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Kazakhstan lies at the heart of CentralAsia, across the Old Silk Road, theancient trade route that linked Chinaand the West. It is a massive country, halfthe size of the United States or the wholeof western Europe! Yet with a population ofjust 17 million, mostly concentrated in thecities, this is a land of vast open andunpeopled spaces. Great stone and sanddeserts - the Kara Kum, Kyzyl Kum andTau Kum - and wide grassy steppesoccupy the great majority of the country,interspersed with such great inland lakesas Lake Balkhash and the Aral Sea. Indramatic contrast, along the south-easternborders of Kazakhstan stands the mightyTien Shan mountain range, the 1,610-kilometre spine of Central Asia andnorthern extension of the Himalaya whichwaters flower-filled alpine meadows, lushforests of Tien Shan Spruce and lowlandriverine Turanga forest, and feeds the greatlakes and inland deltas to the north.Kazakhstan's flora - consisting of over6,000 species - is interesting and varied.Its alpine and bulbous plants areparticularly special, and one of thehighlights of this tour will be the widevariety and colourful displays of wild tulipsthat we will find in bloom in the meadowsand mountains. It was only during thesecond half of the 16th century that Asiantulips found their way to Europe, and themajority of forms in cultivation around theworld today were originally obtained fromGreig's and Kaufmann's Tulips, both ofwhich we will see in their meadows oforigin during this exciting tour. Indeed, aswe journey westwards from Almaty acrosssouth-eastern Kazakhstan, amongst abewildering variety of other beautiful springflowers, we will hope to see up to 10species of wild Asian tulips.We will begin our tour with a scheduledflight to Kazakhstan's former capital,Almaty. Built as a Russian military outpostin the latter part of the 19th century, andformerly known as Verny (meaning Faithful)and more recently Alma-ata, present dayAlmaty is a pleasant and abundantly leafymodern city with a fabulous backdrop,nestling as it does beneath the snow-covered peaks of the Trans Ili range of theTien Shan Mountains, amongst whichstands Mount Talgar (5,017 metres). Westay for two nights in a modern hotel in thecity and, after breakfast on the firstmorning, drive to Lake Kapchagai on theRiver Ili (which originates in China),approximately 80 kilometres north-east ofAlmaty. In this arid area we should findsuch tulips as Tulipa albertii,T. busheanaand T. behmiana as well as the attractiveIris tenuifolia and Corydalis karelinii.Thisarea is also rich in reptiles and hopefullywe will see Horsfield's Tortoise here.Leaving the luxury of the Astana Hotelbehind, we spend two nights in simpleaccommodation close to the wonderfulMerke Gorge, breaking the long drive fromAlmaty with frequent botanical stops alongthe way. A picnic lunch will be taken at theKurdai Pass, where we should find theendangered Berberis relative, Leonticeeversmannii with its showy yellow flowersand distinctive divided glaucous foliage.This site is a tulipophile's delight as weshould encounter Tulipa kolpakowskiana,T.ostrowskiana and their hybrids, providing atapestry of yellow, orange and red flowers.We may also find the unusual leaves of T.regelii which flowers very early, as well asa couple of iris species. Merke Gorge is situated in the KirghizAlatau mountain range, its steep slopescovered by clumps of ferns (Ceteraxofficinarum,AspleniumseptentrionaleandCystopteris fragilis) as well as relict IronTree (Celtis caucasica). The highlight here,however, is likely to be Zinaida's Tulip, anendemic species of the Kirghiz Alatau.We will now drive to Aksu Dzabagly NatureReserve, the oldest reserve in Central Asiahaving been established in 1927. Duringthe journey we will stop to explore both theKuyuk Pass and the Syrdarynski Karataurange where Greig's Tulip, the largest andmost spectacular of the world's wild tulips,will be in bloom. We will pass riverineforests where the relict species Fraxinuspotamophila, numerous Eremuruslactiflorusand the very beautiful Alliumkarataviensemay be found. A simpleguesthouse will be our base during our 6-night stay in Aksu Dzabagly. From it we willexplore the Aksu and Boroldai Gorges; thelatter displaying an unrivalled density ofGreig's Tulips, the