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Asia » Kazakhstan » Southern Kazakhstan » Shymkent July 28th 2015

After the adventure in northern Kazakhstan, I decided to travel down to Kazakhstan's southwest to experience a more-travelled and what I hoped to be easier-to-visit part of the country. This, thanks to Vodka, however, did not turn out to be the case. My first stop was the city of Shymkent. Kazakhstan’s southwest is predominantly Kazakh in population, with a sizeable Uzbek and Russian minority. Here, like in the northeast, the hospitality of this country was very evident; upon landing at the airport, I asked a fellow passenger, Mikhail, if there was a bus from the airport to the city center. He said that there was one, but it would be better if I got a ride with him and his father for free. I didn’t want to impose, so I refused, but as I was waiting ... read more
Yausauli Mausoleum, Turkistan
Yausauli Mausoleum, Turkistan
Yausauli Mausoleum, Turkistan

Asia » Kazakhstan » East Kazakhstan » Ust-Kamenogorsk July 16th 2015

I wasn't sure really what I was expecting from Kazakhstan's Western Altai region. Not doing a whole lot of research beforehand, I was kind of under the assumption that it would be similar culturally to the other Central Asian nomadic areas I've been to. Not so! However, despite a few setbacks and a rather unfortunate encounter with the local mafioso, it was quite an eye opener and ended up being an amazing experience. I knew getting into the countryside here would be difficult, especially given the proximity of the area to two sensitive international borders; to plan my trip, I contacted several local contacts posted by the Ecotourism Kazakhstan NGO. Only one of these replied to me - a Mr. Dimitri Grigoriev. He told me that he could arrange the necessary border permits and arrange both ... read more
Poperechnoe festival
Crossing the river, Poperechnoe festival
Poperechnoe festival

Asia » Kazakhstan » East Kazakhstan » Almaty May 20th 2015

Day 20 - Almaty and around: Yet another peculiar day. We got our admin out of the way in the morning. We knew already that driving into China was impossible without taking their own examinations, and that the controlled border area was up to 100km wide in some places, passable only with a permit. Furthermore, there is little to see or do around the Khorgos border crossing into China A good compromise to show that driving to China was indeed possible but quench our need for scenery and adventure would be to cross into Kyrgystan via the Karkara valley border checkpoint and then fill ourselves to bursting with mountains and valleys going south around Isyl Kol lake. The Karkara valley crossing is one of the most remote in the world. It was closed for many years ... read more
Gansfelsen admiring the view
Dave, Dave and Definitely Not Dave
Some idiot

Asia » Kazakhstan » East Kazakhstan » Almaty May 19th 2015

Day 19 - Balkash to Almaty: On day 19 our luck with the police ran out. From Balkhash it was a 400 mile drive to Almaty, the old capital of Kazakhstan. The route on the M36 highway hugs the shores of Lake Balkash in an anticlock arc for 250 miles, then runs due south to the city. The grassland around was quite barren but the road began to undulate a little to relieve the monotony. We zipped along nicely on a beautiful sunny day and stopped after about 60 miles at an isolated cafe to top up on caffeine. It was the only building for 40 miles in either direction, and had three cheerful ladies in the kitchen salting and battering fish caught from the lake. At one side of the room an old man in ... read more
Balkash Lake Stone Skimming Championships
a friendly wave
A long, long road

Asia » Kazakhstan » Southern Kazakhstan May 18th 2015

Day 18 - Astana to Balkhash This was going to be a long day. We knew we had to register our visas with the migration police at an OVIR office within 5 days of entering the country, and we were running out of time. Registration is a throwback to the old days under communism, and exists now seemingly only through bureaucratic inertia. We had heard that it could take up to 2 days to complete the process so made contingency plans for staying longer in Astana. We even had a translation of a request to process us quickly, courtesy of the people at the Americana. In the event, though the OVIR was packed and chaotic, the officer spoke excellent English and we had our registration stamp within 20 minutes. It took an age to get out ... read more
Karlag isolation cell
Wild horses
Kazakh mausoleums

