Kazakhstan – Charyn Canyon


But unless I want to set up camp in the dark, I had better make an effort to find the Charyn Canyon. Then the canyon finds me; as the road winds through black rock cuttings that crowd out the light, they dramatically fall away as the mountain turns to canyon. The heat rises out of the dark rock canyon like a translucent curtain, behind which the landscape trembles and shifts. Far below, a cream soda river winds its way through pink and yellow sand.

By now the sun is making a dive for the horizon, the light paints the sand shades of purple, pink and gold, very pretty and all, but I really need to find a place to camp. Sharp left onto the first dirt road I see, I bounce along next to the river until a little road takes me onto a rise with a splendid view of the canyon. An excellent camping spot, and within minutes the rice is boiling, the bed made, GPS reading taken and the day’s photographs downloaded. While the sun vanishes over the western horizon, I set up my tripod, and photograph the full moon as it rises over the eastern canyon wall. All around me, night creatures make small holes in the silence.

I am a homeless, far-away person, not forgotten, not forlorn.

In the clear morning sky, the sun take the moon’s encore, and my tea creates a very small cloud that floats in the rising heat. All is well in my world, until a big truck in army camouflage stops right in my view. How rude. Out of the truck oozes a great slob of a man.

‘Neht fotographia.’

Is this Soviet brainwash serious?

Whipping out my Kazakh tourist map I point out that Charyn Canyon is one of Kazakhstan’s major tourist attractions, and if he had not noticed, tourism and photography are pretty synonymous nowadays.

He is not swayed. He indicates that I should move along, as in his opinion tourists are destroying the canyon. To make his point, he then starts inspecting my campsite. Too bad for him that I am pretty Boy Scout when it comes to camping, and other than the footprints, no trace of me is to be found. But I am horrified to notice that he walks directly to my – now closed – hole in the ground. Has he been watching me? Last night’s little sponge bath comes to mind. I have become fairly back-to-nature about my camping activities and now with the suspicion that this fat slob was watching me, the whole joyful earth goddess thing gets swaddled in a grey cloak of suspicion.

The thought that this big slob of a man or more of his ilk might be following me about in the canyon changes my plans from finding a camping spot to finding a hotel, and it becomes a dawdle here, dawdle there kind of day. The main road leads through the width of the canyon, which is guarded at one end by a white painted statue of a ram, and at the other by a black painted statue of an eagle. The jagged canyon fades into the haze north and south. East and west the canyon edge stands in stark relief to the cloudless sky. It is a big empty world, where the silence is only broken by the occasional car. Here in the outback, cars are luxuries that are nursed along with whatever means possible, and are used to transport whatever will fit. On the side of the road an old couple are pouring cooking oil into their bright yellow car, while four sheep look placidly out of the backseat windows, as if four sheep taking a drive on the back seat of a Trabant is quite the most natural thing in the world.

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