Kazakhstan (2006)

Garis Batas – Perjalanan di Negeri-Negeri Asia Tengah (Borderlines)

My second published travel writing book, on journey to Central Asian countries (The “Stans”). Indonesian language. Borderlines – Journey to the Central Asian States Everyday, Afghan villagers stare to “a foreign country” which is just a river away. They look at passing cars, without even once experiencing sitting inside the vehicles. They look at Russian-style villas, while they live in dark mud and stone houses. They look at girls in tight jeans, while their own women are illiterate and have no freedom to travel. The country across the river seems magnificent—a magnificent fantasy. The same fantasy brings Agustinus Wibowo travel to the mysterious Central Asian states. Tajikistan. Kyrgyzstan. Kazakhstan. Uzbekistan. Turkmenistan. The “Stan brothers”. This journey will not only bring you step on snowy mountains, walk accross borderless steppes, adsorbing the greatness of traditions and the glowing Silk Road civilization, or having nostalgy with Soviet Union communism symbols, but also finding out the mystery of fate of human beings who are always being separated in the boxes of borderlines. Paperback, 528 pages Published April 14th 2011 by Gramedia Pustaka Utama ISBN13 9789792268843 primary language Indonesian original title Garis Batas: Perjalanan di Negeri-Negeri Asia Tengah url ————– Garis Batas: Perjalanan [...]

April 25, 2011 // 4 Comments

Turkistan – A Journey to Turkistan

A pilgrimage to the holy land of Trkistanrkistan The holy journey to the holy land The train departed from Almaty 1 train station after I had a little incident with station police. I was just informed that taking photos in a train station was extremely prohibited. I was taking photos of the train, passengers, and security officers, and then suddenly a man called me to follow him to a special room. Here I was interrogated by the woman who was the head of the police. I explained that I was just a tourist and I was interested by the Russian train. They let me go after I deleted the photos. Many passengers of the train were students. The way going to Turkistan passes Shymkent, the important southern town bordering with Uzbekistan. Most of the passengers, compared to northbound train routes, were mostly Asians. Southern part of Kazakhstan was dominated by native Kazakh and Uzbek. The holy man The train journey was long. But as here, most passengers were Kazakh and Uzbek, comparatively they were much friendlier compared to passengers of train to Astana or Karaganda. Maybe it was also the weather which defined people characteristics. In northern cities, where the [...]

December 12, 2006 // 0 Comments

Almaty – If You WaNNa LIVe

The park may look beautiful and quiet, but it can be dangerous The day started with a quarrel. Lyubova, the owner of the home stay, was not happy that I arrived with a taxi yesterday night. I was in the middle of Almaty downtown, when I realized it was already 7 pm. I was waiting a bus until 11 pm but no public buses at all going to airport area. I forgot, on Sundays all public transport stopped working as early as 6 pm. What a bad luck. I walked under darkness, with only fear of meeting criminals or drunks in my heart, from Respublika Alangy until Tole Bi. I gave up. It was almost midnight. At the end, I had to haggle a taxi (better than staying in a gay bar like last week). The taxi cost 500T. It was much beyond my budget, but I didn’t have any choice. When I arrived at the home stay, Lyubova was sleeping. The next morning, she started the quarrel. “Huh. You can pay a taxi but you cannot pay for your stay!” said her cynically. I just didn’t understand her. I paid what I should pay. Even yesterday she claimed that [...]

December 11, 2006 // 0 Comments

Almaty – the Golden Man

The busy and colorful “green market” of Almaty During my stay in Kazakhstan, today was the first time I saw a sunny day in Almaty. The city suddenly became lovely and friendly. Somehow now I started to understand how this city had a lovely name, Almaty, which was the original form of its old name, ‘Alma Ata’, which literally means Father Apple. The Chinese call this name as ‘Alamutu’, which might be the closest form the Chinese spelling could make to this city’s name in Silk Road time. Anyhow, it was said that Almaty’s apples were as big as coconut, and it was said the best apples produced here at that time. Now, for a poor Russian dwellers like Lyubova, apple is a luxury in this ‘apple city’, as the price of apples was far beyond their budget. I got used already with Almaty’s high cost of price, and as people coming from financial power below poverty line, I started to know the strategy to keep living in low budget. I started to do self-catering from the Zelyonii Bazaar (Green Bazaar). There were many Korean ladies selling the famous Korean cabbage salad and prickles. There was also a cheap Chinese [...]

December 10, 2006 // 0 Comments

Karaganda – The Mining Town

Strong Russian influence is felt in Kazakhstan, especially in the northern part of the country Some 200 km southeast ward from the capital Astana is the famous northern town of Karaganda (also spelled as Qaraghandy or Karaghanda). What made Karaganda famous were coal, labor camps, and AIDS. This second biggest city in Kazakhstan after Almaty started its history when a small-scale coal mining settlement was built in 1857, and the mining developed fast after the completion of railway link in early 20th century. The town was actually founded in 1920s by mining slave labors, and the labor camp riots dominated Karaganda’s early history. Mining industries of Karaganda, dominated by coal, included iron, steel work, and ore. Coming from Astana by bus, in early cold morning by a minibus which cost 1000 T a seat from Astana to Karaganda, I saw grey polluted air around the mining town of Karazhal, which supplied ore for industries in Karaganda. As a mining and industry city, I have learnt that Karaganda also processed another dark side: to be the place of majority HIV cases in the Republic of Kazakhstan. My first image coming to Karaganda was bleak and grey. It was like the grey [...]

