Dead birds in the gutter. Fistfights in the street. Dust in the air and diesel exhaust in our lungs and white-hot lightning bolts forking down from dark grey stormclouds above. Our departure from Almaty—from our plush hotel room overlooking the park to this—has been an afternoon of the starkest contrasts.
It gets better. We escape Almaty's urban buffer and we enter the steppe. The traffic goes from horrendous to congested to actually quite manageable; the landscape from industrial wasteland to decent to rather pretty rolling hills. We can breathe again.