"A Brief Visit to Kazakhstan" Shymkent by RB_Oakes
Shymkent Travel Guide: 2 reviews and 12 photos
I could have traveled through the Fergana Valley into Kyrgyzstan directly, but I wanted to pop into Kazakhstan so I went that way. Plus, by going out of my way in Uzbekistan I wouldn’t have to go out of my way in Kyrgyzstan. This was useful, because “out of the way” in the latter was significantly further out of the way than in the former.
The northern suburbs of Tashkent press against the Kazakh border, so they are accessible easily by a subway-marshutnoe combo (marshutnoe = private minibus). I crossed the border with ease. Recent terrorist activity had led to a significant tightening of the border between the two countries, so that vehicle traffic is more or less prohibited. I walked across. I find it funny that I get hassled more going between Canada and the US than I do going between countries at the farthest ends of the world.
All the while at the border, some guy was all over me like a cheap suit, offering rides, hotels, help filling out the forms. No was not a word he understood, and he wasn’t good with nyet either. The exit forms are not in English, but they are the duplicate of the entrance forms, which are in English, Uzbek and Russian. I put it together Rosetta-stone style.
Once safely in Kazakhstan, I was swarmed by taxi touts. Fifty bucks to Shymkent, they cried. I headed straight for the minibus and made the dull two-and-a-half-hour ride for two dollars.
Shymkent is the first city across the border. I figured it was as good a place as any to spend the night. The bus station is a crazy bazaar – wild, dusty and full of life. Once in town, though, it was more like being back in Russia. There were things like cds, and restaurants with Western and Russian foods, modern clothing stores. It wasn’t rich by any means, but was much more familiar than Uzbekistan was. For lunch I couldn’t resist pizza, though maybe I should have. I splurged on some horse sausage, just to say I did. There, I said it.
There doesn’t seem to be any special reason to visit Shymkent, other than to get a feel for the place. That was cool. I was introduced to a milkshakey-type concoction, and I was thankful for this because I ended up drinking a lot of it a few weeks later in Osh, Kyrgyzstan. I was basically water and a milk-like powder, frothed up.
The next morning I trekked before dawn back to the bus station. It’s very dark in these countries, with few lights, so these types of walks can be a bit hairy. Locals appear seemingly out of nowhere, though they’re probably even more startled than you are. At least you were expecting a local – they weren’t expecting a backpacker.
At the depot I determined that there were no buses to Bishkek. Earlier in the week I’d had the same problem leaving Bukhara. You can’t go directly from Bukhara to Tashkent. You’d think you would, because tourists make that trip a lot. But the problem is, they usually make it in hired cars, not on public buses. So the buses are for the routes the locals need. On that day, I put my faith in a taxi driver of all people and went to a small city an hour from Bukhara where I was told I could easily get a ride back to Tashkent. It was true. So when I was told here in Shymkent that I needed to go to Taraz to get a bus to Bishkek, I rolled with it.
The drivers attract passengers with loud shouts as to their destination. Not that it isn’t on the front of the bus anyway, but it gives them something to do. Taraz was in Soviet days called Zhambul, after a local poet. The driver’s booming shouts of “Taraz, Taraz, Zhambul. Taraz, Zhambul, Taraz!” still echo in my mind.
I barely had time to grab a bottle of water in Taraz before being the last passenger on a minibus to Bishkek. The ride was uneventful. Most of this stretch of Kazakhstan is rolling grasslands, with large mountains looming in the distance to the south. It is fairly industrialized, so the famous Kazakh nomads were nowhere to be found.
I felt a little guilty at the border. Everyone else breezed through, but I had to have my documents examined. It didn’t take long, but I held the bus up ten minutes because I had to cross behind a Spanish cyclist. Given that Kyrgyzstan is almost all mountains, I was shocked at the number of Europeans that were cycling the country. Many of them also were visiting Tajikistan. They are the only visitors there because there is no public transport, only expensive hired cars or your bike. If getting Central Asian visas wasn’t such a hassle, I would have made it to Tajikistan myself but it wasn’t worth the aggravation.
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