DISCOVERING CENTRAL ASIA
GUEST POST by Vékony Dorottya & Hernyák Kristof
Photos by: Vékony Dorottya & Hernyák Kristof
It all started in 2016 when we found a tourist magazine on a coffee table in our guesthouse during a hiking weekend in Hungary. We found a nice article about how Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan are planning to offer free travelling visa for EU citizens from January 1st, 2017. That immediately put the bug in our ears. Those were distant, little known countries for us, and we don’t really hear news from around there, and no news is good news, right? As simple as it sounds, just like that, we decided to visit that part of the world. Why not, it will be great anyway we thought to ourselves.
Considering the vast size of the region, all the gear we wanted to bring, the freedom we wanted to have, with no need to address schedules, find bed and breakfast places for every night, the logical decision was to choose car as a mean of transportation.
After a lot of preparation, both in the head and in the backpacks, we took off on the 12th of September from Budapest, and we arrived back on the 25th of November to the same place after we had drove 20.000 kilometres.
While writing this, I’m still struggling with acclimatization back to normal everyday routine life. Being on the go with no deadlines, takes its toll when you get back. We were able to sleep comfortably in the car, so it was completely up to us where to stop and stay for the night, and enjoy dinners under the starry sky. We were even able to reach locations where only dirt tracks led.
Crossing Kazakhstan looked just like this, 3500 straight km from the border crossing in the Caspian region all the way to Almaty.
Steppe, steppe and even more steppe, that was the view along the way, but it was far more interesting than it might sound. Yes, it was huge and mostly flat, but never looked the same: it was constantly changing as we drove straight for hundreds of kilometres with the tempomat on. It was grassy, it was bushy, it was greener than 15 minutes ago, there were more bushes and they were more yellow then 20 minutes later. No trees though, not even a single one. If you looked over the horizon, it seemed lifeless, but it was far from it. Livestock was always in sight, groups of cows, sheep, horses or sometimes even camels were gazing in the far distant or just by the side of the road. An eagle circling high above our heads indicating that there was plenty of small furry creatures on the ground, and when the night fell, we could spot some foxes from time to time in the beam of light.
Crossing the steppe was an unforgettable, close to meditative experience, where we really felt what distance means, how vulnerable you can feel just because there is nothing around. You get that weird feeling because you don’t see anything man made.
When we finally made it in to the former capital, Almaty, home to 2 million people, we felt happy for a while: this was something we knew, something familiar. But the feeling quickly faded away. I don’t want to talk too much about cities but they are in one aspect all the same wherever you go, and in Kazakhstan (because there are fairly young cities, most of them were established in the late eighteen hundreds) there were no old towns, not much sense of history, just apartment buildings rising high, low profile housing, big streets packed with cars and everyone seemed to be late from somewhere, at least they drove like that. We really tried to find something appealing, tried to like the cities, we walked 6 hours a day discovering different districts, small streets, but by the end of each day the common feeling was not cheerful. I’m not much into big cities anyway.
On the other hand, visiting the mountains of Kyrgyzstan, or the national parks near Almaty was a real joy. Being there in the off-season let us enjoy the areas almost alone, which was a bonus in my opinion.
After all this staggering flatness, it was a sudden and a big change arriving to Kyrgyzstan. There was not much flat areas but mostly mountains everywhere and they were big ones. 4000 m peaks are just very normal there, and because of the country altitude, vegetation reaches pretty high on the mountain sides. I’ve seen the tallest pine trees ever there. Fresh, clean water streams run trough the valleys and it seems they never end.
Unlike this journal! I must put an end on it now, otherwise there is a chance it will become ten or twenty times longer as my memories are keep coming up.
But who knows, maybe there will be a part II., until then, that’s all folks!
Dori & Kristof
See more at: @dusteybutokey
Vékony Dorottya - @dodi.vekony
Hernyák Kristóf - @hernyak