Our summer trip 2015 aimed at discovering the south west areas and central Russia, sniffing on central Asia with Kazakstan and Kyrgyzstan and to tackle parts of the legendary Silk Road.
from Helsinki through St Petersburg via Moscow, Tolyatti and south Urals (Magnitogorsk) was a comfortable first leg of this summer trip. Russian roads are nowadays generally very good even in remote areas. We spent some 2/3 days less on this first part than we had planned but did not rush.
Driving in Kazakstan including parts of the Silk road in several Stan-countries has for some time been on the list Things To Do. Now, after doing just that during the summer 2015, we have Kazakstan on the list Things NOT TO DO again.
Not so much disappointing but very surprising (except the endless steppes): How expensive everything was, how much money and effort it takes to get here and how very little there is to see when you do arrive. The number of traffic cunning policemen hunting you down even on more than 1500 meters distance on generally very good paved roads speed limited to 40 km. The endless steppes we knew before, of course.
Visiting the capital of Astana was a bizarre experience along with the nature camp site in the mountains outside Almaty where we were hazzled all night by locals smoking on God knows what. The Almaty mountains and the Charyn Canyon near the SE border to Kyrgyzstan however cheered us up.
So did Aralsk despite the depressing environmental situation. In Aralsk, we think, the first lot of contaminated gasoline later causing severe engine problems was added to the list of disappointments. Putting our problems aside, evaluating the nice stuff, we still come to the opinion that it’s not worth the hassle nor expense to go back again. Contrary to Kyrgyzstan.
Entering Kyrgyzstan in the north east corner over the mountains down to the lake Issyk Kul was more than enjoyable and totally trouble-free as well. of high interest was the alpine road to the abandoned and polluted uranium mining town Engilchek in the central Tien Shan (snow leopards) mountains near China and the Khan-Tengri Peak (7010 m). Even more so the well guarded plateau nearby to the west – Kumtor -where the largest gold mine in Kyrgyzstan is located. The visual delights of Kyrgyzstan are impressive and the friendely people and cost of living combined indeed makes the country a thing To Do Again.
We enjoyed the capital Bishkek, Turkistan and Aralsk passing by also the Russian militarized (leased) enclave Baikonur. Aralsk ofcourse being the highlight of this trip. We chosed not to use our visas and prepaid arrangements in Uzbekistan; thus missing Samarkand as well. We had failed to obtain at least some prior minimal “guarantees” on high octane fuel supply which we considered a security issue travelling alone in one car only – a thirsty one consuming some 20 litres per 10 km….