Kazakhstan – Astana, Unexpected Gem of the Steppe


The last post felt like a final point, it even included a summary for Kyrgyzstan. Chronologically speaking, we still had to get from Pamir back to Osh, then Bishkek and then onto Kazakhstan. Although there are not a lot of new pretty pictures for you guys, we did have a little adventure.

The trip to Osh was going to be a shake down for our Land Cruiser to make sure whatever we fixed in Bishkek would hold up on and off the road. After a bit of offroading to get to Peak Lenin, i checked the front right axle and sure enough there was a bit of grease leaking out. We just had it looked over, greased and new tie down put on. So in theory it should be in perfect shape…but if you look in the wheel arch you could see greasy splatters, the axle would spit out some grease as it rotated.

This is definitely not an emergency, because the rubber boot is still intact but it messes with our spontaneity. When our friends moved on to Tajikistan to do the Pamir highway, not sure in the condition of our car we had to turn back to Bishkek to get it fixed. Our car is our life and we need it to be in perfect shape AT ALL TIMES. Its a safety concern as much as a freedom of movement.

On the way back to Bishkek we got a “check engine light”…man, at least we are already going to a mechanic. Here, i thanked my carefulness…can you imagine having a leaking axle AND a messed up powertrain in Tajikistan…far away from help and mechanics.

Turns out one of the 4 oxygen sensors gave out, we went back to our mechanic bought a new one and plugged it in. Worked like a charm. He also put a hose clamp on the axle boot and cranked it up to the max. So far so good on both issues. Time will tell and we will update more.

 

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Once again Land Cruiser mended and we are on our way. Unlike most people traveling Central Asia we are not going through the rest of the Stans…our plan is to go up north to Moscow and hit up as many friends and family as we possibly can.

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First and the most important on this list is my distant cousin Karl. I haven’t seem in 18 years and he sure has changed.

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Back in Mongolia we saw plenty of two-hump (Bactrian) camels and i thought that one-hump (Dromedary) camels can only be found in Northern Africa. This guy is a long way from home, and good thing because that means we complete the Camel family bingo. In South America we saw the Llama, Guanaco, Vicuna and Alpaca; Mongolia gave us Bactrian and Kazakhstan the Dromedary. Do we win anything? Might have been cheaper to go to a zoo then spend thousands of dollars driving around the world looking for these guys.

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Yes, we are back in Kazakhstan. The border crossing from Kyrgyzstan was fast and efficient, minimal waiting and paperwork. We breathed a sigh of relief, rolled up our windows and finally turned on the AC – no more Kyrgyz police. Final result we still have tinted windows and we didnt pay a single bribe.

The road from the border to Astana is boring…luckily the road itself is decent, but absolutely NOTHING to see. Audiobooks and sunflower seeds to the rescue…steppe and nothing but steppe for 12 hours a day. I think there was a single hill somewhere…still pretty boring. Maybe Mongolia was similar and i just didn’t have enough time to look around, while driving on those crazy roads?

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Finally after two days of suicidal boredom we got to the young capitol of Kazakhstan – Astana. Less than 20 years ago it was moved from Almaty to the little town of Akmola, than became known as Astana.

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This is where the party begins. We are getting closer to European Russia and to the place where we have friends a family. From now on it will be a different kind of trip.

In Astana we met up and stayed with Aliya, her husband Medet and their little son Torehan. I know Aliya from the time she came to San Diego to spend a summer with her aunt and my dear friend Assel.

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In the best of hospitality Aliya, Medet and Assel’s mom invited us over to their house and sat us down for delicious Kazakh dinner and drinks (aka vodka).

Aliya cooks a mean dinner and Kazakh vodka from Kokshetau doesn’t give a hangover…or we didnt drink enough.

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In the morning, the guys decided to give us a little tour of Astana.

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The first stop is a food and expecting mother show. Among many booths in the show was this gem, from the coloring and the slogan “#yourGspot” you would think it doesn’t belong in the food section and should be at least in the mother to be part, if at all. Turns out this is an ad campaign for a grapefruit juice brand called “Gspot”.

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Disappointed by the bad puns and large crowds in the show, we went for a quite lunch in an Uzbek cafe nearby.

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In our trip we learned that we don’t need to spend a whole week or look at every single monument in a city. A half-day to full day walk with lunch, dinner and nightlife is what we love.

Astana is a beautiful city in this aspect. In the last 20 years it has been developing basically from scratch. The general play for a complete capital exists somewhere already and everything is put in place to fit in right from the start, not as an after-thought. The roads are wide, enough to accommodate future traffic increase. the alleys, squares, monument and plaza are large enough to fit the whole population of this growing Asian capital.

