Heart of the Tien Shan Trek
Kazakhstan is located in Central Asia and is the heartland/geographic center of Eurasia. With a surface area of 2,724,900 sq km, Kazakhstan is the 9th largest country in the world, after Russia, Canada, China, USA, Brasil, Australia, India and Argentina. Kazakhstan shares its borders with Russia, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan,Turkmenistan and China. The total extent of Kazakhstan borders is nearly 12.2 thousand kilometres, including 600 kilometres along the Caspian Sea. Kazakhstan's surface is covered by 26% desert, 44% semi-desert, 6% forest and 24% steppe terrain, in addition to a few other landscapes. The South and East have great wild and mostly untouched mountain landscapes with the Tien Shan and Altai being the most prominent. The highest peak in the country is Khan Tengri at 7,013m above sea level.
The time in Kazakhstan is GMT +6 hours.
The two official languages in Kazakhstan are Russian and Kazakh. Kazakh is a Turkic language, which was originally written in Arabic script. Since 1940 Kazakh has used a modified form of the Russian Cyrillic alphabet. Russian is the language of business and of communication with the outside world. Both languages are taught in schools and most Kazakhs speak Russian. By contrast, few of the non-Kazakh (Russian) inhabitants of the country speak Kazakh. We recommend that you take a pocket phrase book such as the Lonely Planet or Berlitz and learn some basics such as common greetings. Your efforts to speak a few words of Russian or Kazakh will pay dividends in terms of the warm reaction you receive from the people you meet on your travels.
Kazakhstan experiences a continental climate with cold winters and hot summers. The best time to visit most of the country is April-June or September-October, when the day temperatures are cool. However, trekkers and mountain climbers will want to go in summer: While the rest of the country is burning up in the summer, the mountains are at their best. KE's holidays are based from Almaty in the South East of the country and in the Tien Shan Mountains. In Almaty it can be hot during the day - above 30°C / 86°F. The daytime maximum temperatures in the mountains at 3000 metres will be cooler at around 20°C / 68°F. Night-time temperatures at the South Inylchek Basecamp will fall to freezing point or even a little below. The Tien Shan Mountains usually experience excellent weather throughout the summer, with hot days, clear skies and little rain or snow. However, weather in mountainous areas is notoriously difficult to predict and short-lived storms can occur at any time of the year. In short, you need to be prepared for everything!
The national currency, the Tenge, may only be obtained within
Kazakhstan. Conversion of the Tenge back into hard currency may prove
difficult. Foreign currency should only be exchanged at official
bureaux and all transactions must be recorded on the currency
declaration form that is issued on arrival. It is wise to retain all
exchange receipts, although they are seldom inspected. Money should be brought in US Dollars cash and exchanged
Major European and international credit cards, including Diners Club and Visa, are accepted in the larger hotels in Almaty and in major shops and restaurants. Facilities exist for credit card cash withdrawals in Kazakhstan.
All nationalities require a valid passport with at least 6 months remaining validity at the time of travel. All nationalities will also require a DOUBLE ENTRY Kazakhstan visa. In order to apply for a double entry Kazakhstan Visa you will need a covering letter and hotel confirmation which will be provided by KE.
The fee for a double entry Kazakhstan visa is currently (Dec 2012) £50. Applications can be made using the Travcour website: www.travcour.com. Travcour's current service charge is £50 per visa processed (not including visa fee). Although this is additional cost, Travcour will process your visa and return your passport to you as quickly as possible. Alternatively, UK clients can apply directly to the Kazakh Embassy in London at: http://www.kazembassy.org.uk/tourist_visas_1.html
You should attend your own doctor and dentist for a check-up. Your doctor will have access to the most up to date information on the required vaccinations for the country you are visiting. In general we recommend vaccinations against the following: Polio, Tetanus, Typhoid, Hepatitis ‘A'. A very good online resource is the NHS travel website at fitfortravel.nhs.uk
Additional Sources of Information
Central Asia. Lonely Planet. John King.
Foreign Devils on the Silk Road. Peter Hopkirk.
Mountains of the Middle Kingdom. Galen Rowell.
Detailed topographic maps of our trekking route cannot be purchased, but a detailed local map will be available for the group to look at on the trip. Basic maps can be found in the Lonely Planet guidebooks.