Friday, 26 July 2013

Across Asia With A Lowlander: Part 3b: Shumkent to Tashkent

world-map tashkent

Greetings!

And with another post, another country, today we enter Uzbekistan and begin one of the most intense travel experiences of my entire life. I have often read in old travelogues about the Soviet Union, authors describing how they felt the weight of oppressive political authority physically lift off them as they ascended into the sky departing from Moscow airport. I always assumed that they were talking absolute twaddle, but after visiting Uzbekistan which is as totalitarian as the old USSR ever was, (or at least, it was so in 2002), then I can say with a certainty that they did not lie. However, that is only one side of the coin and Azis Arislanov and his family constituted the other. Thankfully, I am still in touch with Azis who turned up in London several years ago where we met for drinks. He’s now back in Tashkent, happily married and starting a family and I wish him well. Read on and you’ll discover why.

Keep travelling!

Uncle Travelling Matt

 

Links to all parts of the travelogue

Book 1: Embarking Upon A New Korea

1a: Toyama to Pusan

1b: Pusan

1c: Seoul

1d: The DMZ

1e: Seoul, Incheon and Across the Yellow Sea

Book 2: Master Potter does Fine China

2a: Qingdao

2b: Beijing (I)

2c: Beijing (II)

2d: Beijing (III)

2e: Yinchuan (I)

2f: Yinchuan(II)

2g: Lanzhou

2h: Bingling-si

2i: Xiahe

2j: Lanzhou and Jiayuguan

2k: Jiayuguan

2l: Dunhuang

2m: Urumqi (I)

2n: Urumqi (II)

2o: Urumqi (III)

Book 3: Steppe to the Left, Steppe to the Right…

3a: Druzhba to Almaty

3b: Shumkent to Tashkent

3c: Tashkent (I) 

3d: Bukhara

3e: Bukhara to Samarkand

3f: Samarkand

3g: Samarkand to Urgench

3h: Khiva

3i: Tashkent (II)

3j: Tashkent to Moscow

3k: Moscow (I)

3l: Moscow (II)

3m: Moscow (III)

3n: Konotop to Varna

central_asia

Uzbekistan_map1

15th August, 2002 – Shumkent, Kazakhstan

Shumkent. As God-forsaken a place as man has produced on Earth. Or at least that’s how it appeared from the train. It reminded me of those out-of-the-way forgotten Bulgarian towns like Dobrich or Gabrovo. Places that, (and alas, I know this from experience), are not worth staying in for a few hours, let alone a night. We didn’t bother finding out for Shumkent, and instead took the first taxi out of town.

We were taking a taxi to the border instead of the train because apparently local services between Shumkent and Tashkent had recently been suspended. Quite why I don’t know. There were plenty of people trying to cross the border. But in such places, I suspect that logic does not always hold sway against political machinations.

Still, it was interesting to travel by road for a change. And not a bad road it was too. I was surprised. All around were billboards displaying the visage of Nursultan Nazerbayev, Kazakhstan’s enigmatic yet somewhat dictatorial president, with slogans advertising his Project 2030, his road map for transforming Kazakhstan into the next Asian Tiger by (surprise, surprise), the year 2030. Question is, will it work? Hmm… I ever the Doubting Thomas am far from sure, but there again I’m hardly an expert. I decided to ask instead someone who was, and who is always in the know? Why, none other than the taxi-driver of course.

“Yes, I think that it will. Nazerbayev is a good president overall, not crazy like that Turkmenbashi. I reckon that he will succeed. We have lots of gas you know?”

I did know. You hear it everywhere. There was even a James Bond film whose storyline centred around a gas pipeline from Kazakhstan to Turkey.[1] Gas is plentiful in Kazakhstan and gas brings in money. Funny thing was though, I hadn’t seen much evidence of that money in the country itself. No that it was all that bad mind, if anything Kazakhstan was turning out to be a lot better than I’d expected. But all the wealth seemed to be a very Soviet-created wealth. There was nothing new. Still, old Nazerbayev on the posters looked fat and happy enough.

shymkent01 On the road to Uzbekistan

The border was absolute chaos. Moneychangers and taxi drivers hassled and crowded us. And the tactic worked. We changed fifty euros only to find out later on that we’d been shortchanged. We jostled our way through the customs, filling in innumerable forms that declared that yes, we did have a camera and jade tea-set with us when we came into the country, whilst the wise and wide Nazerbayev looked down upon the happenings sagely from a billboard that pictured him in a flower field surrounded by smiling children. Then there it was in front of us, the entrance to Uzbekistan, a domed mock-Persian customs house declaring to one and all that this was now the Islamic World.

shymkent02 At the border between Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. The eagle on a pillar is Kazakh whilst the domes mark Uzbekistan

Islamic World or not, the chaos was just as bad. We were held up by a group of gabbling Tadzhiks before depositing our forms, collecting and filling-in countless more, and finally, having our visas stamped.

uzbekistan visa

On the other side however, we made a mistake. The taxi driver who had been hassling us all the way from the Kazakh side, well we took up his offer and entered the confines of his Lada. To be fair, it was more my fault that the Lowlanders, but whatever’s done is done and we screwed up.

“How much to Tashkent then?” I asked, several kilometres into the journey.

“Oh, we’ll discuss it later,” said our jovial chauffeur with a dismissive wave of his hand.

“No, let’s discuss it now!” said the Lowlander.

“Later…”

“Now!”

“Ok my friend, one hundred and fifty euros.”

“Don't be stupid.”

“It's a long way...”

“No it isn't. It's twenty kilometres. We have a map.”

“My friend, your map is wrong. It is more than twenty kilometres. But for you, a hundred euros.”

“Don't be stupid. Maximum ten euros.

“My friend, for more than twenty kilometres, fifty euros, very cheap!”

And then he didn't budge.

“I'm not paying fifty euros,” I said to the Lowlander.

“We don't have fifty euros.”

“We want to stop to eat.”

“In Tashkent my friend, in Tashkent!”

“No here! Stop!”

We sat in a shady and pleasant cafe munching shashlik. The taxi driver and his mate looked happy and they had reason to be. We'd just paid for their meal and they were expecting more than half a month's wages for a twenty kilometre drive. While they scoff, we talk.

“What's the maximum that we pay then?”

“Ten euros.”

“Ten euros, agreed.”

“So how much to Tashkent?”

“My friend, later.”

“No later, now!”

