Kazakhstan is best known for its boundless steppes, but also has mountains on offer, more specifically the Altai mountains in the north-east and the Tien shan mountains in the south-east. During our stay in Almaty we learned from a German local that the Zailiski Alatau mountain range in the Tien shan mountains is threatened by plans to construct a new ski resort.
Skiing in the land of steppes
The city of Almaty, the former capital of Kazakhstan, is haunted by smog problems. Since it lies in a valley and is bordered by the Tien shan mountains to the south, the car exhausts stay trapped in the city centre. During summer locals escape the city to enjoy hiking or picnicking in the mountains. During winter the more wealthy locals take off to the mountain ski resort Shymbulak. However, the authorities raised the plan for a new ski resort in the mountains that has to attract tourists from China and India, amongst others. The plan is to develop a nice forest area into a ski resort of 300 kilometres of slopes. What does this bring for the environment and the local people?
Environmental opposition getting stronger
We meet Dagmar Schreiber, a German living in Kazakhstan since almost twenty years and active in local ecotourism. She is the leading lady of the opposition group against the new ski resort and one of the few inhabitants of Kazakhstan that stands up for the environment in a country where freedom of speech may cause trouble and corruption is prevalent. Dagmar and some environmental activists and friends take us for a walk up in the mountains towards the place where they plan the new resort. Dagmar explains that the ski resort is planned in national park area. Moreover, the plan is not limited to installing skiing slopes, but also encompasses the construction of hotels and houses for the few affluent locals of Almaty. According to Dagmar, the authorities should use the communal money better for public projects where all inhabitants benefit.
Dagmar managed to collect 8000 signatures against the newly planned resort and addressed president Nazarbayev in an open letter about the issue. Without success. Even worse, valuable data and documents have been remotely removed from her personal computer. In another incidence, her computer and external hard disks have been stolen. Environmental issues are not popular neither high on the agenda in the land of boundless steppes…