Asia » Kazakhstan » Astana May 17th 2015

Day 17 - Astana sights The morning after the night before. We had asked for breakfast at 8am, but sheepishly slunk into the Americana lounge at 1pm, still feeling the effects. After scoffing some sausage and eggs we walked a short way to the Hazrat Sultan mosque and the start of what John called The Zone of Awesomeness. Shortly after seeing the nation into a new era of independence from Russia, the Republic of Kazakhstan's first president - Nursultan Nazarbayev - decided to move the capital and administrative centre from Almaty in the south to the town of Akmola in the north central steppes. Renamed 'Astana' and funded by Kazakhstan's substantial natural resources, the city has been planned and built almost from scratch. It is home to some of the most extraordinary futuristic architecture to be ... read more
Mosque interior
Pyramid- The Palace of Peace and Accord
Kazakh Ely monument

Asia » Kazakhstan » Astana May 16th 2015

Day 16 - Kostanay to Astana Kazakhstan is big, around 12 times the size of the UK, or equivalent to the whole of western Europe. A country of huge contrasts, it's vast steppe landscapes have seen the passing of the nomadic Scythian people, the warring hoards of Genghis Khan, unparalleled cereal production, annexation by the Russian empire, horrific gulags and latterly the birth of a truly stunning new capital city. Nuclear weapons have been tested on these plains, whilst the Baikonur Cosmodrome is the worlds first and largest space launch site. The Sputnik satellite was launched from there, as are the current soyuz rockets that service the ISS. The snow-capped mountains in the south are intrinsically linked to the northern silk road route, and cradle the old capital Almaty in their green rolling foothills. Day 16 ... read more
......and to the right
ready for action
Kazakh cowboy

Asia » Kazakhstan » Kostanay May 15th 2015

Day 15 - Chelyabinsk to Kostanay It was time to leave Russia. The border with Kazakhstan was 80 miles due south of Chelyabinsk, just after the town of Troisk. The landscape had flattened out again after crossing the Urals and now as we approached the steppes of Kazakhstan. As with our last border crossing we'd read tales of 3 to 4 hour delays and brusque, unhelpful officials, but were all confident that it would be quicker. We all guessed at around 1hr 50 mins, but in the end were across in half that time. On the Russian side they hadn't heard about Kazakhstan's new rules allowing Brits to stay for 15 days visa free (they came into force last June), so we had to convince them that if they stamped us out from Russia we wouldn't ... read more
Monument to corn
Beautiful money

Asia » Kazakhstan » Kyzylorda April 26th 2015

Yes, I spent 36 hours in the train! It was a comfortable train with berths to sleep on, including their linen, blankets and pillows. The people I met in the train, from my own compartment and also from neighbouring compartments, were very friendly and of course many of them took pictures with me. These people shared their food and drinks with me, even though it was not easy to communicate with most of them. A truly great experience with warm, friendly and hospitable Kazakh people. After 36 hours I arrived in Aralsk and it was around 8am. My guide, Zhasulan, was already waiting at the station and he took me to my home-stay where I took a shower and had a nap on a proper bed. I was treated very well by the family and my ... read more
Zhalanash shipyard; remnants of a ship sitting on what used to be the bottom of the Aral Sea
Driving through the Aral Sea area; a vast emptiness
Almaty 1 station, where I took the train

Asia » Kazakhstan » East Kazakhstan » Almaty April 21st 2015

I flew with Air Astana to Kazakhstan. The local carrier has most of its fleet registered on our neighbouring island of Aruba, with the code “P4”. Almaty is the largest city in Kazakhstan and the former capital with about 1.5 million people. Astana is the capital since 1997 but I did not go there because it’s the second coldest capital in the world and I’m not really friends with the cold. Even though it was early spring, the weather in Almaty wasn’t too cold! I think curiosity (as a Geography teacher) was the main reason for me to visit this country. The five “Stans” (part of the former Soviet Union) are very unknown and mysterious for most people because not so many people visit the region: Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan. You hardly hear anything ... read more
Charyn Canyon
Almaty
View of the Himalaya's in northeastern Pakistan, enroute from New Delhi to Almaty




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