“Ok, like we agreed, fifty euros.”

“No, we never agreed to fifty euros.”

Our 'friend' was now looking less jovial.

“How much you want to pay?”

“Five euros.”

“Ha! Ha! No, fifty.”

“Maximum ten.”

“Fifty euros.”

“Ok then," said the Lowlander and at that he got up from the table, strode over to the car and started getting our luggage from out of the boot.

“Hey! What are you doing?”

“Maximum ten euros.”
“Hey now! Thirty!”

The Lowlander answered not, but instead finished taking the bags out of the car. He then shut the boot. “Ten?”

“No, thirty.”

“Ok, goodbye!”

“Wait...”

“Goodbye!”

“Ok, ten.”

And so, with some harsh Dutch diplomacy, we paid ten euros which was still rather expensive but a lot better than fifty or the ridiculous hundred and fifty that he'd first suggested. Not that our agreement stopped him from moaning all the way into town about his extreme poverty, the price of gasoline and baby expenses, nor did it stop our first impressions of his country from being entirely negative. Chaos and scamming were not the welcome that the brochures promised.

Things improved a little though when we hit the city itself. It seemed to be a pleasant place with wide tree-lined boulevards, and was clean and ordered even if everything did seem stuck in a socialist Eighties time warp. The Blues returned however, when we reached that our hotel of choice, the Rossiya. That establishment, whilst still standing, was only just so. Completely gutted and with a sign saying 'Repairs', it was obviously no suitable place to bed down for the night. "My friend has a hotel!" suggested the taxi driver. "Let's go!"

"Fuck off!" said the Lowlander handing him the promised ten euros and no tip.

That done though, we were still left with the dilemma as to where to stay. We dived into the guidebook and retrieved the Baht, two metro rides away, and so being next to a metro station, we headed down the steps, Baht bound.

If Beijing's metro had disappointed, then Tashkent's was the opposite. Here at last we had found a true 'Palace of the People' communist metro system that the socialist world is so famous for. We marvelled at the fine station before taking a train to Navoi, where we were to change. And if the last station (Uzbekistan) had been nice, then Navoi was something special indeed with a graceful arched stone ceiling reminiscent of the country's famed Timurian architecture.

“Let's take a photo,” said the Lowlander.

I took the camera out of my bag, aimed upwards and clicked.

A man in a shell suit came up and started hassling us. “Go away!” said I. “I'm not giving you any money!” Then the police arrived and we realised that he was no beggar.

“Taking photographs of the Tashkent Metro is forbidden!” snapped the officer in the dingy little room that we'd been frogmarched into.

“Why?”

“Terrorism! Here!!” He pointed to a list of rules and regulations that clearly stated how illegal photographing metro stations is. Except that it was not that clear. We do not read Uzbek.

“How were we to know?”

“Have you not heard of the terrible terrorist attacks carried out by Islamic fundamentalists on the Tashkent Metro?”

Funnily enough, we hadn't. Perhaps they were a recent event.

“When?”

“1999.”

Or maybe not.

“Like the USA, Uzbekistan is waging a war on Islamic terrorism.”

'Or any opposition to the government,' thought I cynically.

“But we're obviously not Islamic terrorists!” protested I. “We're tourists who can't read Uzbek and only arrived in the country a few hours ago. Look at our visas!”

The policeman did just that and evidently came to the conclusion that we had planned on a quick in-out approach in our daring mission to photograph the Navoi Metro Station ceiling.

“We will hold you until the chief comes and we will destroy your camera film!”

“Now wait up a second...”

tashkent00 The photo that almost put us in gaol: The Navoi Metro Station

But just then things did change, and rather unexpectedly too. A smartly-dressed young man entered the room and started an altercation with the police officers assembled therein. He then turned to us and said, in perfect English, “You are just tourists, right?”

“Yes, we didn't know about the rule. We're awfully sorry.”

“No problem.”

He then turned back to the police, resumed his heated dialogue, jotted down some particulars, and then turned back to us. "No problem, it's all sorted out now. Please come with me. I'm Azis. Nice to meet you!"

How unexpected can life be? We’d only been in the country for a few hours and already we’d fended of an attempted scam, arrested and then released by a knight in shining armour, (well, a white shirt at any rate), whose office we were now sat in. “I heard you speaking English as I walked past and wondered if I could help,” said Azis Arislanov. “I’m so glad to have met you anyway since I’d like to invite you to stay for the night at my home. My father likes meeting foreigners.”

“Well, if it’s no trouble…”

“None at all.”

Azis Arislanov was about our age and worked for a strange organisation called ‘Camelot’ or something like that, that seemed to be a sort of organiser of youth exchange programmes and had the unstinting support of President Karimov as was evidenced by a huge poster of that said gent complete with smiling kids on a billboard outside the office.[2] Azis continued to tell us about himself, that he had a brother studying in New York and a home that was apparently at our disposal. We could not believe our good fortune.

Azis however, did not finish work until five, so we had all day with which to amuse ourselves in the Uzbeki capital. We headed first to the delightful railway station, (built in a traditional style with fine tiles, and no, we didn’t try to photograph it), to drop off our bags in the left luggage department and then try and buy tickets for our trip onwards to Bukhara. This however, was easier said than done, as the ticket office turned out to be loathe to sell to us, and instead an annoying man who assured us that he was our friend, took us round the corner to a plush new ticket office that was shut. ‘Oh well, try again later,’ were our thoughts, (particularly when our ‘friend’ was nowhere to be seen), and instead we took the metro back into town to Amir Timur station next to the Hotel Uzbekistan where we were told that it was possible to change money.

Hotel Uzbekistan was a large, plush five-star affair with a big fountain outside, and a uniformed doorman who stood aside for us. “Is the bureau de change open?” asked I.

“No, it’s closed for lunch, but I can sort you out my friend,” replied the doorman.

Hmm… perhaps not so posh after all. Besides, he couldn’t sort us out anyway as we had only yen and not the dollars that he desired. So we waited, and used the sanitary facilities in the meantime, and when the change desk opened up, we changed our yen assisted by a very friendly clerk.

