We are so happy that our first impressions of Kazakhstan was a good one. If not, we probably returned directly home after driving the horrible roads with all the bad weather a few weeks ago. Okay we exaggerate maybe a bit but the road was horrible and the weather too. Of course we were prepared for the fact that the weather was getting worse, summer is over. And also about the bad roads we knew. But what we saw those days was far beyond our worst imagination. Our days mainly consisted of avoiding deep holes and collecting mud and rain on our car an roof top tent. We spend whole days in our car and only went outside for a toilet stop or unfolding our tent and get in there asap. Fortunately the weather got better, but the car took a hard time and needs a thorough inspection and some repairs in Almaty.
The first main roads we drove in Kazakhstan were good. Although not as good we are used to in for example the Netherlands, but good enough to drive the speed limit. Until we decided to take a short cut in the direction of Aktobe everything was fine. In the beginning of the shortcut the road was almost perfect and brand new. But after a few kilometers we made a small miss navigation and ended up at a road which was actually not a road anymore. It felt like we drove on ice due to all the mud. Dani was behind the wheel and suddenly we started to slide down, away from the road. Fortunately the road was only two or three meters higher than its surrounding and there was only one pole which was at least 20 meters away from us so nothing really bad could happen. Still it’s a scary moment and Dani’s face spoke volumes. Fortunately we didn’t know back then that we had 600 kilometers more of horrible road ahead of us. After this little sliding party and Dani was okay again we followed our route this time aside of the road because it was actually better. And this is how our worst part of driving during our trip started. It took us almost two days to complete these 600 km of horrible road. Our motivation sunk to a new low despite we were trying to stay positive. But this is very hard when you’re driving a road where you can mostly not exceed 20 km/h and the rain continues whole day long.
In the end we reached Qandyagash and from there we had two options. Making less kilometers on a semi horrible road or making more kilometers on an average good road. We chose the latter. This also gave us the opportunity to stay for one night in Aktobe in a hostel to recover from the horror. After a long period of eating simple dishes Dani prepared every night herself which were exchanged the last nights for bread meals because of the weather conditions we were craving for some fast food. Fortunately we found in Aktobe an oasis, the room we got in the hostel had a private hot shower, a washing machine and next door takeaway pizza. But believe it or not the thing that made us the happiest was having access to a toilet. We couldn’t even remember when we saw the last toilet. However the weather was still horrible and it was cold in other words it was clear how we would spend the day. Take a long and hot shower buy a pizza and eat this in bed, yummy!
After a lovely breakfast the next morning together with Adiana a very friendly young woman from the Almaty region who enthusiastically told stories about Kazakhstan it was time for us to head on. We still had to drive over 2000 km to arrive Almaty. We decided to rush to the first 1200 kilometers, because it wasn’t the most spectacular part of the country and after this we would take our time to visit some places. In one and a half day we drove to a city called Aralsk. Until the sixties of the last century Aralsk was a very important fishermen city situated at the banks of the Aral Sea. Due to very bad regulation of water irrigation, mainly used for the cotton industry back in the Sovjet time, a very large part of the sea is disappeared. The city itself looks like many other ordinary Kazakh cities except that they have a harbor which isn’t a harbor anymore and you’ll find many statues around reminding you to the glory days of Aralsk. Straight through the desert, where once the Aralsk sea was, we drove to a small village. A few years ago you could find shipwrecks near this small village. Unfortunately after a sand track of 50 km we had to see that all shipwrecks were gone. They were taken away by official instances or by iron thieves. Fortunately the sand tracks we drove were beautiful with wild horses and camels along the road.
The best part of the day was that the weather was improving. Just before it got dark we found a place to stay and we were so happy that we finally could cook a meal outside because of the good weather. The next day we drove to Sauran an ancient Silk Road city about 50 km from Turkistan. Around 5 o’clock when the sun started to set we arrived at the remains of this once so lively city. It was beautiful! The city walls together with the sunset was an amazing scenery straight out of a history book. Inside the walls there was a team of construction workers busy renovating part of the buildings inside the city walls. But quickly after we arrived their working day was finished so they left. There we stood in the middle of the remains of an ancient city, what a feeling. After taking a bunch of pictures and enjoying every bit of the scenery we searched for a place to camp outside of the city walls. The next morning when the sun started to rise Sauran was again beautiful. A place we’ll definitely remember.
From Sauran we drove to Turkistan, we read on the internet that there is an interesting mausoleum to visit. But before we would go to the mausoleum we had to do groceries and where else than the bazaar you should go. It was a Sunday and therefore really busy. Everywhere we looked it was crowded with people. But it was nice and the atmosphere was good. While we did our groceries the locals did them too. Young boys passing by with chicken grabbed by their, feet still alive, while we bought just some bread. When we were finished at the bazaar we drove to the mausoleum. We were very surprised by this enormous building. We didn’t prepare this part that well but still if we would have read more about this mausoleum it would still have been a very impressive building. It was huge, old and beautiful and a style we didn’t see before in Kazakhstan. It more or less reminded us to Iran or Turkey. Beside all of this it was also the first place where we saw tourists. This isn’t that weird because every year only 500.000 tourists visit Kazakhstan. In comparison Uzbekistan welcomes every year 2.2 million tourists and Mallorca that small island belonging to Spain welcomes approximately 9 million tourists per year. These half million tourists visiting Kazakhstan every year is more or less nothing. Something that in our eyes definitely should change because it’s nice.
The next city on our route was Shymkent. Because we couldn’t be there before night fall we took an exit from the main road and drove on a small road between cotton fields to a secluded area where we unfolded our tent. It was cotton harvesting time and at each side of the road you could find many cotton tufts that fell of the cotton carrying trucks. All very interesting if you’ve never seen it before. The next day we drove to Shymkent and because we wanted to take our time to discover this city we decided to search for an hostel. Shymkent is the third biggest city of Kazakhstan and had a very strategic location on the Silk Road. No wonder that the people in this city have trade in their blood. The hostel we found was nothing special but perfect in its own way. Instead of the 2 nights we planned to stay we stayed 4 nights. Shymkent self has not very famous tourists sites but the location of this city is perfect. Within half an hour you find yourself in the middle of the nature and it’s very close to the Kyrgyz and Uzbek border. Despite there is not much to see for tourists we enjoyed ourselves optimal in Shymkent. We went out for dinner, we discovered the Shymkent nightlife, Dani went to the hairdresser and we planned part of the rest of our journey. What we also found was our favorite place to eat during our stay. For under eight euro you’ll have two Kazakh main courses including drinks. Not bad we thought. What wasn’t bad either was our night out. Two locals showed us the city, from a restaurant to a karaoke bar then to another karaoke bar from there we went to a club. Unfortunately this club was closing her doors at 03:00 am but no worries in the basement was another karaoke bar. We returned at the hostel around 05:00 am not in a very sober state. And for the people who are questioning, yes we did sing some songs and no we even weren’t the worst singers, but still pretty bad.
For more pictures click here.