore they are hampered in the development of the stage of youth tourism”.

But we have an excuse: thousands of years ago, when the notion of tourism didn’t exist, idle dervishes brought out one of the Buddhist axioms, which says that moving around in space, a person lives not only fuller, but also develops in a sacred sense, – the more he sees in this life, the better is he prepared for his main trip. We have to admit that the theory is controversial, but each of us will have a chance to check it sooner or later.

To see all the beauties of Kazakhstan is immodest task, and in fact, there is really something to see in the ninth largest city in the world.

This time our escape from reality began in the foothills of the Manrak Ridge, where the stratigrapho-paleontological monument of the nature of Southern Zaisan “Burning Adyrs” hid in the folds of the small cluster. Time was running out, so we couldn’t see “the Valley of the Dinosaurs” in the rays of sunset or dawn, when bentonite clays play a variety of shades, from bright red and pink-brown to brick green. We had several hours at our disposal, and at noon the picture turned out to be flat, but the imagination helped us to finish what the camera couldn’t capture.

These deposits of volcanic absorbents were formed in the Mesozoic period, in a hot and humid tropical climate. In 1959, here bone remains and egg shell of dinosaurs have been found. Now the decorate the paleontological museum in St. Petersburg.

Our ancestors found giant bones and didn’t doubt that the belonged to dragons. This is evidenced by the names of the mountains – Delbegetei, the Dragon Mountain.

The bone remains of the three-fingered horse of the hippary, giraffes, rhinoceroses, tiger lions and gazelles discovered here. They lived 10 million years ago.

Maybe someday our descendants will arrive to EKR from the colonies in the constellation Alpha Centauri to admire the remains of the argali that lived on the Mynrak Ridge. We can be proud that we were lucky to find them alive. According to the latest data, there are about 400 individuals of argali of Central Kazakhstan subspecies in the Mynrak array.

If once the largest representatives of our fauna lived here, now, in Mynrak, you can meet a mammal smaller than a nat. You can see a dwarf jerboa salpingotus only at night in the headlights. This amazing animal has a much higher cost than the bear in spite of its small size. It has four legs thinner than a match, a long tail behind him, but you must not touch it – I mean a fine of 800 thousand tenge. Red book! Thank goodness no one ever dreams of poaching. What cannot be said about another representative of this book – argali. Our expedition quite accidentally stumbled upon the camp of primitive people of the late socialism or early capitalism, near which the remains of argali were found in kitchen scraps. On the rights of the discover, we named this cultural layers – homo poachers.

The desert, withering in the July heat, created in our minds the mirages of the cool mountain valleys, in rivers and lakes, there are full of delicious fish.

Therefore, we successfully crossed the Black Irtysh, and an hour later, from the yellow desert, got to another world, where on the green meadows the horses frolicked and the bumblebees buzzed.

To the Irtysh to Terekty (Alekseevka) we got there in two hours. According to the plan, we had to visit the historical monument “American Hat”. There was found cave paintings of the Stone Age made with ocher. The similar technique of rock art is found in France. We asked a few local residents where is the art gallery of the “Mousterian culture”. They answered that the club had been closed for a long time, but there is a decent café where we can watch pictures on TV.

Only there did we realize that this cave can be found special escort, but it will take the rest of my life. The schedule of the expedition didn’t provide for a spare life, so we went straight to the Markakol.

It turned out that to find the Markakol Lake is easier than “American Hat”. Only one road led to it.

Across the border in Chinese territory we saw a long of huge sand bunes. The whole mountains are entirely lined covering of yellow sand. We were filled with pride – the Chinese have sand, and we have a real taiga! Somehow imperceptibly, from the Central Asia desert, we got to Siberia. There is the Kazakhstan Pole of cold on the territory of Markakol district, near the village of Orlovka. In winter, the temperature drops to minus 55 degrees, and the height of the snow cover reaches 2 meters. Therefore, we had to put on warm clothes and change our T-shirts to full set Kryptek (a brand of camouflage clothing), because it was a terrible rain and the roads turned into rivers. We arrived at night in Urunkhayka. We didn’t dare to descent to the clay shore and spend the night right in the car.

It was all story, the tale began the next day.