Not only was Hotel Uzbekistan convenient for changing money, but it was also excellently situated next to the town’s main park which once boasted Central Asia’s largest Lenin statue, now alas replaced by Timur, the ancient feared and revered ruler of these parts. We photographed him anyway before proceeding onwards, through Saligokh street, a bazaar selling all manner of junk and antiques, to the Mustakillik (Independence Square), a huge paved expanse that was vast and totalitarian, with huge banners proclaiming the freedom of Uzbekistan and the forthcoming eleventh anniversary of independence. Whatever. The fountains were cool at any rate, a magnificent cascade of water over a hundred metres long, now committed into those immortal annals that are my photo albums.

tashkent01 tashkent03 Don’t let anyone ever tell you that Tashkent is short of sight; why, there’s a statue of a waving man and a tower block, what more could you want…?

Tashkent, like most of the world’s capitals, has a veritable selection of museums for the history-hungry tourist to visit, but there was one in particular that I wasn’t going to miss. Situated adjacent to the railway station was Uzbekistan’s National Railway Museum, two sidings full of rusting hulks that were once the monsters of the Iron Road that brought modernisation and civilisation (Soviet style) to this remote corner of the globe. The old crone on the gate tried to charge us seven hundred sum per ticket, (even though the price was clearly displayed as one hundred and fifty), but we merely brushed her aside and had a pleasant time climbing onto and photographing the absolutely immense locomotives of the Soviet Union. As one who has worked on a railway, I know all too well how big railway engines actually are once the platform is taken away, but these were in a different league entirely to our puny British machines being built to traverse thousands, not hundreds of miles of track, and withstand extremes of temperature to boot.

tashkent05 Toot! Toot!

In a coach near to the exit, we discovered a small exhibition detailing Uzbekistan’s railway heritage, and also the museum’s director, Boris Sobolev, an elderly gent of the highest order who personally showed us around the displays and got out the huge visitor’s book, pointing to names from our home countries, one of which, David Morgan, will mean nothing to most people, but is well-known indeed to the average rail enthusiast.

Mr. Sobolev was yet more proof that Uzbekistan seems to contain both the worst and the best of people. Noticing a poster in Hebrew above his desk, I asked about it. He explained that he was Jewish and that his son now lived there. When we told him that we’d both once worked in Israel, and indeed had met there, he was thrilled and presented us with a pin badge of the Uzbek SSR Locomotive Worker’s Trade Union each, before urging us to take a photo with him and then send it on later. This we readily agreed to. I was surprised to find a Jew here I must admit. I knew that there was a small yet ancient Hebrew community in Bukhara, but never realised that they were elsewhere in the region too. When I asked if he too was planning to emigrate to the Land of Milk and Honey to join his son, he shook his head. He was an old man and Tashkent was his home. The Promised Land held no appeal for him.

AWL172a With Boris Sobolev in his office

We were due to meet Azis at five and still had an hour or so to kill, so we headed across town to the city centre’s only ancient building of note, the Kukeldash Medrassah, which was fine and impressed us, though paled besides those that we were soon to see in Bukhara.

tashkent06 Kukeldash Medrassah

Azis’s father turned out to be a jovial, plump and round-faced gent of considerable intelligence. Initially we’d been uneasy about accepting his son’s invitation to stay at the Arislanovi house since we didn’t want to intrude on his father, but we soon discovered that his father was the main reason behind Azis actually offering the invitation in the first place! He loved foreigners, speaking English and repeated several times how anxious he was for his sons to be competent in international situations. It was due to this reason that Son Number Two was now in New York studying, that Azis had completed university, and that the third and final son was about to enter the same establishment. “And not only English,” he stressed, “it is not fashionable now, but here in Uzbekistan our future still lies largely with Russia. Russian language is essential too, and I recommend Turkish also.” We were impressed.

But his knowledge was not limited to the present alone. En route back to Chez Arislanovi, we stopped off at another medrassah, which he conducted us around, explaining the once considerable roles of religious schools in Turkestan life. “But are you so religious now?” I asked, since so far neither of us had noticed any sign of Islamic piety.

“No, not these days. We are Muslims yes, but we don’t attend the camii. We must be careful actually, Islamic Fundamentalism is a big threat to our country, with Iran and Afghanistan to the south.” He was sounding like the police at the metro station earlier, and indeed most people that we spoke to in Uzbekistan expressed similar sentiments.

“But yes, this used to be a very religious country indeed,” he continued as we left the medrassah. “Look at these houses here, they are traditional Uzbeki houses. They have no windows so that no one could look at the women inside. Our women used to be always hidden from view and covered up.”

But now? We only seen a few headscarves, let alone veils. Most girls dressed like Russians, although quite a few wore loose floral dresses that were singularly unappealing and probably a concession to Islam. It was a world away from the conservative Uyghurs of Urumqi and certainly not what I’d expected.

The Arislanovi house was a traditional one too, with rooms arranged around a shady courtyard. The street, shut off and unseen made one feel that the city was a million miles away and an almost rural tranquility reigned. “I am building extra rooms,” Mr. Arislanov Senior explained, “for each of my sons when they get married.” So, although the Uzbekis have changed in some respects, obviously it is far from all. Families we learnt are still large, (there were four Arislanovi kids), and it is still normal for them to live with or near relatives. “Next-Door are our cousins, and across the road an aunt,” Azis added.

And so we had a fine evening. Mrs. Arislanova prepared us a veritable feast of plov, the traditional Turkic dish of rice with pieces of lamb meat, and we quaffed ales whilst devouring it and talking to the knowledgeable males of the family, (female-male separation at social events, whilst not strict, still seems to be the order of the day). Mr. Arislanov had some fascinating things to say. He himself had been a university lecturer in the sciences, but had got out after the fall of the USSR sensing that it would no longer be a lucrative profession, and became a businessman, now rather well off. Overall, he favoured the demise of the Soviet Union and admired the country’s ‘democratic’ president, Islam Karimov. “Business is the key,” he said, “and Karimov encourages that.” And as if to prove that, an English-language news show started up on the TV, which gave us several glowing reports of Uzbeki economic progress. “Plus, we are very friendly with the Americans now, they have airbases here.”

Which indeed they do, used to good effect in the war against Afghanistan. America’s friendship with Karimov however, has been the subject for some criticism. Whilst loudly deploring figures such as Saddam Hussein as undemocratic and tyrannical, the US seems to have turned a blind eye to Karimov who has an aversion to elections and a habit of making opponents disappear. And he’s not the only one, they also get on well with Turkmenistan’s Saparmurat Niyazov, or as he’s popularly known, Turkmenbashi.

