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Following the popularity and successof our spring tours to Kazakhstan'sTien Shan Mountains, where we haveso enjoyed the magnificent displays oftulips and irises, this summer tour offersan opportunity to explore the high alpinemeadows of the region, at a time when theglorious carpets of alpine flowers are attheir best. Although Kazakhstan is still largelyunknown to Westerners, it is the ninthlargest country in the world and, sincegaining independence from Russia, hasbecome a most exciting new frontier fortravel, particularly for botanical andornithological exploration. The Tien ShanMountains, our focus of attention on thistour, is the Central Asian extension of theGreat Himalaya, and extends alongKazakhstan's southern border all the wayto China. We will be based initially in theAksu Dzabagly Nature Reserve, whichtakes its name from the two rivers that runthough its deep gorges, and is the oldestprotected area in Central Asia. The reserveis an unspoilt and spectacularly beautifulplace, dominated by high mountains, lushjuniper forests and alpine meadows. Longrenowned as a naturalists' paradise, it hasa huge and interesting flora, with manyendemics, as well as an abundance ofbirds and mammals.We begin our holiday with a flight fromLondon to Almaty. After a day in the citywe travel by rail and road to the village ofAksu Dzabagly. By early evening we arriveat our comfortable guesthouse to bewelcomed by our hosts. In order to explorethe area as widely as possible during thefollowing days, we will have the use of 4-wheel drive buses, but will travel primarilyon foot (although, for those happy to rideat times, ponies will gladly be provided).Our exploration of the area begins with avisit to the Koksay Valley. Here we will walkover feathergrass steppe and along theshores of the Ters Lake, returning to AksuDzabagly village for the night. Thefollowing day we will leave the village,bound for our hosts' mountain house. Thissits in a spectacular location at 2,030metres (6,660 feet), and we will spend thenext three nights here in order to explorethe region fully. On day walks the highpasses and alpine flowers of the Tien Shanwill be within easy reach, and just as atour hosts' village guesthouse, we will beable to enjoy some delicious home-produced food during our stay here. The special flowers that we will hope tofind are too numerous to list here, but twolate-flowering tulips, Tulipa kaufmanniaandT. dasystemonoides, remind us that ourown garden tulips originated from here,almost certainly via the Silk Route. Moretypical of the colourful alpine flowers atthis season will be Delphiniums, manyspecies of Allium, Pedicularis, louseworts,Eremostachys tienshanica(a tall labiatewith strange hooded flowers), a brightblue teazle, Dipsacus azureus, and severalCampanulas including Codonopsisclematidea, a native of the damper slopesof the Tien Shan and Himalayanmountains. Beside mountain streams wewill see the Globe Flower, Trollius altaicus,with its large orange-yellow flowers;Aquilegia atrovinosa, a dark wine-coloured columbine, and a bright yellow poppy,Papaver croceum. Beneath our mountainguesthouse, we should find the beautifulthistle-like Morina kokanica, growingalongside abundant roses; whilst abovewe will find several species of gentians,including Gentiana turkestanica, and mostexciting of all, a beautiful high alpine plant,Paraquilegia anemenoides, which grows inhigh rock crevices and is anotherspeciality of the Himalaya and Tien Shan.Of course, this fabulous area offers muchmore than its flora alone. We have achance of spotting Isabelline Brown Bearsfrom our mountain retreat, whilst onexcursions higher into the mountains wemay encounter Red Deer and Ibex. Raptorslook down upon us (and their prey themarmots!), and the eerie calls of HimalayanSnowcock echo across alpine valleys. Wewill even find Bronze Age rock engravingsto satisfy those with a cultural craving!Returning to Almaty by overnight train, wetravel from the city high into the nearbymountains, where we stay for three nightsat a former Soviet AstronomicalObservatory. This is an area of greatbeauty and offers relatively easy access toa variety of habitats at over 3,000 metreselevation, ensuring a wonderful selectionof montane plants. A large lake nestles ina valley below the Observatory and thesurrounding meadows are also notable forthe profusion of wild flowers growing there.The strange Ibisbill, a specialisedHimalayan wading bird, occurs on theshores of the lake adding ornithologicalinterest to the excursion. At the end of ourstay we descend to Almaty and early thefollowing morning catch a flight back toLondon.Alpine Flowers of the Tien ShanA 13-day holiday in the Tien Shan Mountains of Kazakhstan in search of alpine plants. Saturday 15th June - Thursday 27th June Cost: £2,895Outline itineraryDay 1Fly Almaty.Day 2Train to Aksu Dzabagly.Day 3Aksu Dzabagly.Day 4Transfer to Ulken-Kaindymountain house.Day 5Ulken-Kaindy Pass.Day 6Baydaksai.Day 7Aksu Dzabagly.Day 8Aksu Canyon. Train toAlmaty.Day 9/11Big Almaty Lake, TienShan Mountains.Day 12Return to Almaty.Day 13Fly London.AccommodationComfortable hotel in Almaty; simpleguesthouses elsewhere. Facilitiesare shared except in Almaty.FoodAll included in the price.GradingB. A selection of botanical daywalks of varying lengths, thoughthe option to ride instead is alwaysavailable. FocusPlants.LeaderNeil Anderson.Single room supplement£150.Web quick search: KAZ01246Call now or visit your free Trip ItineraryILIRIVERCHINAKAZAKHSTANKYRGYZSTANUZBEKISTANLAKE BALKHASHTAMGALYTAS GORGEMERKE GORGEOBSERVATORYALMATYDZHAMBULILI DELTAAKSU DZABAGLYNATURE RESERVEALAKOLLAKEViola altaicaAllium caeruleum, Tien Shan Mountains

