Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan 2018

Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan 2018

Kazakhstan 2018


When I arrived in Kazakhstan yesterday evening, it was immediately apparent that Kazakhstan’s level of affluence was far greater than that of either of the countries I had just visited, Kyrgyzstan or Tajikistan.  This was obvious by the wide, well-maintained roads, the modern cars (not a Lada, Volga, Zhiguli or Moskvich to be seen), the elegant dress of the people, the cosmopolitan atmosphere, the modern high-rise buildings, the extensive landscaped garden beds, the ease of accessing workable internet, and the higher prices charged for (what seems to be) everything.  The data in highlights the vast differences in the economies of these former Soviet republics.

My hotel room at the Holiday Inn was far more comfortable than any room I had experienced recently while travelling in either Kyrgyzstan or Tajikistan, not that those rooms were inadequate for my needs in any way.  And yet a hot shower, comfortable bed and a menu with choices available did make for a relaxing arrival to this new country.

I had visited Kazakhstan twelve years ago when I was travelling across several countries in Central Asia with my youngest son, Andrew.  Our stay in Kazakhstan at that time was fairly brief, being limited to Almaty (the largest city and former capital) and a drive to the east through Charyn Gorge and into Kyrgyzstan to Lake Issyk-Kul (see travel diary for Central Asia Day 4 and Day 5, starting HERE).

The aim of this trip was a bit more ambitious, being to visit some difficult-to-reach remote areas to undertake research for some books I am writing and revising.  The first remote area on my list was the northern end of the Aral Sea to look at water management in that environmentally catastrophic region.  There is no airstrip and very few roads in the area, so my access to the region was by air, a flight from Almaty to Kyzylorda, also sometimes transliterated as Qyzylorda from the Kazakh Кызылорда́.

My flight from Almaty to Kyzylorda was due to depart fairly late in the afternoon (4:55pm), which gave me most of the day in Almaty.  As it happened, most of that time was spent replying to the large bank of overdue e-mails that had been accumulating over the previous fortnight.  I did, however, take the time to venture out into Almaty’s shady, green, tree-lined streets to take the cable car to the summit of Kok Tobe, a mountain overlooking the city at an altitude of 1,100 metres (which seems miniscule after my recent travels in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan).

In the clear morning light, the views over Almaty were indeed impressive, highlighting the city’s modern high-rise buildings, the wide, well-engineered roads, and the extensive vegetation that intersperses all parts of the urban area, all with the spectacular backdrop of the snow-capped Zailiyskiy Alatau, the mountain range of the north-western Tian Shan that extends for 360 kilometres and forms the border between Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan.

I was not alone when I visited Kok Tobe, as many local families with young children were also present.  The attraction for them was not the panoramic views of Almaty, but the amusement park rides and experiences that now cover much of the hill, very few of which were there when I last visited twelve years ago.  In addition to cages of depressed looking animals and birds, there was a life-size statue of The Beatles, bouncy castle rides with branded themes (such as Madagascar), a snake pit, climbing structures, rooms filled with electronic arcade games, a shooting gallery, a very strange exhibit called “Quest” which (from what I could make out on the exterior sign) involves sitting in the jaws of a Tyrannosaurus Rex peering out between its teeth, and of course, lots of fast food outlets – a child’s heaven!

My flight from Almaty to Kyzylorda in an Air Astana Airbus A320 was pleasant and problem-free.  I had no trouble taking my two small items of hand luggage on board, the flight was only about one-third full, and I got fed.  My main frustration was that having secured a window seat for the view, the window was so fogged, dirty and sand blasted that it was almost impossible to make out any detail; it was akin to a translucent frosted bathroom window.

A driver was waiting for me upon arrival as I had arranged (Kyzylorda Airport doesn’t have any taxis).  He spoke no English but knew where to take me to my hotel, the name of which was the easy-to-remember (if you are in Kyzylorda) Hotel Kyzylorda.  I still don’t know why he completed the entire 21 kilometre drive from the airport to the hotel at under 40 kilometres per hour, when every other car on the road was overtaking us at between 80 and 100 kilometres per hour.

Kyzylorda is a substantial city, having a population of about 200,000 people.  Having said that, it is much less affluent than Almaty - there are many more Ladas on the roads here, for example.  Variously known over the years as KzylOrda, AkMechet, Perovsk and Fort Perovsky, Kyzylorda was for a brief period (from 1925 to 1929) the capital of what was then the Kazakh Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic (now Kazakhstan), before the capital was moved to Almaty.  As I drove (slowly) into the city from the airport this afternoon, the city’s size was not apparent; its low skyline, sparse settlement, flat land and scrubby vegetation were visually reminiscent of any medium-sized Australian outback town.

The Hotel Kyzylorda is labelled as a 3-star hotel.  I think stars are easy for hotels to get here, as the hotel is a fairly run-down old Soviet hotel with heavily worn carpet in the dingy corridors.  Having said that, the room has air conditioning, hot running water, detachable coat hangers for drying my washing (unlike the hotels for the last few nights), electricity that stays on (well, so far at least), internet that works, and a good, firm mattress – everything I need really.

Although tomorrow’s drive to Aralsk is a long 470 kilometres, a leisurely start has been planned, with pick-up and departure at 10:00am.  That should give time for a bit of a sleep in, an unhurried breakfast, and maybe even a short walk around town. 

Day 1

Almaty to Kyzylorda


27 August 2018