“Turkmenbashi! Oh, he’s crazy! Thankfully, we have no one like him here. Did you know he has recently renamed the days of the week after himself and his mother?” We didn’t know, but it didn’t surprise us. Anyway, I’ll get onto that fruitcake later.

“But what of the Russians in Uzbekistan?” I asked.

“Well, that is a problem. In Soviet times they were often the brains behind ventures, and after independence a lot left, and it is tougher for the ones that stayed behind. But maybe that had to happen; after all, we Uzbekis must learn to do things for ourselves. My main problem with the Soviet regime is that whilst they gave us a lot, like railways and factories, they took a lot away too. Uzbekistan has vast natural reserves, but all the profits went to Russia. Now we can keep them for ourselves.”

“And remember,” he continued, “when you talk about immigrants, there are not only Russians and Uzbeks here. In Tashkent there are lots of different nationalities, such as Koreans, Turks and Iranians.”

“And how are relations between the groups?”

“Well, I know that this is sounds strange, but I think that the best are the Koreans. Although they are very different in race and culture, they have settled in here, they work hard and cause no problems. The Turks on the other hand, supposedly our Muslim brothers are always rioting and are a problem.”

Such talk was fascinating, but the night was drawing on, Azis had to work the following day and after three nights of poor train sleep, we two were shattered also. And so it was, with regret, that we called it a night, and crawled into our beds in a white room with no windows looking out onto the street.3252_193074165304_3186823_n At home with the Arislanovs…

Next part: 3c: Tashkent (I) 


[1] The World is Not Enough

[2]Actually, it was Kamelot, a Komsomol-style youth organisation. Sadl

y for Azis however, according to www.eurasianet.org Kamelot was disbanded in favour of a more modern organisation that can win the hearts and minds of Uzbeki youth through 'values that are in harmony with young peoples' interests in science, the professions, a healthy lifestyle and creative work,' and also counter 'the brain-washing of young people with ideas that conflict with the nature and sacred traditions of Uzbek people,' conducted by the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, an organisation which President Karimov opposes.

Sunday, 21 July 2013

Across Asia With A Lowlander: Part 3a: Druzhba to Almaty

world-map almaty

Greetings!

This first posting of the third and final part of Across Asia With A Lowlander is a couple of days late because I’ve been taking advantage of the glorious weather and the beautiful country in which I was born and now live by going camping in the Welsh Mountains with my son and a friend. So, apologies to those of you who’ve been waiting to learn what Kazakhstan, the country so often lampooned by my compatriot Sacha Baron Cohen in his role as Borat is REALLY like.

Keep travelling!

Uncle Travelling Matt

 

BOOK III

Steppe to the Left, Steppe to the Right…

(The Stans with Matthew, Bathing by the Bolshoi and a Confrontation at Konotop)

kazakhstan visa

Links to all parts of the travelogue

Book 1: Embarking Upon A New Korea

1a: Toyama to Pusan

1b: Pusan

1c: Seoul

1d: The DMZ

1e: Seoul, Incheon and Across the Yellow Sea

Book 2: Master Potter does Fine China

2a: Qingdao

2b: Beijing (I)

2c: Beijing (II)

2d: Beijing (III)

2e: Yinchuan (I)

2f: Yinchuan(II)

2g: Lanzhou

2h: Bingling-si

2i: Xiahe

2j: Lanzhou and Jiayuguan

2k: Jiayuguan

2l: Dunhuang

2m: Urumqi (I)

2n: Urumqi (II)

2o: Urumqi (III)

Book 3: Steppe to the Left, Steppe to the Right…

3a: Druzhba to Almaty

3b: Shumkent to Tashkent

3c: Tashkent (I) 

3d: Bukhara

3e: Bukhara to Samarkand

3f: Samarkand

3g: Samarkand to Urgench

3h: Khiva

3i: Tashkent (II)

3j: Tashkent to Moscow

3k: Moscow (I)

3l: Moscow (II)

3m: Moscow (III)

3n: Konotop to Varna

central_asia 

china09


13th August, 2002 – Druzhba, Kazakhstan

Nothing.

That's what I saw. Or at least, as near to nothing as one can get on Planet Earth. A vast moonscape shrouded by an early morning mist and punctuated only by the work of man; a barbed wire fence. China had finished. The train rumbled slowly on and a kilometre or two further on there was another fence. Kazakhstan had begun. This was the steppe, this was Central Asia. This was the area that we'd both longed to visit. The Lowlander, Brian and I stared out of the window.

druzhba01 Where China ends and Kazakhstan begins: bordering on dull…

Brian? Yes, Brian. I haven't had chance to introduce him to you yet. Oh well, I shall do so now. Waiting at Urumqi station the previous evening we'd spied another Western traveller. A small gent, with beard, backpack and umbrella. The Lowlander and I were bored. We decided to guess where this unknown journeyman hailed from.

“Definitely not American,” said my Dutch comrade.

I looked at his style of dress. It didn't say 'across the pond' to me. “I agree, and probably not Canadian either. Aussie?”

“I don't think so.”

“Definitely not German or Danish.”

“Or Dutch.”

“French?”

“They hardly ever travel to a non-French-speaking country.”

“Good point. Besides, he doesn't look French anyway.”

“He looks British.”

I was not so sure. “I can see where you're coming from, but I don't know. He only looks sort-of British.”

“Any better ideas?”

“No.”

“Then he is sort-of British.”

It later turned out that this mystery traveller was billeted in the compartment adjacent to ours. And also that the Lowlander's 'sort-of British' verdict was a good one. Brian Connellan was an Irishman. What's more, he was an amiable and interesting bloke as well, and so we sat down as the train rolled through the final kilometres of the People's Republic and talked travel.

Brian, like me, had just finished working in Japan and was heading home the interesting way. He'd left the Land of the Rising Sun on virtually the same day that I had, but instead of Korea, had taken a ship to Shanghai, before exploring Beijing, Xian (Terracotta Warriors place), Lanzhou and then all the stops to Urumqi like us. What's more, he'd also taken a massive detour to Kashgar and the Taklamakan Desert and in doing so had developed an attachment for the Uyghur people of Xinjiang.

After Kazakhstan he was planning to go onto Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and then Iran, Turkey and the Balkans, before returning home to Limerick through Western Europe. His aim was to follow the Silk Road as closely as he could and also to indulge as often as possible in his other passion, Islamic Art and Architecture. We were amazed at the guy. Our own trip, (and remember, there were two of us), was pretty ambitious and adventurous, but besides his, it paled into insignificance. Anyone who attempts to traverse countries such as Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Iran has my admiration, but anybody who attempts to make such a journey alone, well...

druzhba04 A sort-of British man with a sort-of Lowland man. Hanging out of a train.

