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….
Having spent two nice days in the (ex) Aral lake area and after having been forced to give up the route on small tracks direction Russia we took the decision for a non-stop 2000 km drive to Astrachan at the Caspian Sea on the main roads. The worst road conditions encountered on this voyage we experienced at night on a long leg between Kandyagash and Atyrau.
It was a relief to come back to the civilized and well functioning Russia – like coming home. The engine problems due to contaminated gasoline forced us to enjoy Volgograd and surroundings (Volgodonsk inclusive) for some additional four days.
South west Russia we quickly left behind for a pleasant stay at Hotel Garni in Minsk, Belarus, and thereafter a short stay in the cozy capital Vilnius of Lithuania. Outside Minsk the somewhat odd Stalin Line Museum (weapons) was explored.
Once again we went to Russia – not back east but westward to the ex German enclave (Königsberg), now Kaliningrad. For us the previously closed naval base Baltiysk was irresistible. We entered passing trouble free with no stops all checkpoints and doive all the way to the docks from where we were lucky to see fairly large sub coming in from the sea. Rather fascinating considering the tense geopolitical situation in the region nowadays.
Back to home
Heading back to home we drove in one day along the marvellous Curonian Lagoon (Kuriska näset) up to Klapieda in Lithuania and later to Liepaja in Latvia where we lucky to find a not overbooked ferry connection to Nynäshamn just south of Stockholm.
Staffan – Martin – Helen