Central Asia, goodbye

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(English below)

Nach einem fünfstündigen Flug und paar Tagen inmitten hongkongs Wolkenkratzern sind Zentralasien und damit auch unsere letzten paar Tage in Kasachstan nicht nur kilometer-, sondern auch gefühlsmässig bereits in weite Ferne gerückt. Unsere Reise durch die Stanländer war eine Herausforderung, geprägt von emotionalen Hochs und Tiefs. Manches war frustrierend, vieles unverständlich und doch überwiegen die Erinnerungen an glückliche Momente mit herzlichen Menschen, in magischen Städten, während eines wohlverdienten Schaschlik- oder Laghmangerichts, auf einem mühsam erklommenen Pass oder an einem friedlichen Bergsee.

Looking for a campsite

Looking for a campsite

Colour coordinated today, aren't we?

Colour coordinated today, aren’t we?

Enjoying the last light of the day

Enjoying the last light of the day

Unsere letzten paar Tage in Zentralasien verbrachten wir in Kasachstan. Ein letztes Mal radelten wir durch endlose Steppen, kochten Nudeln unter freiem Himmel und zelteten an verlassenen Plätzchen (1. bis 3. Oktober). Die letzten 50 Kilometer vor Almaty, der grössten Stadt Kasachstans, führten uns auf einer drei- und später vierspurigen Autobahn ins Zentrum hinein und wir waren froh, als wir am frühen Nachmittag unser Hostel heil erreichten und damit die zentralasiatischen Raser ein für allemal und heil hinter uns liessen.

Almaty ist keine sehr interessante Stadt. Wer kann, kurvt mit einem Riesenkarren durch die versmogten Strassen und geht in den vielen Boutiquen einkaufen. Da wir weder ein teures Auto noch das nötige Kleingeld für eine Louis Vuitton Tasche haben, blieben uns die Vorzüge der Stadt grösstenteils verwehrt und so gestalteten sich die Tage in Almaty ähnlich wie kurz zuvor in Bishkek: Wir verbrachten viel Zeit in unserem gemütlichen Hostel, spazierten entlang der in Herbstfarben leuchtenden Baumalleen, telefonierten mit Familie und Freundinnen und trafen uns abends jeweils mit andern Reisenden.

Am 7. Oktober radelten wir zum Flughafen, verstauten unser Gepäck in einer Plastiktasche, liessen die Fahrräder in paar Schichten Plastikfolie einwickeln und stiegen kurz nach Mitternacht ins Flugzeug, das uns in nur 5 Stunden – mit dem Fahrrad wären es drei Monate gewesen – nach Hongkong fliegen würde.

Central Asia, goodbye

A five hour flight took us away from Central Asia and dropped us into the skyscraper jungle that is Hong Kong.  The abruptness of the change could hardly have been more noticeable.  Suddenly we were a world away from the place that dazzled us one minute then infuriated us the next.  Our journey through the “Stans” was challenging to say the least, filled with both emotional and physical highs and lows.  Sometimes it was frustrating, often it was incomprehensible, but the wonderful memories that remain override all of that; interesting encounters with local people, magical cities, breathtaking scenery, hard fought mountain passes, sizzling shashliks and reenergising Lagman.

Russian Orthodox Church, Alamty

Russian Orthodox Church, Alamty

Soviet War Memorial, Almaty

Soviet War Memorial, Almaty

Progress - cars and skyscrapers

Progress – cars and skyscrapers

Museum, Almaty

Museum, Almaty

After a short ride north out of Bishkek (October 1st), we crossed the border and found ourselves, for the second time of the trip, on Kazakh soil.  A couple of hours of ascent brough us up over the Kordai pass, and then there was 150km of flat steppe to contend with, all the while bordered to the south by the natural border to Kyrgyzstan, the Kungey Alatau mountain range.  One part of the road stretched out in front of us, straight like a ruler, flat like table, for over 50km, no bends, no bumps, no curves, no corners.  Pleasant temperatures and good roads kept us whizzing along, and we were both happy to be back riding.  Only as we approached Almaty, the former Kazakh capital, did the hills start rolling a little, and the intensity of the traffic increase.  The three days spent on the road (October 1st-3rd) gave us open skies, and beautiful wild campsites surrounded by dry plains.  The clear air here garaunteed a spectacular nighttime show.

The telltale sign of Almaty getting nearer was the increasing intensity of the brown haze on the horizon.  The pollution created by the immense number of vehicles and factories casts a thick layer of smog across the city, which owing to its geographical position surrounded by high mountain ranges, isn’t blown away very often.  The city itself is filled with rows and rows of tree-lined streets and boulevards.  Luxury cars and designer stores are abundant, and new high-rise buildings are rapidly changing the skyline.  Kazakhstan’s rapid economic growth is plain for all to see.

The mountains surrounding Almaty offer wonderful hiking and camping opportunities, but unfortunately our travel schedule and booked onward flight didn’t allow us time for this.  Instead, we spent our time in Almaty trawling through bike shops for spare parts, wandering the green streets, enjoying European style fare, and getting everything ready for our flight to Hong Kong.

Although we’ve “visited” Kazakhstan twice during this trip, in no way, shape or form, could we say that we’ve really seen much of this huge vast country.  We never travelled in Kazakhstan.  We used it as a way to get from point A to point B.  It was like a transfer within an airport.  Without doubt it has much to offer, but the route we’d chosen meant that we had other places to be.  Somewhere for another time I suppose.

Leaving on a jet plane...

Leaving on a jet plane…

The day of our flight finally arrived (October 7th), so we packed up the bikes, and rode out to the airport.  At the airport the bikes were disassembled and wrapped up in plastic cling wrap, all of our luggage packed together, everything checked in, US$60 handed over for the transport of each bike, and then it was time for new beginnings, first Hong Kong, and then (hopefully, visas permitting) China.

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2 thoughts on “Central Asia, goodbye

  1. We are looking forward to some more beautiful pictures and stories… from China. Fingers crossed for your visa! Enjoy!

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