Pretty soon after the border we stopped at a small station named Druzhba.[1] Here we alighted, being informed by the guard that our steed was not to depart again until four o' clock in the afternoon.

Druzhba was culture shock. Surrounded by vast windswept steppe, here was a little piece of Eastern Europe in Asia's heart. The station buildings looked typical of Romania and inside the small restaurant pale-skinned Russians slurped their borsch and beer. We sat down and did the same, before rising again to explore the meagre settlement beyond the confines of the railway station.

Now 'Druzhba' might mean 'friendship', but this did not look altogether that friendly a place. In fact, if anything it reminded me of one of the army camps that I'd visited as a kid with my ex-soldier uncle. But there again, it probably was little more than just a camp anyway. After all, what else was there here to employ people but a big border?

And a border that could turn nasty too. After the Sino-Soviet split of 1960 there had been several skirmishes along it and now with ideological as well as cultural differences to protect, surely it is better to be safe than sorry.

We wandered around the desolate-looking apartments with kids playing football in the dirt outside and felt sorry for the soldiers and their families who had the misfortune to be stationed here, a crumbling outpost in the middle of nowhere which had but one saving grace: Good borsch in the cafe.

But returning to the station, that nightmare of being stuck in Druzhba seemed to have come a little to close for comfort. Our train had disappeared!

“But I thought that the guy had said that it would leave at four!” I said in disbelief.

“Maybe,” replied my Zeelandic travel partner, “but it clearly is not here now, is it?”

He had a point and so I went to the information office to enquire as to where our train had got to.

“It will come back,” replied the not-so-nice lady who evidently did not welcome enquiries despite the notice in her window proclaiming that she did.

“But where is it, and our bags, at the moment?”

Sadly my Russian was not up to comprehending the reply but we soon discovered the answer when we went back to the platform.

“Matt, you know about trains. Trains run on two rails, right?”

“Yeah.”

“So why are there three rails to this track then?”

I looked down. He was right. The distance between the one nearest to us and the middle rail was about right; the international Stephenson Standard Gauge of four feet eight and a half inches. But the distance between the two outer rails was more like five feet. Just then a shunting locomotive came trundling along, using the two outer rails.

“So that's it!” I declared. “They use a different gauge here and our train...”

“What about our train?”

“Why, they're changing the wheels!”

And so it was. Around half past three the train, complete with Brian and baggage, returned, and true to the guard's words, it finally departed Druzhba at exactly four o'clock.

druzhba02  All aboard the Almaty Express!

And the rest of the day we spent travelling and talking. As our blue snake of the iron road erm... snaked through the empty steppe, past small villages, the occasional lake and distant peaks, we snaked through a myriad on topics of conversation. Travel, Japan, the European Union, Tibetan and Uyghur Independence, the Netherlands, Mao Tse Tung, the Republic of Ireland, kebabs, Turkmenbashi, the United Kingdom and East European womenfolk. And so it was until darkness fell somewhere near to the town of Lepsi, and we retired to our bunks for the night after an interesting first day in the 'Stans'.

druzhba03 A Kazakh village by the railway line

14th August, 2002 – Almaty, Kazakhstan

Almaty, formerly the capital of the Kazakh SSR, then the capital of the independent Republic of Kazakhstan, now a mere provincial town, having been robbed of its high official standing by the infinitely wise President Nazerbayev, who has moved his ministries north to a steppe city imaginatively named ‘Capital’.[1] So, with her status gone, what was modern-day Almaty like?

almaty01 Almaty Railway Station: very Russian

Her suburbs looked Russian. The first station that we stopped at, Almaty II, Russian; the pale-skinned occupants of the platforms, Russian; and the borsch in the station cafĂ©, mmm… that definitely tasted Russian.

Brian, (who was one of the very few un-Russian things in the locality), had to meet his pre-arranged travel agent at the station, as she was to take him to his hotel. He promised to return straight after checking in. That’s how we knew that the borsch in the restaurant was Russian as well. Brian however, never found this out, as he failed to turn up.

Now when one’s dirty and sticky after two showerless nights on board a train, and is deposited in a somewhat nondescript and isolated ex-capital of a Central Asian republic where the (Russian built) baths are listed as the main attraction in town, then it is perhaps only natural that one should head in that direction and kill two birds with one stone as it were, by sightseeing and freshening up in one. That’s what we reckoned anyway, and so we hailed a (Russian Lada) taxi and ordered (in Russian) the (ethnic Russian) driver to take us to the Arasan Baths.

almaty02 Time for a bath!

Both the Turkic peoples and the Slavs have always been big ones for bathing. Add the communists into the equation with their love for providing leisure facilities for the masses, and particularly leisure facilities that were to be enjoyed by many people, together, then it is perhaps no surprise that the magnificent Arasan complex got built and is still one of the major draws to this supposedly Turkic-Slavic city, (though we’d seen little of the former so far). In fact, the Soviets and other Warsaw Pact regimes built public baths all over their territories, though few are as grand as the Arasan. For a start, the visitor is provided with a choice when he enters. ‘What bathing experience would you like today, sir? Finnish, Russian or Turkish?’ We were overwhelmed. All three were virgin territory to us ignorant West Europeans. In the end we opted for the Turkish. After all, we’d have the Russian in Russia itself, and besides, wasn’t this the former capital of a Turkic ‘Stan’, a stop on the Silk Road, and seat of a nomadic Khan? Well, apparently, although any glance around far from confirmed that. No, the balance needed to be readdressed and so we went Turkish!

