We already visited Poland, Ukraine and Russia. We decided to drive straight on to our starting point: Lake Aral in Kazakhstan.
This was a journey of over 5000km and when we arrived at Lake Aral we had travelled in 10 days the same number of kilometres as we will travel in the next 6 weeks after we leave here.
KAZAKHSTAN BORDER TO LAKE ARAL
Kazakhstan, the ninth largest country in the world, located right in the heart of Eurasia, is our first destination. Not a lot of historical sites, but the richest of all Stan Countries due to its large oil and natural gas reserves.
Russia decided in the 1950/60 to use water from the Amu-Darya en de Syr-Darya rivers which flowed into the Aral Sea to divert to Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan. In lieu of this, large rivers in Siberia were planned to be redirected to the Aral Sea. Unfortunately, this never happened, resulting in the fourth largest lake in the world to dry out.
In the process 35,000 people lost their fisheries related jobs and the main Port of Aral in Kazakhstan and Moynac in Uzbekistan ended up 100km from the water. Due to drying out, the lake became divided into 2 parts in 1987. We visited a ship cemetery with old, rusted boats and ships. Next up was Baikonur, the world-famous space port. It is quite possible that soon not only the local people, but also travellers from abroad will be able to get one step closer to space. But for the moment this is a closed shop. The space museum is open, but as this part is Russia, you are not welcome!
Word is that plans are ready for a Cape Canaveral type of entertainment complex with modern hotels and service facilities. Facilities would include a mini-mission control centre which would simulate a spacecraft launch, a planetarium, a museum of space development, a shopping network, restaurants, as well as ‘cosmic cafes’ for young people. Time will tell but now this does not look like it`s happening.
LAKE ARAL TO BORDER UZBEKISTAN
From Baikonur, we travelled south to Kyzylorda the former capital of Soviet Kazakhstan. Here we found some Wi-Fi to send out some urgent emails.
Next was the city of Turkestan, it was one of the main attractions we visited. This is an ancient city in the Kazakh Desert with a famous mausoleum. Up to 10,000 people a day visit, and we are told three visits equal one visit to Mecca. Oriental traditions coexist with Western culture. In Southern Kazakhstan some of the World’s earliest cities flourished.
This is a frontier between nomads and ancient settlements. A system of caravan routes connecting China with the Near East and Europe used to cross through this land. The Great Silk Road, or Zhibek Zholy in the Kazakh language, emerged as a major trade route as early as the third century BC. A significant part of this road now belongs to the territory of Kazakhstan.
Cities such as Turkestan (Yasi), Taraz (Talas) and Otrar are located along this ancient route, and in the past, they used to be major settlements along the path of the caravans. In all, a fascinating country with perfect bush camping, desert scenery not unlike parts of Western NSW or Northern South Australia and the Nullarbor in Australia. And very friendly people who make you feel welcome.
Other important information
Kazakhstan, you need to register within 3 days of arriving
- Oral office N 51.11.430 E 051.22.946
- Almaty Office N 43 15.036 E 076 55.529
Visa`s and LOI, best contact is David at Stan tours, Central Asia Travel resources. This company is used by many overlanders. Find it on the web.
When heading for Uzbekistan please note the diesel shortage. We picked up diesel 20KM before the Chinaz border. Also, do not follow signs to Tashkent but continue straight ahead as the border to Tashkent is closed. (2013) The border for foreigners is 60KM south west of Tashkent N 40.58.196 E 068.43.907. WARNING for those who collect GPS locations this was current (2013). Not sure when the new border opens.