Freitag, 14. November 2014

The Stans





Early in the morning we get surprisingly quick through the Kyrgyz customs at the airpost of Bishkek.   

After awaiting daylight, we take a cab and are, like total beginners, taken in by an unauthorised driver with some kind of security guy joining us direction downtown. As we are enjoying the nice view, passing by chicken, donkeys and other funny things gathering on the road, suddenly we get abruptly stopped by a police control. While our driver is away officially paying off a speeding fine, we have to get used to the obviously carefree bribing habits taking place with big smiles just 2 meters in front of us. After escaping the rip off of the driver, to probably get his fine back, we finally reach our hostel, for all that, safe and sound. This slightly bitter aftertaste shall luckily be the only one for our whole trip. 

Now we get prepared to explore the town as we have only one day to get a first impression before we'll be back in around two weeks.

early morning; waiting for somebody to wake up and open us the hostel door

One very caracteristic thing to mention about this city is the never ending blocks, what seems so close on the map takes us ages to walk along. 

busy Osh Bazar

our hostel is somewhere in the very middle of this Soviet building

  By train we continue our trip and reach after a couple of hours smooth ride and an enormously long but friendly border process finally the endless steps of Kazakhstan.

Bishkek - Moscow




As the conductor wakes us up we reached allready our final destination Turkestan. A Marshrutka, a small public bus like vehicle, takes us downtown where we find a basic place to stay. From here we visit the absolutely breathtaking Mausoleum of Khoja Ahmed Yasawi and it's surroundings.

learning Russian and Kazakh language

 inside the Mausoleum

theres always time for a nap in one of the pervasive Ladas

also the Camels are all over encountered

the Mausoleum in it's whole splendor


Today we'll get off the civilisation. We hired Oscar to bring us to a lost Silkroad town in the middle of the steppe along the road up north. He modified his car with a cane taped around the clutch to push the pedal by hand since he lost one leg in war. Fortunately he was enough confident to make us feel comfortable with that.

Oscars home

squeezed in his little Lada

getting lunch for later

highway camels

going off-road

welcome to the City of Sauran (not to confuse with Sauron)

there are neither guards nor other Tourist around

only endless steppe
and lots of historical treasures

 wannabe archeologists

A couple of hours in the bus later we reach Shymkent, a very dry and dusty but rather modern town in the middle south. Here we get our police registration and the train tickets toward Almaty. Against our expectations we even meet a couple of English speaking people, actually some of the very few on this whole trip, making it a very interesting stay here.

yummy watermelon

On the train again!

an early morning glimpse

walked the feet off

some more Kazakh studying

our travel mates

 The former capital Almaty offers a lot to do. With it's steppe on the one and the mountains on the other side, it's a good base for explorations.

the Ortodox church

view from Kok Tobe

Fed up from the smog, we hire another driver to get off town. During two days we hit the dirt roads from the vast and yet, even with the locals, almost unknown Altyn Emel National Park. 
The first day we pass along the Kapshagay Lake, trough barren steppe to the mysterious Singing Dunes.

Kapshagay Reservoir in the back

wild donkey

and gazelles

as the wind breaks the edge, it sounds like an airplane taking off

I don't take the responsability for the grammar

our protector during the night

On the second day we visit the Aktau Mountains, a place from unearthly beauty! That's ocean ground raised up within millions of years, wind and weather added the rest to form those breathtaking shapes and colors.

White Mountains

every hill has got it's ver own shape and colors


In the evening we ask the driver to drop us in Shonzy, a little town close to the Chinese and Kyrgyz borders. We are lucky that there is the only hotel in the whole region. Due to the fact that the villages are hardly ethnically intermingeled, there is no public nor any other transport connecting them. There is only a bus taking 6 hours forth and the same back via Almaty or private driver for half an hour. We decided for the latter. Lucky to find the border in the Karkara Valley open, as it is often shut and would cause a three day detour, we load our backpacks and start with the procedure of the bored immigration officers.
After primarily refusal, because we are by foot, they finally, though headshaking, let us pass. More or less prepared, we start the 50 kilometer odysee through the mountains direction next village with public transport access.
Five minutes later some elder Kazakhs stop and offer us to squeeze us in their allready crowded car. After hours of riding the bumpy roads, lunch invitation and interesting cultural interchange they even drive us to our final destination and make sure we find a place to stay.
Karakol is a perfect spot to explore the surrounding mountains.

Kyrgyzstan II

on the way to the border

glad to have left the border behind us

lunch brek at the tomb of Dschingis Khan

public transport and churches in Karakol

our Jurt we stay in for a couple of days
hiking day around Yeti Ogus

the 7 bulls

Before returning to the capital we make a stopover in Cholpon Ata at the shore of the second biggest mountainlake in the world. The Issyk Kul lies 1600 meters above sea level and actually looks more like an ocean, the water is even a bit saline. We enjoy the sandy beaches and the beautiful mountainous rugged landscape around them.

2000 years old petroglyphes in Cholpon Ata

the Issik Kul in the back

Two weeks are allready over and we are heading back to Bishkek, where good food and some more hiking is awaiting us.

on the meat market

it took us a while to get through the menus, but finally we are able to benefit of almost all the delicious stuff central asia has got to offer

awaiting the Sashliks

in the Ala Archa National Park

a Viper is almost attacking us
a nice little Ladybird Spider

As always too short, but we got the most out of it. To travel through those rather remote countries, get into their culture and meet their nice and very welcoming people, was another extraordinary and life-enhancing experience.