After arriving in Aktau in the middle of the night we rested for a day there and decided to take a train straight to Astana and cycle to Almaty. Even during the night temperatures in Aktau and the whole west of Kazakhstan are around 30 degrees in May. Coming from Azerbaijan we longed for medium temperatures, and Astana with max. 20 degrees was for us the perfect choice.
When on the platform at the train station in Aktau, we were refused to take the bikes on the train. After having a discussion with every single person of the train staff and when the train was just about to leave, we were allowed to take our bicycles on an empty passenger wagon. This wagon remained empty for the whole journey – we don’t know why they wouldn’t take our bicycles in the first place. When we left the carriage, its supervisor asked us to pay a fee of 2000 Tengge (around 5 Euros).
In our compartment we met a man travelling for business to Astana, and he told us a lot about Kazakhstan. At some point he mentioned that money does not drive everything in this country. We were surprised to hear this. Little did we know that by the end of our time in Kazakhstan we would change this sentence a bit and laugh about it every day, for it became “It isn’t money that drives Kazakhstan, but a LOT of money.”
Astana is a newly built city and still continues growing. It seemed to us as if the government had built it only for EXPO 2017 – steel and glass all over the place. It could not have been more artificial. Architects would probably love it.
From Astana we headed south to Karagandy. M36 is in good condition and easy to ride but camping spots are difficult to find as the highway is fenced and there are gaps only every 20-30km. In short, the steppe was endless and boring. This is why we decided to take a train to Almaty and explore the mountains. This time we went to the railway station one day in advance to find out which train would carry bicycles at all. The lady at the information desk was very helpful and after making several calls she assured us that we could take the bikes on the train for free. Some trains have a baggage carriage and these are the only ones that are officially allowed to take bikes onboard. The next day, before boarding the train, we again met with the lady from the information desk, and she had changed her mind overnight: We suddenly had to pay for the bikes – 6000 Tengge (= 15€).
After spending the night on the train, we arrived in Almaty early in the morning. Except for us there was hardly anyone on the roads – what a magical feeling to cycle through this empty city surrounded by mountains with white peaks. On one day, we went hiking in those mountains, climbing up to 2300m. Locals also love going there, so that on weekends the hills are crowded. Some even spend the entire weekend camping there in the midst of idyllic willows, cows, horses and breathtaking views. After this sneak peek of the Tian Shan, we headed to Bishkek (Kyrgyzstan) from where we set off to cross endless more mountains and hilly roads.
Jan & Gratsi
P.S. Check out our route map to see where we are.