Kazakhstan a former part of the Soviet Union is known for its vast flat steeps and home of the soviet space program. In its far south-east corner lies part of the Tien Shan mountain range known as the celestial mountains, an absolute gem of a place. Khan Tengri at 7010 M supposedly the worlds most beautiful mountain and Mecca to many a climber its best known peak. The place has still got all the hang ups of the old Soviet Union with a big police presence, road blocks to look for capitalist spies from the west and a need to carry your passport everywhere you go. If you travel independently you will get hauled of the bus at every check point, by police with bigger hats than a New Orleans pimp.
Alma-Ata pronounced almarty is the capital, a mix of Russian and Kazakhs people which has been described as a huge knocking shop no ones heard off. Its a great place to drink vodka and check out the locals, also a good base for the only real resort Chimbulak, home to the soviet ski team and the highest and largest ice ring in the world.
Heli boarding is the real pull of Kazakhstan, using old soviet military helicopters which will seat up to 20 people. The choice of terrain is endless and being the only helicopters with the ability to land and more importantly take off again, at altitudes of nearly 6000 meters you really can just choose the hill you want. The main draw back other than cost is the cold, with temperatures of -10 a winter norm in Alam-Ata the high peaks can easily drop below -30. Having said that with hundreds of peaks higher than Mont Blanc you can forget about January and go in the summer. The cheapest and easiest way is to stay at Karkara base camp (you will need a Kyrgyzstan visa) and take a short 20min flight into the mountains. If you don’t fancy a tent or being stuck with only the base camp bar and stories of the days riding then you could stay in Alma-Ata but it’s an hours flight and at around £1000/hr to keep the thing in the air the cash could be better spent than flying back to the knocking shop. A flight to Inylchek Glacier to see Khan-Tengri and peak Pobedy is a must, you can sleep at the climbers base camp but take a good sleeping bag. Check out www.khantengri.kz.