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

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

Khorog – The Journey to GBAO

One of the two brothers, fellow passengers on the journey to Khorog, GBAO, Tajikistan GBAO, the Gorno Badakhshanskaya Avtonomnaya Oblast (Gorno Badakhshan Autonomous Oblast) is my main reason to come to Tajikistan. It is dominated by the minority Ismaili Badakhshani Tajiks and Sunni Kyrgyz. It has majestic mountain architectures. But the main reason I want to go to this restricted area was its history. The province was supporting rebel side in the civil war of Tajikistan. The province suffered a lot from the blockade of the central government. Going to Tajikistan is already something strange for my Indonesian friends in Kabul. “Why going to Tajikistan? It is a poor country.” Going to GBAO is another thing to be objected by my Tajik friends in Dushanbe. “Why going to GBAO? It is so far and poor…” Even the Tajik diplomat in Kabul raised his eyebrows when my embassy staff insisted to get a Tajik visa together with GBAO permit. “Is he really a tourist???” For the ‘GBAO’ four letters to be added on my visa I had to pay a painful 100 dollar fee. It is a bureaucratic country, and my embassy told me to follow the rules, as for this [...]

October 18, 2006 // 0 Comments

Karimabad – Trapped

A journey to no-men peaks January 16, 2006 Planned to leave Karimabad already, awaiting for the coming jeep from Sust which I can hitch for free, but the friend who is going to go together delayed his journey for unlimited time. Meanwhile the bus ticket from Karimabad to Rawalpindi arouse to 821 Rupees, too expensive for me. And another bad news, there was road block somewhere between Gilgit and Pindi, so all buses will not operating for these 2-3 days. What a luck. Again, I am trapped in Karimabad. Yesterday, to pass the time, I decided to join some local guys climbing up to the Eagle’s Nest. From here we can see the whole valley. I have been there two years ago, and it was a terrible walk in summer. Now in super cold winter, nobody is up there. All hotels and houses are empty, and the road was slippery of ice and glacier. Luckily I was not alone, so there was someone (Mr Karim) who held my hand along the way…. Totally deserted in winter The snow was thick up there, and it was land of nobody, with empty houses and buildings, left-away agricultural fields, resembled a ghost town. [...]

January 16, 2006 // 1 Comment