The trip to Darija (this is how a railway station serving as a gate to this small mountain oasis is called) during the holidays in May almost became a tradition of ours, a kind of opening a new tourist season. This tradition was initiated several years ago when Sanya and I got to this picturesque place for the first time. Then we spent all day in Darija, having organized a dinner with a view of ‘The Black Mountain’ (now I understand that this was mountain Burkytty). Then, as the back train was not going to arrive, we were loitering for some time at the station the name of which had been painted so long ago that it was written in Latin letters. We got to Karaganda first by a shunting diesel locomotive, and then by an electric train. I should say that this situation with the deserted station and the trip in the cabin of the locomotive reminded of the surrealism of the twenties – thirties of the last century. Then we did not know of the surprises these mountains kept, we just realized that we should certainly return there.
Now not only the two of us but a big company were returning to these places by bikes. The weather did not evidently please us, but we stuck to the rule that the match should take place in any weather and obstinately got into the electric train. We got out at the Baikara station and did not even ride a kilometer before facing the first obstacle – the necessity to wade rather a cold river. I should note that the day before I was lying at home with the temperature close to 39 degrees centigrade and trying to recover as soon as possible because I did not want to foil the trip I organized myself and instigated so many people to have to. But at that moment I did not hesitate to take off my boots and roll up my trousers and lead my bike across the river. I did not feel any negative consequences in my health neither on that day nor later, thus proving again that the root of any disease can be found only in one’s head. And if you really want to recover and undertake every attempt for that, the illness will not stick to you. And communication with nature will always promote the quickest recovery.
After crossing the river our group spread in a long chain and began moving slowly in the drizzle and under overhanging clouds.
Our chances to reach the mountains as quickly as possible were literally melting before our eyes due to the constantly breaking bike in our group. And when the breakage showed its fatal nature, and the bike became almost unrideable we resolved to leave our plans to penetrate into the inner valley and began looking for a place to have a night at northwards of the main range Burkytty.
At last the place was found, the tents pitched, the water heated up and people fed. It was the time to enjoy the surrounding landscape on a full stomach. Someone went for a stroll in the neighboring mountains, another ones were having a rest in the camp.
Still we wanted to get to the valley. That is why closer to the evening Sanya and I took our bicycles and rode southeastwards. Though we realized soon that the relief of the locality did not dispose to riding in the saddle, and the most part of the time we were leading our bicycles next to us, pushing them on the next hill or holding on descents. Finally we got to the place where the power transmission line crossed the Burkytty range. There, on a small hill was a pile of stones. I know that such piles are called ‘obo’ in Mongolia and are also spread in other corners on earth such as Tibet or Himalayas . They are formed on the mountain tops where the people have for a long time brought the stones as a tribute to the gods. I do not know the designation of that ‘obo’ but I want to believe that it has not appeared without purpose.
From the mountain we climbed at we could observe a wide valley stretching far southwestwards. The sun meanwhile was hiding behind the mountains. Despite this picture hypnotized a bit and did not let move, demanding attentive attitude to its importance and an increased number of pictures, we had to go back to the camp as quickly as possible.
Judging by the map, there had to be a road somewhere in the middle of the valley. Hoping to find it we descended along the other slope. In fifteen minutes we really found a very good road and rode along it quick as the wind. However, fascinated by quick bicycling, we realized soon that we did not clearly understand where our camp was situated. Before the departure we did not take the trouble to fix its coordinates in the satellite navigator, and had to move by guess-work rather than consciously. The darkness was descending over mountains and the steppe, and the temperature was becoming less comfortable. It would be just a rare fortune to see the camp fire in the relief around us, and we were not lucky to find it. Lots of small hills separated us from our friends and even climbing one of them we could not see any light or fire.
We were not happy with the idea to have a night in the open air without a tent and sleeping-bags, without firewood and food. Besides, we were worried by the true and repeatedly confirmed information about wolves and wild boars wandering there. Norda did not absolutely react to the command ‘Home!’ and ran only in places lit up by our lamps. The most amazing is that not her scent but human (Sanya’s) sense of smell saved us, for it was his nose that felt the smell of fire. Thus, we faced our camp, where the guys were already worrying about our return.
During the night the outer tent was nearly torn off several times – the weather was raging seriously. The morning, however, met us with the sun and almost clear sky and let take photos for a while. Though already in two hours there was not a hint of that idyll, and the clouds that gathered began producing a slight rain. Having packed our stuff we moved back so as to get home to Karaganda by the evening.
But the attraction of this place was so strong that in a couple of weeks we were stamping our boots on the Burkytty mountains again. This time we did not have bicycles and could be called ‘three men with backpacks to say nothing of the dog’. Now we planned to get to the inner valley and to encamp there. It was late May, and weather was much warmer, though the rain gave us a small trouble. Green sappy grass and feather-grass swaying in the fresh cool wind delighted out eyes and pushed us towards the mountains.
This time we decided to bend round the Burkytty mountains from the south because when we approached and studied them we realized it would not be quite safe to climb those slippery stones. Having bent the mountains round we reached the valley, where we set up a camp closer to the evening.
We spent the evening cooking, sipping ‘admiral’ tea and talking heart-to-heart for such talks always spring where several people turn out to be sitting next to the charming fire…
The next day we decided to get back immediately across the range. First, we did not want to bend the mountains round once again. Second, we just had to get to the Burkytty mountain towering in the locality. The road along the steep slope led us first to small caves, and then to mysterious-looking stone figures created by nature. Huge hexagonal basalt ‘fingers’ looked a bit unreal for you can seldom meet such ideal shapes in nature.
In half an hour we were almost atop, some ten meters before the top, and we made a little halt there. All the four sides opened the gorgeous view from above. We saw lakes southwards, the range Bugyly and its small offshoots, we saw the Darija village and roads running around the mountains.
Descending from the mountain we unexpectedly got down a narrow gorge that would be extremely difficult to get to from below (it would be difficult not only to ascend but also to go down because there were a lot of steep slippery slopes and impassable bushes). However, the pleasure of enjoying virginal nature repaid everything with interest. Small waterfalls with drops sparkling in the sun, streams flowing from above, many-colored swamps, sappy verdure…
I was rather quickly going down the slippery stones when on a dangerous bench Norda made an attempt to leave me behind. The following moment everyone noticed, like in a slow playback, how dog’s clutches slid apart on the slippery stones, then a few desperate movements to remain on her legs, and final falling down somewhere.
We tried to get down to Norda as quickly as possible and when we finally faced her we saw the following picture: having fallen down from a height of about six meters the confused dog was lying on a small piece of soft ground surrounded by granite stones. Sure, the landing was extremely successful. Norda could not get over it for a long time and the rest of the way was going on lead and did not make any attempt to run away.
The dog indeed got off lightly from this, just hurt her clutches a bit and got scratched. But then, in a year we called this place following the best Indian traditions, the Gorge of the Flying Dog.