The Big Day – Kapal and the memorial to Alatau Tamchiboulac Atkinson

This very special day started with a meeting in Taldykorgan with the governor of Almaty region, Mr Amandyk Batalov, who presented the delegation with gifts including a dombra, Kazakhstan’s national musical instrument. Mr Batalov was remarkably well informed about Thomas and Lucy Atkinson and emphasised their importance to the history of Kazakhstan. He told the family members that Kazakhstan’s president, Nursultan Nazarbayev, had taken a personal interest in the story and asked rhetorically if it could be the case that the Atkinson family members were in fact Kazakh citizens, as their ancestor had been born in the country.

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Almaty governor Amandyk Batalov presents the Atkinsons with a dombra (all images David O’Neill)

After another press conference, the delegation left for Kapal, the town where Alatau Tamchiboulac Atkinson was born on 4 November 1848. This was the culmination of this very special visit to Kazakhstan and it did not disappoint. The family members were greeted by musicians and singers dressed in national costume, before a magnificent 2-metre granite memorial was unveiled to much applause from the large crowd. After a visit to the Tamchiboulac Spring itself, a pageant recreating the events leading up to Alatau’s birth was enacted by a large number of actors, musicians and dancers. The pictures speak for themselves.

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An orchestra of dombra players in Kapal
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The Kazakh hosts for the memorial unveiling
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Steve Brown dressed as Thomas Atkinson and Pippa Smith as Lucy Atkinson, together with the baby Alatau
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Paul Dahlquist unveils the memorial to the birth of Alatau Tamchiboulac Atkinson

The memorial states: “Alatau Tamchiboulac Atkinson, the son of Thomas and Lucy Atkinson, who were the first British explorers to come to Kazakhstan in the 19th century, was born here on 4th November 1848.”

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The people of Kapal celebrate the new memorial stone
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The Atkinson descendants at the Tamchiboulac Spring
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The residents of Kapal presented an extravaganza portraying the events leading to Alatau’s birth in their town, including this superb display of horsemanship

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A great khan holds the baby Alatau and begs Thomas and Lucy to let him stay on the steppes
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A real baby played the part of Alatau

After the pageant, we were all invited to a special meal to celebrate the ‘birth’ of Alatau. It was exactly the kind of meal that Kazakh’s prepare for such a festive occasion.

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The meal included sheep’s head and horse meat, along with quails, koumiss, laghman, caviar and dozens of specially prepared dishes. It was accompanied by songs and tunes from local musicians. This extraordinary day will long live in the memory of everyone who was there.

At the end of the day, as the Atkinson descendants prepared to make their way across the steppe to the town of Sarcand, there was a moment or two for them to reflect on a truly amazing experience.

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