All Almatians love Kok Jailau, and visit it on a frequent basis. For one, it is very accessible. For two, it is absolutely beautiful and serene. A craddle of Almaty, and a great day away from it at the same time. It is absolutely free, and one can enjoy a day’s worth of hiking, mountain biking, horse riding, or skiing. 4 in 1!
What is Kok Jailau?
“Kok” from Kazakh translates as “green/blue”, and “jailau” means “pasture”. Kok Jailau is a natural landmark located within the Ile-Alatau National Park (that covers about 200,00 ha) located about 10 km from Almaty. From here, you can get a good view of Almaty, Medeo and Shymbulaq, as well as the Big Peak of Almaty. It’s a very easy half a day (although I’d advise to take a day) trip/hike that you can spend with friends and family, and not have to worry about transportation or the difficulty of the hike, as it is manageable by most. If you want/can do more, you can go further to the Peak Kumbel and 3 Brothers (adding 2+ hours to the hike). Usually, the best time to get here is from spring to fall, but I’m sure it is also beautiful in the winter. Remember to bring water and food with you, as there are no shops or people selling food around.
Many insects, plants, animals and birds can be found here, including the rare or endangered species. If you are so lucky, you could even stumble upon the snow leopard (but that is highly unlikely as it is endangered), the symbol of Almaty. A lot of local herbs grow here as well: mint, origanum, ziziphora, hypericum, yarrow, leonurus, and many more. The local trees would include the Tian Shan spruce that only grows in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan (it is a sub-group of the Asian spruce), pine trees, whitebeam, birch trees, aspens, etc. Here is a peak:
As you may already know, Almaty is the original birthplace of the genome of apples, and one of such amazing representatives grows here, which is almost extinct in the world, and is the ancestor of most apples – Malus sieversii! – known for its very colored (almost pink) exterior, and a sweet taste. Most of these apple trees can still be found in the Dzungar and Trans-Ili Alatau. A fun educational note: through the Silk Road, these very apples traveled all over the world. When doing this research, I learned that apparently Aimak Dzhangaliev was one of the main experts and Kazakhstani academics who dedicated his life to protecting and saving the wild apple forests of the Zhetysu area, translating as the ‘seven rivers’, who unfortunately passed away at the age of 97. Nevertheless, these apples persevere and still exist in these mountains!
How to get there?
Most of the folks take the city bus #12 from the bus stop at Dostyk-Kurmangazy (across from Hotel Kazakhstan) headed to Medeo. You’ll probably see many hikers at the stop, so follow them. The fee should be about 80 tenge. Be prepared for a fully packed bus. Make sure to get off at “Prosveshenets” stop (better tell the driver). I’d advise to start early to have a full day to enjoy the trip.
Here is a map to give you an idea of how long and through which direction you’d have to get to Kok Jailau from Abai Avenue:
Once you get off at the Prosveshenets bus stop, head toward the Prosveshenets Sanatorium (there should be a sign that says “Prosveshenets Sanatorium”). First, follow the paved road straight, and once you hit the dirt road, you’ll see a small-ish green sign saying “Kok Zhailau” in Kazakh.Walk past the little homes up the hill, where you’ll see the path well trodden – follow it. You have now started your hike!
You’re likely to come across other hikers returning from their trip, so remember that at least in our mountains there is an unsaid rule – to say hi to everyone. Of course it’s not obligatory, but at least expect a hello from strangers smiling at you, and potentially even updating you on the weather, and what not.
One of the first natural sites that you’ll come across is the birch meadow. Quite cooling, beautiful and relaxing. Take a moment to breathe. The amazing part was that we found a hiking partner (by chance) who was over 70 years old, a local Kazakh lady, hiking barefoot, and collecting any trash that she came across. There are still heroes out there! On our way there, we saw a few horses munching away at the plants and grass. I thought how lucky they must be eating these “fresh off the mountains”!
As you get higher, the city will unfold right on your palm.
Keep following the path, and in no time, you’ll be at “Kok Zhailau”. You can set up a picnic here, or simply take a little nap (which is what I did). The view here is really not bad 🙂 You’ll have horses all around you, and even little foals or young ones, seeking attention and a little petting.The descent back to Almaty was quite tiring, through the Alma-Arasan gorge, and our shoes weren’t the best. We were walking quite close to the city, but couldn’t find any buses or transportation. We saw a few folks chilling by the lake and asked them if they’re going back to the city any time soon. I forgot how easy and nice people are at home, as these guys packed their stuff right away, as if we had agreed on this last week, and drove us back to Almaty without charging us or complaining. An even better end to a great day!
So if you have a weekend during which you can relax and make this hike, do come to Kok Jailau. Unfortunately, a ski resort is planned to be set up in the area, endangering all of the species and the nature around. I really do hope that it stays in tact, and we can still all visit this beautiful place that I have been able to call home.