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Ernst's Velotouren

Bicycle tour 2008 - 2013
First stage Switzerland - Thailand
Part 6: Southern Kazakhstan, July 2008
Just a few decades ago there was a lake as big as an ocean nourishing the people in the region of Aral. Once they were fishermen. Today they hardly have a chance to survive in a vast desert. The tragedy about the vanishing lake Aral is no accident but a result of an irresponsible and failed irrigation project from the Soviet times.
Picture: An abandoned ship in the port of Aral. Lake Aral is meanwhile about 100 km away from its old shores.
After a short break in Aral I rode again out into the endless and heat shimmering plains. The whole region around Aral is a completly dry semi-desert. Only a few plants cover the dry soil, little whirlwinds blow sand through the landscape, and except some camels, goats and millions of flies no animal can survive in this area.
Picture: Once there was a lake big as an ocean feeding this village! The apocalypse is reality here.
A consume of 10 liters of water has become normal for a daily distance of 150km. But I suffer of absence of appetite due to the consumtion of so much fluid, and the body gets more and more wiry. Regarding the upcoming stages through the Tienshan and Pamir mountain ranges I don't mind loosing some more kilos.
Picture: Nothing but endless and vast semi-desert south of Aral.
Picture: Camping at full moon.
There is nothing but endless and vast desert except a few little places made of four or five buildings along the railway line. Sometimes I had to ride 100 km and more to reach a single little "chaikana". The taste and the quality of the food at those places was between good and absolutely horrible - but I have eaten everything because simply nothing else was available.
Picture: A little place consisting of two or three houses along the railway line.
Picture: Semi-desert shortly before Zhosaly.

From Zhosaly the road follows along the river Syr Darja and the landscape became green within just one day. There were even some trees along the street providing shady spots to rest. The last time I have seen trees was in Russia roughly 2500 km and more than one month ago.

In the city of Kyzylorda I made a good - but expensive - rest in a nice hotel.

Picture: Updating my homepage in the hotel room.
Picture: A view of the center of Kyzylorda from the outskirts. It is easy to outbid the cities of Kazakhstan regarding their beauty.

After Kyzylorda the road led me away from the river Syr Darja and the coming days continued like the last weeks in the hot desert with no shady places at all. Moreover - during the past days I got really serious digestive problems and therefore urgently needed some days of rest.

Picture: Melting desert road on the way to the city of Turkistan.
The main attraction in the city of Turkistan is the mausoleum of Khoja Ahmed Yasawi (1103-1165), a great sufi and poet. The sufism (islamic mysticism) is the predominant form of the Islam in most parts of Central Asia until today.

The mausoleum was built by order of the mongolian ruler Timur between 1389 und 1405 and since 2003 it's part of the UNESCO Cultural World Heritage.
Picture: The mausoleum of Khoja Ahmed Yasawi (1103-1165) in Turkistan.
I left my bicycle for a few days in Turkistan and went by bus to Almaty to organize the needed visa for Kyrgyzstan and China. The kyrgyz Visa was issued within a few hours.

While I was still thinking that there might be a problem to get the chinese visa, I soon realized that there was absolutly no problem about it --- because there was absolutely no way at all to get a chinese visa in Almaty. It was also not possible to get in Bishkek, the nearby capital of Kyrgyzstan. Period.
But what to do now? Ride north to Mongolia? Wait until the end of the Olympic Games? Undecided I took the bus back to Turkistan, and continued the bicycle tour towards Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan.

A few kilometers after Turkistan I saw the first mountains in the landscape, hills which will rise to the very heights of the Tienshan mountain-range (more than 7000 meters). The last mountains I saw on my tour were on the Crimea Peninsula, about 4000 km ago.
Picture: The first hills of the Tienshan mountain-range after Turkistan.
Picture: Exactly 7000 kilometers behind me shortly before Shimkent.
Picture: An enthusiastic welcome in Temirlan.
Picture: The landscape shortly before Shimkent.
So much about being a vegetarian (what I was during the last 20 years): For dinner I eat mutton und potatos (soaked in oil that it glides smoothly through the intestines), decorated with a lot of onions (so that during the digestion also enough air gets along). The food in Kazakhstan is meat, anything else is a side dish. I never saw vegetables in any restaurant. I am sure that I have already eaten a whole sheep on my way through Kazakhstan, and I feel like a bone yard. Horrible!
Picture: "Kurdak", a traditional kazakh dish.

Nursultan Nasarbajev, president for lifetime "by grace of Allah", is omnipresent in Kazakhstan. No opening of a factory, a university or a social institute which is not carried out personally by Nasarbajev, accompanied by cheering and pennant waving school kids. Kazakhstan's media are controlled by the president's daughter Dariga Nasarbajeva. They are instructed to report about the president's charity and also allowed to sometimes critisize him favourably. Nasarbajevs regime takes repressive action against political oppositon. Political role model is China.

Nasarbajev was first chairman of the Council of Ministers of the Kazakh Soviet Socialist Republic and was elected 1990 from the communist party of the Soviet Union for president. After the breakdown of the Soviet Union in 1991 Nasarbajev was confirmed for the next five years as president of the in the meanwhile independent Republic of Kazakhstan. With a new constitution and advanced elections in 1995 he was able to extend his power and prolonged the presidential term from five to seven years by a decree. By the way - He won the elections of 2005 with a smashing victory, and in 2007 the article of the constitution which limited the term of office of the president was removed. Normally Nasarbajev wins elections with over 90% of the votes. The opposition speaks about election fraud, the international election observers about unfairness. Due to the strong economic growth Nasarbajev still enjoys the goodwill of the majority of the kazakh people.

Picture: Nursultan Nasarbajew, president for lifetime "by grace of Allah"
Picture: Some kilometers before Taraz I saw the first snow-crowned peaks of the Tienshan mountain range. What a beautiful view after the weeks in the plain and hot steppes!
Next page / Part 7: Ysykkol Tour