So what is a Turkish Bath then, and how does it differ from other forms of bathing? Well, for a start, we were surprised to learn that there’s no actual bath involved. Instead one strips, showers, and then lies or stands on hot slabs or in rooms that increase in temperature as you complete the ‘course’. And then at the end you shower once more and go home. All very civilised I must say, though as the Lowlander and I sat sipping Russian lemon tea after exiting the hottest room of all, we both agreed that it didn’t really compare with the Korean experience. I don’t know, but there’s something about actually being submerged in the water, and that was something that the Turkish option lacked. Nonetheless, we felt jolly refreshed as we left the building and more than ready to see the sights.

almaty03 Turkish Baths

Of which Almaty has few, the two big ones being the aforementioned Arasan Baths and the Zenkov Cathedral in the adjacent Panfilov Park, which was of course, our next destination. It was strange to see a cathedral once again, for although we had of course visited one in Urumqi and one in Qingdao, it was very obvious there that the Christians were but a very tiny minority. Here however, although Muslims are in the majority across Kazakhstan, the extremely Russified Almaty is an Orthodox Christian city. Babushkas and many more of all ages crowded and circuited this beautiful and entirely wooden, (apparently built without nails), building in a display of faith unparalleled to anything that we’d encountered so far on our trip barring the Tibetan monastery at Xiahe. This surprised me somewhat since the only post-communist and Orthodox country that I’d encountered before was Bulgaria and there faith does not seem to be strong. I was later to find out though that the Russians are a completely different story entirely from their South Slav brethren and throughout the former Soviet Union, faith in Orthodoxy seems to be very much alive and growing.

almaty07 Marching onwards!

Also in the city’s Panfilov Park is a huge war memorial that we’d longed to see after having come across a photograph of it in an old guidebook. The Soviets were of course always big ones for building monuments, the titanic memorial to the fallen in Volgagrad, (formerly Stalingrad), perhaps being the most famous. This one however does not come far behind and is something special. It features a gigantic Red Army soldier bursting out of a morass of guns, comrades and other warlike symbols, his arms outstretched in a way not too dissimilar to those of Christ in the nearby cathedral. Specifically it was built to commemorate the deaths of twenty-eight Almaty men who died in the defence of Moscow, but it also more generally commemorates a war which although never actually reached the Kazakh SSR, had wide repercussions on the whole area. Due to the Germans having conquered the vast majority of European Russia, Stalin decided to move his factories lock, stock and barrel out of harms way, to safer lands such as the steppe of Turkestan. And with the factories came many Russians who, along with the Russians who had been there for years further diluted the ethnic solution of the area as well as changing its industrial character. And it didn’t stop there. The increasingly paranoid Stalin deemed several ethnic groups within the Union such as the Crimean Tartars to be perhaps a little unreliable, patriotically speaking, and so he moved them, like the factories, lock, stock and barrel out into the barren and desolate steppe of the Stans complicating that ethnic cocktail even further.

almaty04 The War Memorial in Panilov Park

Almaty was an unexciting city and somewhat drab little city with little more of note to see. We searched for, and eventually found, the Central State Museum in a dingy apartment block behind a statue of some famous, (well in Kazakhstan famous...) poets, but aside from a replica of the also famous (?) Golden Man, (a two thousand three hundred year old suit of armour made from four thousand pieces of gold), there was nothing much to see here either. So we wandered the grid iron streets and parks, gazing at passing Ladas and the grey blocks of the socialist world.

almaty05 Zhambol: The biggest name in Kazakh poetry

almaty06 A golden man (and a Dutch idiot)

What was perhaps strangest here was how European it all seemed, particularly after we'd just come from China. From a culture as far removed from our own to one extremely close indeed. It was somewhat disconcerting. The architecture, people, alphabet, food and even the dreary rainy weather, (the first rain that we'd come across since our trip to Xiahe), smacked of our home continent and it was almost impossible to believe that we were in the heart of Asia with steppe but a few kilometres out of town. From the Orient to Europe and tomorrow in Tashkent, to the Turkic World. Where else on the globe can one experience such dramatic culture changes on a daily basis? Disconcerting indeed, but exciting also.

European it may have looked, but we were in Asia and so to kill time and keep loved ones contented, we went to the post office and mailed cards with Kazakstan stamps on the back before returning to the railway station to catch the evening train out of town to Shumkent.

almaty08 Long live the Glorious Republic of Kazakhstan!

Earlier on we’d booked a First Class compartment which meant that we’d be in a vestibule with only two beds. When the train arrived though, we discovered that they’d actually ran out of such rolling stock and instead we’d be in a normal compartment with the other two bunks going unoccupied for the night. It wasn’t long however, before the guard popped his head around the door and asked if we minded sharing with two more. Normally we would have objected, but the two more turned out to be a young mother with her child, so it the end we felt that object we could not and thus the compartment was filled.

In the end however, we were grateful for the company of what turned out to be three, not two. Oksana, the mother was a pretty lady of our age who came from mixed Russian and Turkish stock. Her extremely spoilt and ill-behaved yet cute five year-old daughter Milana was holding a box which later turned out to contain our third travelling companion, Peepl, a gorgeous tabby kitten.

Oksana, dressed in a white shell suit and with a liking for beer, swearing and cigarettes, looked the right-winger’s stereotype of an irresponsible single mother. Which she was. Divorced from her Russian husband she was now bringing up Milana on her own, although that bringing up primarily seemed to consist of feeding her sweets whenever she complained, resulting in extremely bad teeth and worse manners. In fact there didn’t seem to be much maternal spirit in the girl at all, since not only did she consistently ignore her child, but even balked at our suggestion that we take a photo of them both together, something that most mothers adore to do. All the proof we need anyway that those on the right are in fact correct in their assumptions towards the poor and are not the ignorant bigots that they appear to be.

Still, motherly or not, she was friendly and somewhat attractive, and the company was a change of scene for us both as we rumbled onwards, beers in hand, through the dark Kazakh night.

almaty09  almaty10

Our travelling companions: Oksana, Milana and Peepl 

Next part:  3b: Shumkent to Tashkent



[1] Astana


[1]'Druzhba' is Russian for 'friendship' and it was a name that I'd come to be very familiar with over the following year, as it was also the name of the village where I dwelt in Bulgaria.

Thursday, 11 July 2013

Across Asia With A Lowlander: Part 2o: Urumqi (III)

world-map urumqi

Greetings!

And finally, the last installment of Part II of Across Asia With A Lowlander and the end of our Trans-China journey! But fear not, for Part II is up next as we then plunge ourselves in the Stans of the former Soviet Union.

And talking of travelling, I’ve just booked my next trip, in September, from Berlin to Lodz in Poland. Berlin was a city which I really enjoyed on my last visit there as can be read here, whilst I enjoyed Poland greatly too when I visited last year. And this time I’ll be with the same travelling companion, Mike. And as always, when it’s written up it’ll be posted here first. In the meantime though, I’m still getting over the twin shock of decent weather and a British winner at Wimbledon whilst enjoying an Ashes series. Time for some camping me thinks!

