Friday, 21 October 2011
High as a Kite.
I pull back the curtains in my son's apartment, and this is what I see.
These mountains curve into the great Tien Shan range, which in turn climbs into the Himalayas. Afghanistan is nearer to me here than Scotland is when I'm at home. Kabul is but a few mountain peaks away.
A few days later we go so much higher that I cannot talk and walk at the same time (something of a temporary respite for my son, I think). We go up here:
(Chimbulak, site of the Asian Winter Games last year.)
and from here you can look across into Kyrgyzstan, and then on and on and on into China.
I am so aware of the immensity of this landlocked place. It is in the middle of nowhere, surrounded, enclosed by huge mountain ranges and seemingly limitless plains. I have experienced vast landscapes before, and mountainous ones as well, but when the two collide, as they do here in Kazakhstan, their power is awe-inspiring.
There was a heavy snowfall on the mountains a few days before I arrived, but now the snow is melting from the lower slopes, the water rushing down into the town of Almaty, where there are fountains and cascades and the greenest grass I have ever seen.
I am enchanted afresh by Almaty. I visited at the same time last year, when it seemed exotic and remote. This year it feels friendly and almost familiar. I begin to feel at home here.
It is the cleanest place I have ever seen, immaculate, cared for, burnished. At a very personal level I am enchanted by the fact that within hours my arthritis has apparently disappeared, and I can (almost) bound up the marble staircases without touching the handrails. (Alas, this state of affairs is not to continue, but I make the most of it while it does.) The mountain air is so clean it tingles in the lungs, and I am as high as a kite. Almaty itself is high - a thousand metres above sea-level before you start on the mountains which are only minutes away from the town centre.
I fantasise about buying one of the little wooden houses, just off each of the main streets. I could have an orchard and a cow and some chickens, and perhaps do English teas in the garden. Then my son reminds me that the glorious colours will fall from the tree-lined streets and the fountains will be turned off before they freeze. The arthritis kicks in again, and I'm not quite so confident about skating and skiing.
But I still find this place delightful, in every sense of the word.