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All the buildings are brand spanking new and fit together as a puzzle. When people talk about Astana, the talk about lack of soul and lack of culture here. I see something else, I see potential.

This is a city that is thinking so far ahead, that it seems to be out of place in our day and age.

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The streets will fill up with life, the trees will grow up to give shade to the people walking down these streets. Astana, just has to keep at it, don’t give up, don’t become the empty glorious city of a collapsed civilization. Come to think of it some places feel like they were built for a party that is not going to happen for many years, but when it does happen it will be one hell of a rager.

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Speaking of ragers, Medet was invited to a bachelor party and took me along. Bro code invoked…we just sat around drinking beer and talking about the weather 🙂

The conversation about meteorological patterns and anomalies in continued well into the night and we got to bed around the time the sun was coming up. In the morning thanks to Aliya’s amazing food we felt almost a hundred percent.

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Feeling like we could do a bit more partying and dressing up we met up with our friends Akbope and Marzhan. We happened to randomly meet them in Seoul, at Namsan tower, where we were trying to shoot a timelapse that completely failed. But we did get new friends out of that evening. We talked until it became too cold to just stand around, exchanged contact info, which these days among cool people means to follow each other on instagram. That was back in May…or April, long time ago.

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Boom, here we are 4 months later in Astana!

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Althought die-hard travelers we are still young and love to go out in style once in a while. It felt like the perfect opportunity, at least for me, to go out in Astana with beautiful girls.

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Instagraming the whole process of getting ready is a necessary step to a good evening.

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Everyone except me is ready.

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First stop of the night – Che Chil Bar. A great place with good drinks, good food and a dance floor. The music was just loud enough to draw you into dancing but not too loud to make your evening uncomfortable.

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With our bellies fool and a bit of prepartying done we headed off to the actual club. Being tipsy and in an awesome mood we decided that we will only take a “Lada Sedan” taxi. Since Vladivostok we have been listening to a very famous and very silly song by a rush artist Timati about his car, Lada Sedan. The lyrics or running away from cops because of tinted windows, about hanging out in chayhonas (tea houses) and huge mountains reminded us of Kyrgyzstan and it became our anthem for this part of the trip. Here is the link to the video – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TP5Br2WUBNs

So, we finally find a Lada Sedan get in and ask the driver if he has that song….being awesome, of course he does! Imagine this, beautiful warm Kazakhstan night, we roll down all the windows, the girl stick their hands out of the windows as we fly down the smooth, new streets of Astana. Pretty during the day, the buildings transform into gorgeous light shows at night, we are screaming the lyrics at the top of our lungs, the driver is feeling the mood turns up the music. I wish this moment lasted a lifetime, warm air in your face, friends, fun and music.

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After that ride any night club pales in comparison…how could we ever top “Lada Sedan”?

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We hung around the club until well into the night, dancing, smoking hookah and meeting new people.

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So many times on this trip you meet people, get to know them and make friends. Most time, even though we want to see each other again, life takes us in different directions. But this day in Astana we were lucky that life brought us closer again to share these few days. I hope that in the future life will be kind to us and let us see each other again.

Thanks to Aliya, Medet, Torehan, Akbope and Marzhan for an unforgettable time in Astana. We miss you already!

Borovoe (Burabay GPS 53.082995, 70.308597)

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Everyone in Kazakhstan kept mentioning this place called Borovoe at that we absolutely must visit it. People didn’t believe our stories of beautiful Kyrgyzstan and said that we biased because we haven’t seen Borovoe yet. After driving for a thousand kilometers through a wasteland of steppe, it was honestly very hard to believe that anything beautiful could exist in this part of Kazakhstan.

Good thing that i dont judge, i just agreed and said that i would see for myself before coming to any conclusions.

The first give away that this is a place of importance should have been the best road we have seen since Korea. From Astana to Borovoe there is now a 3-4 lane concrete highway. Not knowing the local speed limit we kept it safe at around 80-90 kph. Literally everyone, even large trucks, were passing us. Then i see a sign saying that we should slow down to 120 kph. Holly smokes…that means the actual speed limit is something like 140? We can barely go that fast, but picked up our speed to a more respectable 110 kph.

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Arrived at night, the weather was turn for the worst with rain and temperatures getting closer to 5-6 C. Stayed the night in a little hostel. In the morning over breakfast made some new friends and decided to spend the day together exploring.

As you can see from the photos, this is not your regular steppe. There is something like 20 lakes in this area, the lake in the photo above is only 4-6 meters deep and warms up really well during summer. The mountain you see in the photo above is famous for having all the elements of the periodic table within its belly, yes that means its a bit radioactive!