former offering suchunusual or endemic plants as Korolkowiasewerzowi,Rhinopetalum stenantherumandScilla pushkinioides.We will also soakin the delights of the distinctive CentralAsian open forest comprising suchspecies as Pistacia vera,Crataeguspontica,Pyrus regelii,Vitis vinifera,Sorbuspersica,Prunus sogdianaand Padusmahaleb, plus one of the rarest plants ofthe Tien Shan, the endemic Thesiumminkwitzianum.Next, we will drive to the Saryyaigyr Gorgefor a 2-night stay. Situated in theKarzhantau range, the steep slopes of thisspectacular gorge will reward us withthickets of Ferula tenuisecta,F.penninervis,Prangos pabularia, andpatches of forest consisting of thebeautiful 'weeping' form of Juniperussemiglobosa. The population ofKaufmann's Tulips will be our mainattraction here - with over 10 differentforms in bloom!Finally, we return by overnight sleeper trainto Almaty for some final and rewardingbotanical exploration in the alpinemeadows of the adjacent Trans Ili range,before our return flight to London.Tulip Meadows ofKazakhstan & the Tien Shan MountainsA 16-day botany tour of the steppes and Tien Shan Mountains of Kazakhstan, with particular emphasis on the wonderful spring display of wild tulips. Saturday 13th April - Sunday 28th April Cost: £2,995Outline itineraryDay 1Fly Almaty.Day 2Almaty.Day 3/4Merke Gorge.Day 5/10Aksu Dzabagly NatureReserve, Tien ShanMountains.Day 11/12Saryyaigyr Gorge,Karzhantau Ridge.Day 13Drive Shimkent.Overnight train toAlmaty.Day 14Big Almaty Lake, TienShan Mountains.Day 15Almaty.Day 16Fly London.AccommodationComfortable hotel of internationalstandard with private facilities,Almaty; simple guesthouseselsewhere with mostly sharedfacilities.FoodAll included in the price. GradingDay walks only. Grade B.Easy/moderate.FocusPlants, with particular emphasis onthe wonderful display of wild tulips. LeaderNeil Anderson.Single room supplement£150.Web quick search: KAZ04244Call now or visit www.naturetrek.co.ukfor your free Trip ItineraryCHINAKAZAKHSTANILI RIVERKYRGYZSTANLAKE BALKHASHTAMGALYTAS GORGEMERKE GORGEBIG ALMATYLAKEALMATYCHARYN RED &CHARYN YELLOWCANYONSSARYYAIGYR GORGE& KARZHANTAU RIDGESHIMKENTAKSU DZABAGLYNATURE RESERVEALAKOLLAKETulipa greigii, view towards Tien Shan MountainsTulipa albertii

Kazakhstan, lying at the heart ofCentral Asia on the Old Silk Road, isa massive country spanning2,717,300 square kilometres from theCaspian Sea to western China; an area thesize of the whole of western Europe! Yet,with a population of just 17 million mostlyliving in the cities, this is a land of vastopen and unpeopled spaces. Great stoneand sand deserts, and wide grassysteppes occupy the great majority of thecountry, interspersed with such great inlandlakes as Lake Balkhash and the Aral Sea.In dramatic contrast, along its south-eastern borders stand the mighty TienShan Mountains, the 1,610-kilometre spineof Central Asia and northern extension ofthe Himalaya which waters flower-filled alpine meadows, lush forests of Tien Shan Spruce and lowland Turanga, andfeeds the great lakes and inland deltas to the north.We reach Kazakhstan's former capital,Almaty, on a scheduled flight fromHeathrow. This city, built as a Russianmilitary outpost in the latter part of the 19thcentury, and formerly known as Verny(meaning Faithful) and more recently Alma-ata, is today a pleasant and abundantlyleafy modern capital with a fabulousbackdrop, nestling as it does beneath thepeaks of the Tien Shan Mountains. Fromour hotel we overlook city parkland, andthe towering and fabulously ornate woodencathedral of the Russian Orthodox Churchwhich stands before snowbound summits. We begin the tour by taking an overnighttrain to Aksu Dzabagly Nature Reserve, theoldest reserve in Central Asia having beenestablished in 1927. The reserve protectssome of the finest habitats of the Tien ShanMountains, and to best explore it we willbase ourselves for three nights in a simpleguesthouse from which we will take daywalks and optional pony rides into thereserve. This part of the holiday will beparticularly rewarding, for Aksu Dzabagly isa botanical paradise with over 1,400species, many of which are rare orendemic to the western Tien Shan, andinclude a wide variety of primulas, tulips,saxifrages, alliums and Astragalus,plussuch fine endemic trees as Betula talassicaand