December 9, 2006 // 0 Comments

Astana – A Day in the New Capital

Building, building, and keep building Despite of the bitter cold due to the fierce snowfall in this sub-Arctic new capital, I forced myself to go around. As in Almaty, bus network was quite extensive in Astana. The buses were, again similar to Almaty, mostly second hand buses from Germany decorated by graffiti from the former German owners. Astana, behind the frozen bus glass window, looked completely white in my eyes. This capital might be the most artificial city in Central Asia, even I have heard that Ashgabat, the capital of Turkmenistan – another gas and oil rich nation in the region, was comparable. Nobody would expect this place to become the capital of modern Kazakhstan. About a decade ago, Astana was just a wasteland in the middle of nowhere. The location where Astana is, far in the north in the heartland of Kazakhstan, is known for enjoying its extreme weather in scorching hot summers and bitterly freezing winters. Nobody would decide to have a capital here. Many thought Nazarbayev was crazy with his decision. But actually he had his own calculation. The city center. It’s freezing minus thirty something Astana, of course was not called as Astana before Nazarbayev’s decision [...]

December 8, 2006 // 0 Comments

Astana – The New Capital

Welcome on board The 20 hour journey on a sleeper bus from Almaty to Astana was flat. From the window I saw the massive, flat land of Kazakhstan. My image of green giant steppe, in cold winter like this, was replaced by thick snow layer. Everything was flat and white. The sky was completely grey, adding the sorrow of traveling in Kazakhstan in freezing cold winter. But Kazakhstan was inviting. In this 2nd class sleeper, which cost 20 dollar a seat plus 250 Tenge for bed sheet rental (I tried to refuse but the train attendants said she wouldn’t allow me to sleep on the bedding without the sheets), I shared the compartment with two Mongolian Chinese and a Kazakh woman. The two Chinese men of Mongolian ethnic spoke good Chinese and Russian. They were all from Xinjiang province. One had Kazakh passport and the other, Mr. Ye Shunde, still possessed a Chinese passport. “It’s now easy to acquire Kazakh passport,” said Mr. Ye, “you just need to marry a Kazakh woman and you get citizenship.” Kazakhstan is a huge country with enormous wealth, but lack of population. The country with land area 50% larger than Indonesia was only inhabited [...]

December 7, 2006 // 0 Comments

Almaty – Borat’s Land

Night is coming in Almaty “All people writing about Kazakhstan are telling bullshit!” – Nurslan Kazakhstan was surprisingly much more expensive compared to it was in my short visit in 2004. That time I stayed in Kazhol Hotel and it cost 26$/night. For my student pocket it was enormous amount. But staying in cold, dirty, dark room of Kazkontrakt was indeed uncomfortable and I decided to go back to Kazhol. Kazhol now turned to be a very neat and smart hotel, after renovation. The tiles on the floor were glittering, as it was emphasizing the golden age Kazakhstan enjoying at this moment. The price also skyrocketed. The cheapest room now costs 69$. It was much beyond my budget. I was told by some travelers that the cheapest option in Almaty was dormitory of the bus terminal (10$). But imagining staying in ‘dormitory’, especially in a bus terminal, the idea itself reminded me to many bad experiences of mine in Tajikistan. I preferred to invest just a little bit more, for my safety and comfort. But the problem is that ‘a little bit more’ was much more powerful than I thought to blow out my pocket. I walked to a big [...]

December 3, 2006 // 0 Comments

Almaty – Welcome to Kazakhstan

It’s freezing, dark, and full of cars. My Kyrgyz visa expires today and there is no other thing I can do but to go to Kazakhstan. Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan are separated by Chuy River, located not far north of Bishkek. I took a minibus as it cost only 800 Som to cover the 4 hour journey to Almaty. The Kyrgyz – Kazakh border is also a strict one. The people of the two countries are very closely related ethnically, linguistically, historically and culturally. The Kazakh were called as Kyrgyz and the Kyrgyz were called as Kara Kyrgyz (Black Kyrgyz). Kazakh and Kyrgyz also share many poets and national hero. Creation of Kazakh and Kyrgyz in the Soviet time was actually slicing the same people of two different variants: mountainous (the Kyrgyz) and steppe (Kazakhstan). But now the border crossing has reflected that Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan are indeed two different countries. The border post of Kyrgyzstan was made from oil tank transformed to be a small office. The border guards only took a glance on the passports of the border crossers as Kazakh and Kyrgyz, the most people who cross the border, don’t need visa to cross. It took me more [...]

December 1, 2006 // 1 Comment

Bishkek – Kazakhstan Visa

Visa of the Republic of Kazakhstan Getting Kazakhstan visa in Bishkek was not difficult, but as for any countries in Central Asia, Indonesian passport holders need to be ‘consulted’. The visa application should be approved by central government by the respected countries. Only for Tajikistan we recently got exemption for Letter of Invitation (LOI) and entitled for visa-on-arrival at Dushanbe airport. Getting a LOI meant you have to get a pre-arranged invitation approved by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. This can be arranged through a travel agency (30-80$). Many nationalities, included Malaysians, don need this invitation letter stuff and they could directly apply for visas in any Kazakh embassies. The Kazakhstan embassies were well-known all over the world for their cold service. And for this cool winter in Bishkek, the staff faces were even much colder. The embassy had moved to a new location recently, south part of the city. I came early but there were already many people queuing. Most of them were Kazakh and Turkish. Other Central Asian nations are exempted for visa to enter Kazakhstan. Armed by the invitation letter that was approved already by Almaty, I was given an application form and asked to make payment [...]

November 27, 2006 // 0 Comments