Keep travelling!

Uncle Travelling Matt

 Flickr album of this trip

Links to all parts of the travelogue

Book 1: Embarking Upon A New Korea

1a: Toyama to Pusan

1b: Pusan

1c: Seoul

1d: The DMZ

1e: Seoul, Incheon and Across the Yellow Sea

Book 2: Master Potter does Fine China

2a: Qingdao

2b: Beijing (I)

2c: Beijing (II)

2d: Beijing (III)

2e: Yinchuan (I)

2f: Yinchuan (II)

2g: Lanzhou

2h: Bingling-si

2i: Xiahe

2j: Lanzhou and Jiayuguan

2k: Jiayuguan

2l: Dunhuang

2m: Urumqi (I)

2n: Urumqi (II)

2o: Urumqi (III)

Book 3: Steppe to the Left, Steppe to the Right…

3a: Druzhba to Almaty

3b: Shumkent to Tashkent

3c: Tashkent (I) 

3d: Bukhara

3e: Bukhara to Samarkand

3f: Samarkand

3g: Samarkand to Urgench

3h: Khiva

3i: Tashkent (II)

3j: Tashkent to Moscow

3k: Moscow (I)

3l: Moscow (II)

3m: Moscow (III)

3n: Konotop to Varna

china09

urumqi-map

11th - 12th August, 2002 – Urumqi, China

And so we had but two days left in Urumqi, and we had of course already exhausted all its attractions. In Dunhuang that prospect would have been loathsome, but here we did not mind too much. The truth was, we actually quite liked the place, with its gaudy parks, towering office blocks and Uyghur influences. In few cities on earth do the forces of East and West collide in such a way as they do here. Urumqi, the furthest city in the world from the sea, truly was an international crossroads and it fascinated me.

Our first task however, was to get money which meant another trip to the bank to change fifty euros. From then on, we were free agents.

During our visit to the Hongshan Gongyuan, (remember, the park with the neon palm trees), the other day, we'd noticed a tall TV tower akin to those in Seoul, Pusan and elsewhere, with a restaurant at the top. The Lowlander, being a man who shared my love of getting as high as a kite whilst in a strange city, agreed with me that a trip up it might well be a good idea, so we hailed a taxi and wrote out 'TV tower' in Chinese. Our driver nodded furiously and off we went, darting in and out of the backstreets before pulling up outside a large grey building with a small mast on the top. 'Hmm... this is not quite right,' thought I. The taxi driver however insisted on its TV tower authenticity. The mistake was an obvious one; this was the headquarters of the local TV station.

Undeterred, we returned to the city centre and tried to locate the tower by remembering roughly where it had been positioned, and eventually, after wandering through countless avenues of apartments, it appeared before us, thrusting proudly towards the Heavens. Unfortunately, being closer up, we now realised why our taxi driver had been confused. It was clearly now disused and that little ol' restaurant at the top aserving meals no longer. Boo!

urumqi16 Urumqi’s TV tower

And so that day we returned to the Hongshan Gongyuan and sampled the many other delights of those pleasure gardens. There was a waterfall that one could walk under and get extremely wet (we did), dodgem cars piloted by spoilt fat kids, a tiny pagoda and a functioning temple that contained some unspectacular reliefs.

Far more fascinating was the Uyghur district. Our taxi drive to the TV station had had one fortunate side effect in that we had driven through an area of Uyghur town that we previously didn't know existed, and that seemed to be undergoing a massive revival, with smart apartment blocks being constructed in large numbers.

We returned on foot to check it out, and were most pleasantly surprised. All around us huge construction projects were underway; apartment blocks, mosques and other amenities being erected in abundance. What impressed us most though, was that all these new buildings were being built in the Uyghur vernacular style, with tiles and arches reminiscent of Iran or Turkey, creating a district that was more Jeddah than Jiayuguan. The icing on the cake was a shopping centre of unbelievably mammoth proportions that was designed to look something like an ancient caravanserai. Once again, we were amazed by this city, capital of one of China's poorest regions, yet marching onwards at a great rate of knots, and glorifying, not suppressing the local culture. We wandered for hours amongst the bazaars and hijaab-filled streets, purchasing skull-caps, headscarves and other souvenirs; imagining ourselves not in China, but in Baghdad, (though without the threats of war of course). And yet, walk but a hundred metres or so down the road and we were back in the land of Mao, pagodas and egg-fried rice. Magic!

One curio that we found, located halfway between the city centre and the Uyghur district, was a tiny Catholic cathedral, constructed in a style that suggested that it didn't know whether to lean towards Rome, Beijing or Tehran. I went in and knelt down on one of the pews, dedicating a string of rosary to my family in what must surely be one of Christianity's most isolated outposts.

urumqi cathedral Urumqi Cathedral

Perhaps the most surreal (and laughable), of Urumqi's many sights, is the town's main square, (before the Tiananmenesque Renmin Guangchang took precedence), as this is obviously an attempt at European elegance gone disastrously wrong. At one end was an ornate building, somewhat akin to a Victorian town hall or library in some English provincial town. No centre of admin or book-lending was this though, but instead the local cinema. And what more apt to put in front of this Euro-style temple of celluloid? Why, nothing else but a big glass pyramid! Move over Paris, Urumqi is the cultural capital now, (even if its pyramid has more than a few cracked panes). It was hilarious and all we needed now was a Chinese guy with a stripey T-shirt and beret to show us around.

urumqi glass pyramid Urumqi’s Glass Pyramid: Not quite Parisian

Yes indeed, that was Urumqi, a city that many dislike, yet I, (and I suspect the Lowlander too), fell in love with. Its culture collision, tackiness, extreme location and general diversity appealed to my strange senses. My home city advertises its pottery industry as Do China in a Day! (see where I get the cheesiness from?), yet here one could get China, Turkey, France and the Stans in one, and still have time for a Mass at the incongruous Catholic cathedral at eventide. I loved it, but it was time to move on, so on the evening of the twelfth we dined Uyghur for the very last time and headed back to the railway station hotel to pack, before moving onto the station itself to wait in the large temporary waiting room. Sat there, we saw signs of what was to come; amongst the dark-skinned Uyghurs and the bronzed Han Chinese, sat some with complexions akin to our own, and speaking in a language that I partially understood. They were the Russians, and we were about to enter the old Soviet Union, dominated by a culture different from both those that held sway in Urumqi.

