Day 176 – 11.11.2016
Tashkent (Uzbekistan) to Taraz (Kazakhstan)

We left Tashkent early morning as we had to cross the border from Uzbekistan to Kazakhstan. On our way, we filled our fuel tank for the first time in Uzbekistan.

The map showed a straight route through Navoi highway on the Kaplanbek highway through the Saragach region. However, we were informed that we would not be allowed to cross through this border as this was not meant for cars so we should be driving through the Yallama – highway towards Chinaz district which means we had to drive about 66 kms on the opposite direction and after crossing the border drive towards Shymkent which meant about 100 kms of extra driving. Anyway the drive wasn’t as bad.

We breathed a sigh of relief and release on this one, as we finally cleared all the formalities of exit in the Uzbekistan side and into the fresh air of democratic Kazakhstan. Uzbekistan border controls are the strictest we were informed, you need a lot of time, a lot of patience and they will hold you for hours of questioning. However, this border exit came as a total surprise. Having crossed into Kazakhstan, we had to arrange for our insurance for which we had to negotiate with the guys at the border.

Situated on the route from Tashkent via Shymkent to Almaty, was Taraz, one of the oldest cities of Kazakhstan where we had to decided to stopover before proceeding with our journey to Almaty. Our Transit Visa for Kazakhstan was issued only for 5 days valid from 11th to the 15th.

Taraz was a wealthy Silk Road stop and capital of the Turkic Karakhanid state during the 11th and 12th centuries, but it was comprehensively levelled by Chinggis Khan and effectively disappeared until the existing town was founded in the 19th century, as a northern frontier town of the Kokand khanate. Now it’s a mostly Soviet-built place with leafy boulevards, which has staged a commerce-based comeback since the bleak 1990s. The citizens of Taraz were engaged in manufacturing of handicrafts and trade. In Taraz spring fairs, the oasis residents changed their handmade goods and agricultural products for livestock production of Kazakh nomads.

We stopped over on our way at Shymkent where we had some coffee and some snacks before continuing our journey to Taraz.

We found Shymkent to be the most vibrant city, with bustling bazaars and a lively downtown. Shymkent was a thriving trade centre and also produces cement, cigarettes and phosphates and refines oil – and brews two of Kazakhstan’s best beers, Shymkentskoe Pivo and the Bavarian-style microbrew Sigma. Its population is about 65% Kazakh and about 14% Uzbek.

We had decided to stop over at Taraz as it was more closer to Almaty.

We were driving towards Voyazh apartment hotel where we were staying for the night. Since we were repeating Kazakhstan, we had planned to just drive through the country, before our visa would expire.

We finally arrived in Taraz and now, had to locate our hotel.

After checking in at the hotel, we requested them to help us find a good restaurant for dinner. The people were very helpful and a gentleman who could not speak even a word of English, helped us with directions to the restaurant. Once at the restaurant a young waitress suggested a lovely menu. While our food was getting ready, we enjoyed the lovely dance of the locals at a party. When the waitress served our food, we were so happy to have the best meal in quite sometime absolutely to our liking. After dinner, we walked back to our hotel.

The staff were great at Hotel Voyazh. They asked what we wanted for breakfast and the same was brought and served in our room. The rooms were spacious with many amenities. The space was clean and cozy. It was a wonderful quiet place hidden in the city but close to the city centre.

Day 177 – 12.11.2016
Taraz to Almaty

The next day after breakfast we left the hotel for Almaty. We had to drive about 550 kms which would take us more than 8 hours to reach Almaty.

On our way we were stopped by some cops for speeding and they were demanding bribes. Unfortunately that day we had no local money, nor any dollars. We did not get any chance to withdraw any money from the ATM as we did not find any. We had to even skip our breakfast on account of having no change as credit cards were not accepted. So, we had to say sorry to the cops for not having any money to pay them. The entire conversation was being translated by the cop on his phone as he could not understand English. A lot of other local vehicles were also stopped but they got away by paying the cops. We were finally allowed to leave after a lot of convincing.

We were then very cautious and had to drive within the permissible speed limits. Finally we arrived in Almaty. We drove straight into the hotel parking. We were staying at Holiday Inn and were supposed to meet some of our Indian friends whom we had got acquainted during our first visit to Kazakhstan.

While we were at the hotel we met few group of Indian men from all over India who were in a sponsored trip through some company having a gala time.

Anyway, we got ready and we had to go to attend a Diwali party hosted by all the Indians residing in Almaty. The Indian Embassy officials were also present and they felicitated us for our achievement. It was a lovely evening spent amongst the lovely Indian families in another country celebrating Indian culture at a fun filled cultural programme of dance and games.

The next day, Elvis drove us to the snowy mountains along with George. We had a wonderful experience of being driven on a mountain filled with snow.

In the evening, we had dinner with a local Kazakhi friend who we had met earlier.

The next morning we had to get our car serviced. Elvis helped us communicate with the BMW service centre. He also helped us buy new tyres for our car after which we left Almaty for Zharkent.

We had to drive about 260 kms to Zharkent, which was a few kms away from Horgos Border. By the time we reached Zharkent, the sun had already set and it was quite cold and windy. We checked into the only hotel ‘Satti’. We had to go searching for a restaurant to have our dinner.

Our journey to Kazakhstan was supposed to end tonight. Tomorrow we were to cross the border to China where Bing, our Chinese guide would be waiting for us.