The road from Kyzylorda to Turkistan was mostly incredibly good. Luckily, we’d been warned by the Irish couple we’d met the day before that the speed limit was not what one would expect on a double highway and the cops issued speeding fines (they got 2 in a row) so we were very careful (of course, as always!!). The reduced speed limit was because there were “road works”, although we didn’t see many, except for the fact that the crash barriers in the middle were not finished. Great way to make easy revenue!!
Although the road conditions were exceptionally good, it was a tough day as it got up to 39 degrees, the only distraction being the sign posts indicating the kilometers from Samara.We kept having to stop and take regular breaks. We got to know the trucks on the road: they nearly all hooted at us to say hello as we overtook them, then, as they went past us while we were stopped, they’d wave and hoot again. And so this continued a number of times with the same vehicles. The Kazaks are incredibly friendly. Sometimes, as we were pulled over, some would stop and chat, ask if they could take photos and then move on. Several cars would also drive up slowly beside us, and wave while another passenger took photos!!! Responding to all the hellos was fine on the tar but not always easy to respond to while tackling the tricky potholed and twisty dirt sections!!
Once again, we strike it lucky. When we arrived into Turkistan at around 7pm, we couldn’t find the first 2 hotels on our gps – the first one disappeared after the bypass was constructed, the 2nd one, who knows?!… During our hour of riding around Turkistan, I kept my eye out for a mausoleum I wanted to see. Anyway, we were stopped outside the 2nd address when a group of Kazaks called us and came over, wanted photos and generally wanted to find out about where we were from, where we were going etc. So we asked if they knew of a hotel. Yes, go to the Yacci, left then right then straight down – not sure if it was on the left or right. So off we went and we found it. As we stopped outside the Yacci hotel, Anthony asked me if it was close enough to the Mausoleum for me. It was right there!!!! Incredible. And we got a room with a view towards it!!
The Mausoleum of Khawaja Ahmed Yasawi, Turkic poet and Sufi mystic Khoja Ahmed Yasawi (1093–1166), is an unfinished mausoleum commissioned in 1389 by Timur, who ruled the area as part of the expansive Timurid Empire and died in 1405. Its creation marked the beginning of the Timurid architectural style. The experimental spatial arrangements, innovative architectural solutions for vault and dome constructions, and ornamentations using glazed tiles made the structure the prototype for this distinctive art, which spread across the empire and beyond, such as renowned Samarkand. The religious structure continues to draw pilgrims from across Central Asia. UNESCO declared it a world heritage site in 2003.
We left Turkistan just after noon and headed for Taraz. The road was mostly good. There were a couple of short detours while the bridges were being built and sections where one minute everyone shares the new lanes on the left, then we switch over to the other half. We never fathomed the logic of how they build roads as there are lots of perfect sections, with unfinished bits in between. This is where we arrived shortly after a head on crash involving 3 cars: our double lanes suddenly had several road signs and ended abruptly onto a dirt road. The problem was that our 2 lanes suddenly went into one, with virtually no warning, so the fast lane in our direction was suddenly where the oncoming traffic was… Horrid.
Just after a mid afternoon lunch, we stopped at a petrol station to refuel, on the outskirts of Aqsu. This is where we experienced the wonderful Kazakh hospitality. The petrol station owner, Cirik, invited us to have tea so we accepted. He was such a sweet man. He showed us to a table and invited us to sit. He cut a watermelon in two then chopped the insides into bits, gave us a fork each and invited us to eat. Another man broke up a large loaf of bread into chunks for us. He told us that to him, it was a priviledge to invite us. We hope he realised what his hospitality meant to us! Then we washed 2 cups with his hands and served us tea. He was 48, had 10 kids, works the land, grows watermelons, makes the bread and generally works very hard. When we left him and his team, we left a little bit of our hearts there with him.
One thing that struck us in Kazakhstan, maybe especially coming from Samara in Russia, was a strong sense of pride and identity. The way they look after their homes, they may not have much and the local back roads may be in a horrific state, but there are flowers, they are watered, fences are painted, they look at you in the eye, smile and easily come up to you to find out about you or see if you need any help. We got to know that if you stopped in the middle of nowhere and a car stopped near you, 2 or 3 guys came out, it was to chat and be friendly. The only time we got stopped by cops on the road was simply to have a chat!
Taraz is a very pleasant little town, with an interesting history. One of the oldest cities in Kazakhstan, Taraz celebrated its official 2000th anniversary (recognized by UNESCO) in 2001. The city was first recorded under the name “Talas” in 568 was a major trade centre along the Silk Road. The Talas alphabet, a variant of the Turkic “runiform” Orkhon script, is named for the town. Talas secured a place in history by virtue of the Battle of Talas (751 CE), which was fought between forces of the Chinese Tang Dynasty and those of the Arab Abbasid Caliphate. One of its indirect outcomes was the introduction of paper to the west, via the Arab capture of Chinese paper makers.
We absolutely loved Kazakhstan. So much so that when we arrived in Taraz, our last stop before getting to Bishkek, and knowing that we would arrive in time for our visas, we decided to stay one extra day – just to be in Kazakhstan a little longer. The route we took through Kazakhstan isn’t the usual touristic route, didn’t have the typical stunning scenery or cultural sights, but we don’t feel we missed out on anything and probably got a better feel for the people of Kazakhstan. We didn’t get any photos of the great horsemen on their mobile phones – just another of Kazakhstan great contradictions, like the fact that they drive scarily but never hoot in anger, like this building in Taraz:
The route we took from Taraz to Bishkek was beautiful. We finally saw hills!!!More unfinished roads and crazy drivers, but nothing unusual. We took a chance with our choice of border crossing as it was not listed as one on our map, deviating off the beautiful new M39 bypass to Korday and it was a perfect choice – 45′ and we were in Kyrgyzstan!! I did have a little lump saying goodbye to Kazakhstan but also felt excited that the real adventure was about to start as we could finally take our time exploring.
We had our tin of sardines lunch just past the border, on a lovely quiet country road and made it into Bishkek mid afternoon. We eventually found our hotel, the Silk Road Lodge and checked-in, glad to arrive at our destination so much earlier for once. As usual, they wanted our passports. Anthony’s was nowhere to be found!!! Horror, as both his passports were together!!! They must have fallen out of his inside pocket when we stopped for lunch. So off he went back in search for them. We decided it would be easier for him to go alone as our bluetooth had decided to play up which makes travelling together through traffic more difficult. He returned 4 hours later, beaming – they were in his top box so all was good, despite the speeding fine…
We are in Bishkek for a few days to collect visas – unsure how long it will take (we now have an appointment for our Uzbekistan visa next Tuesday) as nothing is as simple as collecting the visa which was meant to be ready for you!! Nothing new for those who have travelled in these parts of the world.