So that was it, the end of our trip to China. From the east to the west in just under a month. The memories and experiences from even that far too short time were seemingly endless; the meditative monastery at Xiahe; the Harry Potter haircut in Yinchuan; the German church in Qingdao and undecided one in Urumqi; Email at the Great Wall; sipping eight auspicious tea on the peaks above Lanzhou; the long, long train rides with six to a compartment; the great rip-off city of Dunhuang; the fascinating Uyghur Quarter in Urumqi; a boat ride on the Yellow River and bashed up taxis of the same colour with drivers who knew not the way; a crumbling statue of Mao in a Gansu schoolyard and a pristine one in the People’s Liberation Army Museum; Tiananmen Square, the Forbidden City, Bingling Si... what a country!

China had surprised me. Friends had told me that they'd found her people to be intolerably rude, yet both the Lowlander and I agreed that we had not found that. Instead we'd been impressed by the lack of overt corruption that one finds in Asia's South East or in Africa. That corruption exists, and crime too, we do not doubt, (after all, is not charging Y60 to see a lake a crime?), but we as travellers never felt threatened, in danger or under scrutiny. Walking the streets felt as safe as Japan, and considerably more so than home, and unlike in the countries that were to come, I never felt afraid to approach a policeman.

Of course there were problems, but these were due more to the language and writing system than anything else; the former being unpronounceable and the latter incomprehensible. Never before in my life have I actually used a phrasebook or possessed such a well-thumbed guidebook, without them we'd have been more than lost. But there again, was not that all part of the fun, guessing at menus and drawing pictures to inform taxi drivers? And besides, if I'd wanted an easy vacation, well, there's always Blackpool.

And then there was the politics. I'd read Wild Swans and the Western Press, and didn't know what to expect. Stalinist wonderland? Communism in name alone? Repressed minorities desperate to escape from the Han yoke? Or instead millions of happy workers marching forward towards a bright future? And I found a bit of it all I suppose, though overall I must admit to being a bit impressed. No, that's wrong, very impressed.

Freedom, democracy and independence are laudable ideals, but my trips to the Third World have shown me that they are virtually worthless if there is no economic success to back it all up. And in my opinion, the Chinese or Uyghur is without a doubt far better off than the Cambodian, Albanian or Indonesian, who possesses all those things, but lives in a shack without reliable running water, electricity or a sewer system. Despite its many faults, the Communist government is creating wealth for its people, and on an unprecedented scale. We couldn't believe the levels of economic advancement that we encountered, and yet we travelled largely through the poorer regions of the country, going nowhere near the likes of Shanghai or Guangdong. And whilst much is written about the growing gap between rich and poor, and the seaboard and inland, it must be said that the government does seem to be doing more to redistribute that wealth than a purely capitalistic one would. Indeed, according to the World Poverty Statistics for 2002, China is the only country where poverty has actually decreased dramatically.[1] And that to me is worth far more than the colour of your flag.

Of course poverty still does exist, and it does seem to be higher amongst the minorities. The Muslim area that we passed through on the way to Xiahe was almost Third World in its standards, although I must not that all their agricultural transportation seemed to be mechanised, whereas even in Eastern Europe, the horse and cart is still a common sight.

Perhaps one of the main reasons why China is doing so well, is that it is doing it by itself. Not in a North Korea or Hodja Albania kind of way, but in that the neo-colonialism, sadly all too evident across the Third World, seems largely absent here. Western companies are free to come in, but they must do so on a far more level playing field.

Nonetheless, problems do remain. At internet cafes, I failed to gain access to any Geocities or BBC website, doubtless due to government censorship. Yet there again, do we not have our own, more subtle forms of regulating what information our citizens receive? We hear plenty about the trials of the Tibetans or the persecution of Falun Gong, yet little about the fact that most Chinese have a far higher standard of living than their compatriots in the developing world, and are largely satisfied with the direction in which their country is headed. We are bombarded with reports of the evils of the Cultural Revolution, yet little of how the Chinese government now admits the mistakes that it made, and is doing its best to rectify them. Would you find the Conservative Party making a public apology for its conduct during the Great Strike or the evils of the Thatcher Era? Not bloody likely, think I.

Here's another few example. The railway line to Tibet, the greatest railway project in the world for fifty years, a masterpiece in engineering. How much did you know about it? Did you also know that the Chinese have recently embarked upon the biggest tree-planting project in human history, attempting to improve air quality and reduce flooding by covering an area the size of Poland with greenery? Had the US government done this, there'd be an entire edition of Time dedicated to it. Since it's the Chinese, there's five lines. No, we censor too. The secret is, we're better at it.

And then there's the minorities, foremost amongst whom are the Uyghurs and the Tibetans, both of which we'd encountered on our trip. Should they have their own states as Brad Pitt and the other Hollywood celebrities argue? From what I saw, I'm unsure. Both regions now have very mixed populations, and independence would cause immense demographic problems. And then there's the economic side to it. The Dalai Lama might be a nice bloke, but can he create prosperity? Even with the tourist money it gets, the Tibetans near neighbours, the Nepalese are as mired in poverty as ever: Hardly an advert for change.

mao dalai lama Spot the good guy 1: Mao and the Dalai Lama

And Xinjiang. What can we look at as a model for them? The five post-Soviet Stans, with their demographic difficulties, economic stagnation and (Kirghizstan excepted), dictatorial regimes. Or poverty-ridden, military-ruled Pakistan, getting by on an ever-aging, creaking British infrastructure. Or what about conflict-mired, theocratic, Taliban-ruled Afghanistan, (well, that was until the Western Heroes came in and blew up everything that moved, stood or bleated). Now, I'm sorry, but to me, the rule of Beijing, whilst far from perfect, seems more than a little preferable.

Of course, I may be wrong. Other travellers tend to think differently, and I recommend fellow-voyager Brian Connellan's (more about him later), travelogue Japan to Ireland as an excellent contrast, as he stands in the pro-Uyghur independence camp, and we enjoyed several debates on the subject in Kazakhstan and Bulgaria.

But I stand by my opinions. China is booming, China is not all bad and China is waiting for you. If you can, go there and do so soon. You may like it, or you may not, but whatever, you'll find it fascinating.

I drew the curtains in our compartment that night as the Soviet-built train rumbled on through the steppe. When I opened them the next morning, the view would be of Kazakhstan.

Next part: 3a: Druzhba to Almaty


[1]For figures see http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/business/2040655.stm