What’s most wonderful about this alpine valley 70 km east of Almaty is how, instead of narrowing down to a final destination, the gorge opens up into a range of biomes and landscapes: alpine meadows, old-growth forest, glaciers and high peaks are all there for the taking. A full exploration of the area will entail at least a week’s worth of hiking, mountain-biking, climbing and rafting.
The other thing which makes Turgen such a fine place is its distance from Almaty. It’s a 90-minute drive, which isn’t very far if you’re planning a few days in nature, but it is far enough to discourage some of the day trippers who come just to grill meat – they stick to Big Almaty Lake and the Arasan Gorge closer to Almaty.
Thirdly, it’s just beautiful. A great sense of energy comes from the steep, stark cliffs that jut out and above the forest. The white water of the Turgen river splashes against big boulders as it rushes down. The sound of the Kairak waterfall releasing into a stone pool can overpower the sensitive visitor. Here, nature is still allowed to be bigger than us.
At the same time, a great stillness can be observed in the forest. Look closely, and you might see bears, wolves, deer and wild hogs. But you don’t need to be an expert tracker to be alive to the colorful displays of mountain flora, growing in the shade of mighty fir trees, on a blanket of ancient moss.
Take a hike beyond the standard points of interest and you will find yourself alone mostly, in the company of snow-covered peaks. Below you lies the Assy Plateau, where sheep graze and jeeps race. Above, the starry night sky. An unfinished telescope stands testament to the quality of nightly darkness here.
If you’re interested in visiting (I hope I was convincing!), see our Turgen travel guide for info on activities, accommodation and transport.
Thanks to Steven for the glacier picture and Idrive.kz for the pictures of Assy plateau.