I got a real lesson in why the Huns, Tatars & Golden Horde were both nomads & ferocious warriors today. The plane flight from Astana the Gleaming to Almaty the Ancient took me over an incredible stretch of flat, brown steppe.
I looked down on this from the height of 33,000 feet, a view that my great-grandfather would have killed for, and that my fellow travelers were too jaded to look away from their pocket videogames to appreciate. The pictures I took with the little camera on my iPhone (I didn’t want to step on people to get my Canon out of my carryon) really don’t do this justice; shooting through the window, through the haze in the air, takes all the contrast, depth and scale out of the shots.
Still, I’m including them here because I can now start to appreciate what it was about the old Soviet Union that put the willies into the Pentagon Planners back in the day. Just the absolute scale of this place is intimidating. If this is what they were looking at through their satellite photos, I can begin to understand why they felt so dwarfed by all of this.
Even the Great Plains of America didn’t feel as empty and vast as this stretch of territory. I guess that’s one of the things that’s kind putting the zap on my head; in the U.S., when you leave a big city, for at least 20 miles around it, there are all kinds of smaller villages dozing away at the crossroads. Not so here.