After the rain, the fogs swirled over the Kurchum Ridge and Azutay. The turquoise lake stretched between the ridges from the northeast to the southwest. The height is 1400 meters. The length of the lake is 38 km, the width is 19 km, the area is 455 km2, the length of the shore line is 106 km, the average depth is 14.3 km, the maximum depth is 24-27 m. The lake bowl is 6.5 km3 of water. The catchment area is 1180 km2. In total, 50 watercourses flow into the lake. The main ones are Topolyovka, Tikhushka, Yelovka, Karabulak, Zhirenka. The Kaldzhir River is the only one that flows from this lake.

We began our acquaintance with Markakol from a visit to the office of the reserve. The site of the bank to the mouth of Topolyovka refers to the recreational zone. There you can get a pass into visit the ecological route. Our attempt to overcome the Markakol Lake from the land ingloriously ended at the first river called Tikhushka. Night rain has created all the conditions for a hard offroad. Any jeeper would give half the life for the pleasure of forcing this swampy barrier, but our UAZ-39094 was more inclined to quiet agricultural joys than to the offensive offroad exploits. In the meantime, while my lower body was having a slab bath, the upper body communicated with the local fauna.

The black stork haughtily followed me with his eyes, without even bothering to get up in the air because of such a pathetic, wet-tanned persona like me.

The failure of the ground operation led us to some confusion, but we didn’t give up and decided to get to the beauties of the Markakol, using water transport.

You can make ecological excursions by boat within the recreational zone (up to the mouth of Topolyovka). A boat with a guide can be rented without problems in the village of Urunkhayka for a modest price. Our guide Kairat was an extremely good guy and he showed us a lot of interesting things.

On the Markakol, sports fishing for local residents is allowed. Currently, a bio- justification is being prepared for the organization of fishing tourism on the principle of Tag&Release. But this idea has both supporters and opponents.

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The administration of the reserve considers that non-lethal fishing tourism, without damaging fish stock, will reduce the motivation of poaching and will increase the interest of local residents in protecting nature. Many experts cite the famous environmental slogan “Use or lose”. People usually don’t appreciate those resources that don’t bring the benefits, and administrative resources for full-fledged conservation are not yet sufficient.

We decided to find out a position about this science. There is located the field camp of the Institute of Hydrobiology and Ecology in the mouth of the Topolyovka. We’re lucky to see the director of the institute Mirgali Esengalievich Baymukanov. He was in camp and agreed to be interviewed. He agreed recreation zone needs to establish environmentally friendly types of nature management that will increase the motivation of local residents to preserve nature, but the ethical principle of the protected zone shouldn’t be violated.

Reserves were created as standards of wild nature and commercial interests should not affect natural processes. In recreational zone it is necessary to motivate, but in reserve to punish. According to many years of research, fish stocks of the Markakol over the past 10 years decreased by one and half times.

The catastrophically increasing number of cormorants on the lake caused particularly heated debate. 10 years ago, cormorants on the Markakol didn’t nest at all, and now we drove by three colonies. The areas of the forest occupied by cormorants were visible from afar. The trees killed by toxic bird droppings. Mirgali Esengalievich considers that change of traditional places of cormorants nests is connected with reduction of fish stocks on the Zaisan Lake and the Bukhtarma Reservoir. But science is against the extermination of cormorants, because the reserve status of the reserve shouldn’t be violated. Nutrition of cormorants is not well understood. Perhaps, nutrition basis of this birds is not lenok (uskuch), but gudgeon and minnow. In any case, decisive measures should be taken only after careful research. Local residents don’t share this view; they consider cormorants are the main culprits for the impoverishment of fish stock. Scientists believe the main threat comes not from birds, but from poachers. Underwater hunting on Markakol is prohibited, but without a gun, you can dive with the camera, that I did.

I must say that even if it had been resolved, there is very little chance of getting fish. Transparency is no more than 3 meters, and a careful fish notices a person from a long distance. Several times, in the haze, the tails of uskuch flashed like arrows at a tremendous speed.

At the bottom, I noticed several dead fish. Mirgali Esengalievich has confirmed that there is a not very significant pollution of the reservoir by household waste and the consequences of agricultural activities. These effects are not yet very noticed, but the processes are growing exponentially. The development of mass tourism will inevitably serve as their catalyst.

I actually always advocated the development of sustainable tourism, but in this case the scientist’s arguments seemed convincing to me. If to set up fishing grounds along the shores of the lake as many as it has appeared in the last 10 years in Balkhash region the fragile ecosystem of the high mountain lake is unlikely to survive.