Populus talassicus. A rich selection ofbirds includes a number of raptor speciesand nearby steppe lakes promise suchattractions as Little Bustard, DemoiselleCrane and Collared Pratincole. Returning to Almaty by train, we then beginour exploration of the area that liesbetween the spectacular red sandstonegorges of Charyn Red Canyon and theriverine Ash forest of Charyn YellowCanyon. The Charyn Canyons are east ofAlmaty, close to China's border, andbetween them span wide green steppeswhere stately Demoiselle Cranes andGoitered Gazelles may be seen, togetherwith huge breeding colonies of Rose-coloured Starlings, a dashing Saker Falconperhaps, or even the elusive Pallas'sSandgrouse. En route eastwards fromAlmaty we will pass agricultural landswhere telegraph wires are decorated withBee-eaters, Rollers, Isabelline Wheatears,Lesser Grey Shrikes and Red-headedBuntings, and we will stop to explore therocky gullies of the Tien Shan's outlyinghills hoping to find Long-legged Buzzards,Pied Wheatears, and White-capped andGrey-necked Buntings.We next focus our attentions on theTuranga forest. Turanga is an endemicspecies of poplar tree - Populusdiversifolia- found along the banks ofKazakhstan's rivers and in the inlanddeltas. The broad swathes of green thatthis riverine forest creates through anotherwise desert landscape provide habitatfor such special birds as White-wingedWoodpecker, the declining Eversmann'sStock Dove, and Azure and Turkestan Tits,whilst in the associated Saxaul bushes livesthe attractive Saxaul Sparrow. Such forestsare found along the Ili River and we visitseveral areas of Turanga forest in search ofthese specialised residents. We also spendtime exploring remote steppes and desertsthat are home to numerous larks andwheatears, Macqueen's Bustard, Black-bellied and the much rarer Pallas'sSandgrouse, Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters, andthe delightful Desert Warbler. Amongst thewayside plants we may find Nanophytonerinaceum,Convolvulus fruticosusand theendemic Limonium michelsonii,plusHaloxylon aphyllum,Halimodendronhallodendron,Eremurus anisopterusandBerberis iliensisin the more sandy areas.We complete our circuit of the deserts andsteppes with a visit to Tamgaly, wheresome fine rock engravings dating from theearly Bronze Age are to be found, togetherwith abundant Bimaculated Larks, EasternRock Nuthatches and Desert Finches and anumber of interesting plants, includingJuno kuschakeviczii,Gagea iliense,Irisalberti,Euphorbia jaroslaviiand Eremurusaltaicus.On completion of our exploration of the TienShan we must reluctantly return to Almatyfor our flight home. However, one finalornithological highlight awaits with a visit tothe mountains above Almaty, where thesplendid montane birdlife includesHimalayan Snowcock, Ibisbill, HimalayanRubythroat and many other exciting speciesinhabiting the flower-filled mountain valleys.The Tien Shan Mountains & Deserts of KazakhstanA birdwatching holiday to the deserts, steppes and lakes of Kazakhstan, including four days in the spectacular Aksu Dzabagly Nature Reserve high in the Tien Shan Mountains. Saturday 4th May - Sunday 19th May Cost: £2,895Book direct on 01962 733051or see page 284 for Booking InformationCHINAKAZAKHSTANUZBEKISTANKYRGYZSTANLAKE BALKHASHTAMGALYGORGEMERKE GORGEBIG ALMATYLAKEALMATYCHARYNREDCANYONSARYYAIGYR GORGE& KARZHANTAU RIDGEDZHAMBULILI DELTAAKSU DZABAGLYNATURE RESERVEALAKOLLAKECHARYNYELLOWCANYONILI RIVEROutline itineraryDay 1Fly Almaty.Day 2Overnight train to AksuDzabagly.Day 3/5Aksu Dzabagly NatureReserve, Tien ShanMountains.Day 6Overnight train toAlmaty.Day 7/8Charyn Red and YellowCanyons.Day 9Return Almaty.Day 10/12Turanga forest, Tamgalyand Taukum Desert.Day 13/15Observatory aboveAlmaty.Day 16Fly London.AccommodationComfortable hotel of internationalstandard, Almaty; simpleguesthouse in Aksu Dzabagly andfully serviced camping elsewhere.We will also stay in simpleaccommodation in theAstronomical Observatory aboveAlmaty. Facilities are shared exceptin Almaty.FoodAll included in the price. GradingDay walks only. Grade B. Moderate.Between 1,830 and 3,660 metres.FocusBirds and plants (plus somemammals). LeaderAlan Curry.Single room supplement£195.Web quick search: KAZ03245Tien Shan MountainsPapaver roemeria refracta and Blue sp.Himalayan Rubythroat