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During the summer this place is absolutely packed with Kazakh and Russian tourist, but after the closing of the season just last weekend, we were free to roam the lands by ourselves.

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Now I understand and agree, that if you are in the area you should absolutely visit this place .

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If we would have gotten here just a bit earlier, the waters would have been perfect for swimming. For now you can hike along many trails, exploring the nearby mountains and lakes.

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Psh…hiking thats not for us, we like all kinds of wheeled and four-legged transportation. Found out that we can go ride horses for about $6 per person per hour. That’s double what we payed in Kyrgyzstan, but we were promised really well trained horses.

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These were beasts of a horse, the largest steed we have EVER ridden. At the end of the hour, we asked if we can gallop back to the stable. Seeing that we are pretty comfortable in the saddle, our guide instructed us, stayed back to hold the other horses and let us go. The steeds didn’t even need any encouragement and went full gallop in an instant. Standing in the stirrups, eyes watering from the wind, trying to hold on to your dear life and realizing that these guys are actually enjoying stretching their legs. It was so much fun that we wanted to go out again and gallop back to the stable. Hyein’s horse didn’t want to leave the stable at all, so i had to grab it and lead it out. But as soon as i dropped the rope it turned around and galloped back, this time faster than before.

We said goodbye to the horses and went back to the hotel to hide from the coming cold.

Tomorrow we head back to Russia for the 3rd time this trip. So it feels appropriate that we do a little summary of Kazakhstan.

Only because of my dear friend Assel that I even originally thought of coming to Kazakhstan. When i mentioned my idea for this trip to her and told her that we really want to go to Mongolia, she was confused: “Ivan we have everything that Mongolia has just with better food!” I didn’t believe you then, but I know better now.

Kazakhstan is a huge country with beautiful nature, welcoming people and really, really good food. We were invited to more homes that we could go and visit. There was not a single dish that we tried that we did not like. Horse meat is an absolute if you are meat eater, i dont understand why we dont eat more of it in the States. Sharyn Canyon and Altyn Emel are gorgeous places that will forever be in our mind as THE place to see the Milky Way and shooting stars. Unlike Mongolia, there are roads here, some in better some in worse shape, but all paved nonetheless. The police is ages ahead of Kyrgyzstan in education and proper conduct. It seems like this ex-Soviet and ex-Russian Empire state is doing well or on its way to become a great country. I dont know the politics of the place, but people are happy living and in the young generation there is a great desire to do something great and make not only a name for themselves but to do go by their country.

Now the bad part – if you are prone to addictions…do not, i repeat, DO NOT buy sunflower seeds. That shit is more addictive than heroin, will destroy your teeth, you will get fat and the car will become worse than a municipal dump. But they are so good…with a bit of salt.

6 Comment

  1. qin hong anderson says: Reply

    I have always been curious about life in Kazakhstan because of it exotic name. I have learned a few things from your post 1) This country is very 现代化. What a surprise! 2) People are beautiful there. My kids would fit in perfectly with their Euro-asian faces. 3) You can always travel in style no matter how tough the trip is. 4) Kazakh is not a perfect language to rap. I found it too chopping to fit the beat 🙂 but the video is really fun to watch! For these reasons, thank you!!!

    1. irazinkov@gmail.com says: Reply

      Hi Laoshi. It’s Hyein! You are right in every point. Astana and Almaty, current and previous capitals are the most xiandaihua de chengshi. People are beautiful not only outside but also inside. Kazakhstan was the only country among all the countries we’ve visited where both of us can be seen as locals. Your kids are gonna fit in absolutely perfectly. We were totally blown away from Kazakhstan’s unexpected beauty. Glad you read our post and I love your comments:) Please visit Central Asia with your family if time allows. You won’t regret!!

  2. qin hong anderson says: Reply

    correction for the typos. “because of it’s exotic name” and “too choppy” Wish I have a way to edit my post 🙁

  3. Medet says: Reply

    Hey guys! How is it going? WHere are you now? Just finished reading this post=) I am glad you had a good time here. It was a pleasure to meet you, hope to meet you again soon! (Ariya keeps pushing me to go to California=)))))) Torekhan says hello too!

    1. irazinkov@gmail.com says: Reply

      Awesome, it was great to see you. You should come to California when we are there next year! Say hi to Torekhan. Before you visit California though, you should go to Kyrgyzstan:)

      1. Medet says: Reply

        Awww man, I will go there some day… maybe…. =)
        You know what? Kyrgyzstan Government should hire you to do promotion of tourism to their country! lol 😀

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