If fishing for uskuch was allowed, I would say that in July and the first half of August, you can catch one or two fish per day on the lake, but in September, the uskuch rises from the depth and is caught in large numbers. Therefore, in May and the first half of June, the intensity of biting is not discussed at all.

Cordyceps. In the second half of the 19th century, all adventurers rushed to California, then to Alaska. At the beginning of the 21st century, all citizen of Markakol district, from old people to children, abandoned all their business, seized spades and ran to the mountains to dig a red book plant – paeonia amomala. The fact is that the roots of this plant have an amazing fungus called cordyceps. In Chinese medicine, it is used both as a medicine and as a male and female aphrodisiac.

The theme of psychedelic plants has always worried me, but now it has worried the whole region.

That’s how it reproduces. Spores of the fungus are carried by wind and insect along the highlands, and some of the spores find their prey – the larva of the butterfly Hepialus armoricanus. With offensive of vegetation, the cordyceps spore sprouts through its head and begins to grow, sucking out all the juices from the larva. Cordyceps contains the lion’s dose of the most powerful antibacterial and other active substances. Therefore, since the germination of the fungus, none of parasite will penetrate into the larva. It will not become infected with any disease. And even after the mushroom kills it and the larva dies, it will not be affected by any pathogenic processes and will turn into a mummy. The mummies of these worms are collected by the cordyceps collectors. For a kilogram of dry worm, dealers give 600 thousand tenge.

Recently, during the raid, forestry enterprise stafftogether with prosecutors caught a group of cordyceps collectors. The criminal case was opened. For the red book pion, the fine was about one million tenge. So I don’t advice experimenting with it.

I always loved travel books and TV shows. When I was a child, I watched “Travelers’ Club”, later “Unkempt Notes” and “Heads and Tails”. Finally, in my old age, fate smiled and it was possible to shoot my own program.

We said goodbye to the Markakol and went to the village of Bobrovka to shoot a program about fishing. We combined business with pleasure. I’ve always wanted to conduct a hunting survey of these grounds. Probably these are the only grounds in Kazakhstan where you can get the Big Kazakhstan Five in one place. It is maral, moose, bear, roe deer and ibex. True, for an ibex, it is necessary to climb the snow-covered mountain peak towards the Katon-Karagai National Park and take a license in the park. The grounds belong to the Regional Society of Hunters and Fishermen. We’re used to the fact that it is difficult to meet something alive on the common ground, but for some reason this rule doesn’t work in these parts. Well, it is understandable why there are quite a lot of animals here. There is probably poaching, but the huge area of the grounds allows to withstand its press.

The idea emerged to make a film about the Big Kazakhstan Five. I found out about a recreational license. It is possible to get it. Now we are casting for the role of a potential hero of the program. The Big Kazakhstan Five is not a massive and, most likely, not a commercial program.

In Bobrovka, we got acquainted with inspectors of the forestry enterprise – Syrym and Yesimbek. They looked experienced and intelligent people. They often participated in tourist hunting. The know the places very well. They told that in 2013, their client from Austria got a trophy of maral weighing 18 kg. I believed that I was aware of all the great cases in the field of hunting. It turned out to be untrue.

The schedule of our international television corporation didn’t allow us to carry out full scale hunting survey of the grounds. The price of the filming day, including the work of cameramen, actors, directors, consultants, screen writers, pyrotechnics, lamp men, artists, stage workers, the director and his deputies, drivers, masseuses and household managers and other political instructors didn’t allow us to spend precious counting animals. We just climbed a few hills. Live animals, except a dozen roe deer, were not seen but fresh traces of moose, maral and bear were met almost everywhere. The whole forest in the valley of Kara Koba and Arsan Kaba is trampled by bears. Small willow and birch is a favorite place of moose.

Yesimbek said that in September, no need to go anywhere. Just set down on the summit of the hill and wait for it.

The season for quiet hunting has already began. Mushrooms are not yet, but you can see leccinum scabrum and russules.

The best time for catching lenok and grayling is the second half of August and September, but in July, you can catch a dozen fish, if not to be lazy. I was really lazy, but I pulled out a few pieces.

Spinning rod is not good idea to fish grayling. Artificial fly is just the most suitable.

In the Kara Koba River, the water after rains became turbid, and in Arasan Koba, despite any rain, it remains quite transparent.

