My next adventure: Istanbul/Eskişehir (Türkiye) – April 2024

Shymkent – October 2019

Day 5 – The Madness of Kazakhstan (Shymkent)

It was another 6am start as our driver took us to the Kazakhstan border with the vision of having a day tour in and around Shymkent, the third largest city in the country. I did have some expectations that the border would be tricky to cross due to the nature of the two countries but I think nothing could prepare you for the absolute madness. You see these mad border crossings on TV full of people selling tat with stray dogs hanging around but it’s not until you experience it yourself that you realise the craziness of it all (oh and about 6 passport checks!)…

After 30ish minutes of walking through various passport buildings (with some of my furry friends flying around inside!), we stepped into Kazakhstan where our guide, his English translator (Bob) and driver met us. This is when it starts getting a little confusing, we had been driving through the Kazakhstan countryside/desert for approximately 3 hours when we discovered that the tour company wished to take us to the ‘Ancient City’ which would be another hour (bear in mind that we only had a day!). We were all getting slightly bored so it was at this point that Bob took control and asked if we could scrap that idea and just visit the Arystan Bab Mausoleum before heading back to Shymkent. For the next 30 minutes, we took some ‘country’ roads through the desert passing all kinds of animals including camels strolling along the road…

The Arystan Bab Mausoleum is basically what it says but contains a mosque also. When I travel to countries that have strong religious beliefs, I always seem to create some reaction and this is was exactly what happened. Whilst walking around the mosque area, I was approached by a local asking for a selfie with us all whilst thanking us for visiting. The woman then proceeded to introduce us to her family i.e. her husband, son and daughter which is apparently a Kazakh tradition.

After our encounter with the locals, we took yet another 90 minute drive back to Shymkent (by this time it was 4pm and we had to be over the border by 8pm!) for a traditional feast…

One thing to note in Kazakhstan is that ‘holes’ are present in many areas instead of toilets and even when you have actual loos, they may not be the most accessible! This resulted in a short drive to Shymkent Plaza, a shiny new shopping mall complete with a cinema etc (basically your average mail in the UK) which is a prime example of Kazakhstan’s increasing wealth…

The plan thereafter was to visit Independence Square until was discovered that the border was another 90 minutes from the city (it was 6:15pm) thus this idea was scrapped and we headed straight back and into Tashkent.

Although we spent most of the day stuck in the van on Kazakh motorways, there seems to be a stark difference surrounding accessibility and the general attitude towards disability. Bob explained that, in several cities, there are community projects aiming to get disabled people ‘out and about’ which may explain why the Kazakh society seem to be more comfortable around them. Oh and there are plenty of ramps (well compared to Uzbekistan).

Definitely need to go back!

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