Kazakhstan: Head for the Hills, but Leave the Car at Home
Good news for hikers and bikers in Kazakhstan’s business hub as a local beverage company plans to build 25 kilometers of foot and cycle paths into the hills to mark its 25th anniversary.
Kazakhstan’s Raimbek Bottlers, which markets its drinks range under the Juicy, Palma and Ainalaiyn brands, is stumping the cash to build car-free access to the most popular out-of-town getaway spots. Once the path is completed, people will be able to get to the Medeu ice skating rink and Shymbulak ski resort from Kok-Tobe, a hilltop recreation area in Almaty, under their own steam.
“We want to give these paths to the city so that you don’t have to go by transport to Medeu or Shymbulak, but, for example, you can go on foot up to Kok-Tobe and then use the paths. Part of the path will be for trekking and the other for mountain bikes,” Raimbek Batalov, chairman of Raimbek Holdings, told Kapital.kz.
Kazakhstan has on paper been making bold efforts to nudge their automobile-addicted population onto their bicycles by building dedicated paths (albeit not always very good ones). And there is health to consider. Almaty is plagued by appallingly polluted air because over-reliance on cars, which also seems to be contributing to a burgeoning obesity crisis. Research by the Kazakh Academy of Nutrition has found that 30.6 percent of women and 36.8 percent of men in Kazakhstan are overweight.
So Batalov’s cycle and trekking path could not have come at a more apposite time.
Batalov, a leading business figure in Kazakhstan, is an avid swimmer and cyclist. He started his business in 1992 as a small trading company importing consumer goods into Kazakhstan. It moved into soft drinks in 1998 before expanding into top-end alcoholic beverages in 2000 to become one of the country’s big players.
A team of specialists from Andorra has been brought in to advise on the building of the trail, which will begin at Kok-Tobe. Batalov envisages one trail leading to Talgar, a town east of Almaty, via the Butakovka River and another leading to Kok-Zhaylau, potential site of a controversial ski resort project.
The Kok-Zhaylau project, which would have destroyed an area of outstanding natural beauty, was met with widespread protest when it was proposed in 2013. In February, Almaty Mayor Baurzhan Baybek announced that the project was being shelved in the face of public objections, although there are some suspicions the cancellation may have actually been down to a shortage in funds.
Paul Bartlett is a journalist based in Almaty.