Here you can also see taimen. Recently, the inspection detained some fishermen with taimens. A criminal case was opened, and the amount of the fine was very big. So, before you want to fish taimen from the Red Book, I advise you to read the administrative code.

Further, according to our plan, we had to walk around the Katon-Karagai National Park. We had to go by UAZ-39094 to the Chindagatui Valley.

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A hundred years ago, Austrian prisoners of war paved in the taiga a strategic road, connecting the Markakol with the Bukhtarma Valley in Uryl region. Austrian road has always been famous for their quality and this has served for a hundred years. But a couple of years ago, even the Austrian road couldn’t handle the features of our road management. Five of the seven bridges fell into disrepair. We had to come back and take a detour through the village of Kurchum.

But the plan changed and we didn’t go to Kurchum.

We travel for someone else’s expense, so sometimes we have to carry out activities in accordance with the plans of those who pay for all expenses. We had to postpone the Chindagatui for a week. So far, we are going to count the argali in Tarbagatai, in the deafest and poorly known part. This equestrian expedition promises to be no less interesting than the postponed for a couple of weeks trip to the Chindagatui. We have a chance to each the famous Tarbagatai Osman whose weight reaches 5 kg! And if you’re lucky, you can see the rarest kind of bear – sloth bear, sometimes coming to Tarbagatai from China. Meeting of sloth bears in Tarbagatai are described in the special literature, although I personally have not read anything like this, but I believe in the respected hunters. In addition, we will count the Tarbagatai argali and make the movie about this historic event.

On the way to Tarbagatai, we also explore the famous Chilikty mounds, where is found the same golden man as in Issyk. The places are imbued with history here. The Chilikty Valley is located about 100 km to the South of the Zaisan Lake, between the Monrak Ridge and the Tarbagatai Ridge, at an altitude of 1300-1500 m above the sea level.

Approximately in the middle of the valley, near the central estate of the former state farm “Chiliktinsky”, there is the largest burial ground, consisting of 51 mounds.

This places are extremely favorable for cattle breeding and have long served as excellent pastures for nomads. Warm winters, low snow cover, excellent hayfields and sufficient irrigation were appreciated by nomads already in the extreme antiquity, as evidenced by the huge mounds. Scientists believe that the burial mounds of the era of the early nomads are always in the areas of winter pastures and never – summer. This is understandable, since it was the winter pastures, people built graves of their ancestors to fasten it for themselves.

The pioneer of archeological research in the Chilikty Valley became a bureaucrat of special assignments at the Prairie Government of A. P. Plakhov. In 1899, he took from the Archeological Commission 100 rubles to excavate a range burial mound in the Chilikty Valley. He didn’t report about recited amount. The Commission then searched him for a long time, but couldn’t find.

The first systematic archeological exploration of the Chilikty Valley was carried out by the East Kazakhstan expedition of the Leningrad Regional Academy of Sciences of the USSR in1949.

Then one mound was excavated in the central burial ground, in which gold plaques was made in Scythian Siberian “Aminal Style”. Also there was another material, relating to the second half of the 5th century BC. The ornaments depicted a snow leopard.

The last snow leopard in the Chilikty Valley was killed in 1958. Also there was an image of a tiger, which was still in the XIX century on the Zaisan Lake.

There are particularly common images of maral, horse and argali. The well-known Iranist V. I. Abaev expressed an assumption that maral can be a totem of the Saks, since both these words sound the same in the ancient Iranian languages (Sak) and in his opinion, they are the self-name of the Scythians.

The distribution of similar images of maral and argali on a vast territory from the Altai to the Western Tien Shan once again points to a great unity of culture and ideological notions among the early nomads, which is natural with their frequent movements over long distances.

The main modern symbols of our country are the golden eagle and the snow leopard. But the number of preserved images of deer, argali and horse occupied the most honorable places in the culture of the ancient inhabitants of Central Asia. The domestication of horse marked the beginning of a nomadic culture, and argali, being the ancestors of the domestic sheep, provided not only the food needs of the nomads, but also gave them wool. Just like millennia ago, mountain sheep saved people from hunger and cold, now this overvalued renewable natural resource, with reasonable use, can serve the satisfaction of the vital needs of the population of remote areas.

So, it’s time to go.

Maxim Levitin.

Zaisan. Hotel. July 2015.