Tropical rainforests support thegreatest diversity of plant and animalspecies on earth, and nowhere is thisfragile habitat better exemplified than insouth-east Asia. The Federation ofMalaysia is one of the region's mostimportant and rapidly developing nations,with an increasingly significant role inglobal politics. However, despite thetremendous pace of industrial growth, thecountry has managed to preserve largetracts of forest which today are regardedas among the finest rainforest reserves inthe world. Paramount among these is themagnificent Taman Negara National Park,embracing over 4,140 square kilometres of lowland forest in the north of peninsularMalaysia; it is a verdant ocean of treeswhich conceals a myriad of exotic birds,mammals and insects. A 4-night stay in this remote and fascinating reserve will be one of the highlights of our visit to Malaysia but, with a tour itinerarywhich also includes visits to montaneforest, wetlands and coastal mangroves,each day of this holiday will be filled withmany rewarding birdwatching and wildlife encounters.On arrival in Malaysia, we head away fromthe urban sprawl of Kuala Lumpur to beginthe tour at Kuala Selangor Nature Park.Mangroves are much in evidence here, andas we familiarise ourselves with thecommon birds of the Malaysiancountryside, we will also be encounteringthe specialist inhabitants of these peculiarsaltwater trees, birds such as MangrovePitta, Flyeater and Mangrove Whistler.Thousands of Fiddler Crabs scuttle overthe glistening mud beneath the trees and,like the bizarre semi-terrestrial mudskipper fish, run the gauntlet of kingfishers, heronsand egrets wading through the shallows. Ifwe are lucky we may glimpse SmoothOtters, Plantain Squirrels and WaterMonitors in the reserve, in addition to twospecies of primate: the Silver-leafedMonkey and Long-tailed Macaque. Nearbymudflats will provide a variety of wadersand terns to swell our rapidly growing birdlist and further additions are likely amongthe paddy fields at Sekinchan where YellowBittern, Long-toed Stint and GreaterSpotted Eagle are among the possibilities.Leaving the humid coast behind, we drivenorth to the cooler environment of Fraser'sHill for a 3-night stay. Set amid forestedhills at an altitude of 1,400 metres, thispopular summer resort displays evidenceof its colonial past in the British-stylearchitecture and the carefully tended 9-hole golf course; the vegetation and birds,however, could hardly be less European!Forest residents include laughing-thrushes,woodpeckers, broadbills, flycatchers andsunbirds but we will also be looking forsome of the winter migrants from the north,such as the beautiful but shy SiberianThrush. Further contrast to the Britishappearance of the resort is provided by aprofusion of orchids growing on the foresttrees, pitcher-plants and colourful Asianbutterflies gliding through the canopy.We travel next to sample the wonders ofTaman Negara National Park. The village ofKuala Tembeling in Pahang state is theentry point to the reserve and from here wedrive to the park headquarters at KualaTahan, where we stay for four nights incomfortable tourist chalets. Water transportis necessary to penetrate the interior of thisvast expanse of forest but, once at itsheart, we will find plenty of birdlife alongthe network of walking trails around KualaTahan, where residents include CrestedFireback and Great Argus Pheasants, 10species of woodpecker and seven speciesof hornbill. This extraordinary reserve is a pristineexample of Asia's vanishing rainforests, aseemingly endless carpet of giant treesfestooned with epiphytes and supporting adazzling array of strange insects, plants,reptiles and birds. Concealed within theforest are many of the Malaysian mammalspecies including Asian Elephant, Tiger,Leopard and Malaysian Tapir, but seeingthese shy creatures is never easy andrealistically we are more likely to meetsome of the smaller monkeys, squirrelsand gibbons, the latter announcing eachdaybreak with their manic whooping cries.Wildlife encounters are alwaysunpredictable in forest habitats but ourdays at Taman Negara will never be dullwith so much to see and experience!The bustling city of Kuala Lumpur is acomplete contrast to Taman Negara butless than an hour from our hotel is thequiet green haven of the GentingHighlands and Ulu Gombak Valley, wherewe conclude our tour searching forflowerpeckers, spiderhunters, minivets andother forest birds. Two weeks in Malaysiawill have provided us with many images totake home: the lush green of the tropicalfoliage, the dramatic colours of the delicateorchids and, above all, the fantastic varietyof bird species inhabiting some of thefinest tracts of forest in Asia. Book direct on 01962 733051or see page 284 for Booking InformationSTRAIT OF MALACCATAMANNEGARAFRASER'SHILLKUALA LUMPURKUALA SELANGORPENINSULAR MALAYSIATHAILANDOutline itineraryDay 1Fly Kuala Lumpur.Day 2/3Kuala Selangor.Day 4/6Fraser's Hill.Day 7/10Taman Negara.Day 11Return Kuala Lumpur.Day 12Ulu Gombak andGenting Highlands.Day 13 Kuala Lumpur/flyLondon.Day 14Arrive London.AccommodationA mixture of comfortable touristhotels and chalets, all with privatefacilities.FoodAll included in the price, exceptlunch on Day 13. Allow £10.GradingDay walks only. Grade A/B.FocusBirds and general natural history.LeaderMano Tharmalingam.Single room supplement£475.Web quick search: MYS04247Peninsular MalaysiaA 14-day birdwatching and natural history tour visiting the highlands and forests of peninsular Malaysia, including a 4-night stay in Taman Negara National Park, one of the finest lowland forest reserves in Asia.Sunday 28th October - Saturday 10th November 2012 Cost: £2,995Saturday 26th January - Friday 8th February 2013 Cost: £3,395Sunday 27th October - Saturday 9th November 2013 Cost: £3,395Taman NegaraWreathed Hornbill