Kazakhstan 4x4 - Trip report

Submitted: Wednesday, Aug 06, 2014 at 22:14
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Ok Kazakhstan isn't exactly exploring oz and may be just a lil far away from home but none the less here's my trip report for anyone who may be interested.

So all preconceptions aside, most people think one thing when they think Kazakhstan, Borat. As a matter of fact the scenes supposedly shot in Kazakhstan were actually shot in Albania and don't represent the geography or the culture one bit.

Kazakhstan is actually booming, road works cover the whole country. Not like in Australia where limited resources are used to build a small stretch over a long period of time. The whole country is under construction simultaneously. Each major town has a massive roadworks plant on the outskirts. And let me tell you, the completed sections of highway put most roads back in oz to shame. There are still some long gruelling sections of road works where you fight oncoming semis for the less potholes sections of the road. Anyway enough about highways that's not what we are all about!

We entered from Russia on our overland journey from London to Cape Town crossing the border to a town called uralsk. from there we charged across the stepp to Aralsk for our first bit of 4x4 action. On the highway We passed many camels roaming wildly, also loads of red, scrub covered sand dunes reminiscent of the Simpson.



Aralsk is the site of one of the worst ecological disasters of the 20th century. In the 60's when Kazakhstan was still part of the Soviet Union the soviets diverted the two rivers that feed the Aral Sea for cotton production. This resulted in a drop in the sea level and rise in salinity. It came to a point in the 80's where the sea receded up to 100km from the harbour town of Aralsk. This destroyed their main industry of fishing and there were many other other negative effects on the environment and health of the locals.
Ships were left to rust on the sea floor.
This was one of the things we came to see, the ship cemetery of Zhalanash. We first visited the dried up harbour of Aralsk where a few lonely boats still sit propped up on concrete blocks. The cranes that were used to unload the boats rise above the town as a constant rusted out reminder of their loss.
Zhalanash is a 60km off-road drive through the desert before the trail ends and you begin your trek on the sea floor to the ship cemetery. It can be reached directly from Aralsk by driving on the sea floor but not recommended without a guide.
We drove on the sea floor for about 5km before reaching the ship cemetery. There were once 14 ships here, over the years they have been cut up and sent to China as scrap metal, 4 remain in pieces. It's pretty striking to see where the shore use to be and the vast emptiness that follows.
From there we picked up a trail and thought we'd try our luck and see if we could make it to the water. We followed it for another 10km before we reached water. There were 3 small wooden fishing boats there, a sign that the locals haven't given up hope. A dam was constructed and opened in 2006 which has seen a slow but steady increase in the water levels.





driving on the sea floor

The Aral Sea

From here we started making tracks for Almaty, Kazakhstan's largest and most cosmopolitan city at the foot of the Tian Shan mountain range. About 1700km through various landscapes, deserts, snow capped mountains, vast flood plains all made for some interesting scenery.
It's a very interesting city, tidy, pretty and full of friendly people.
The poor Russian roads and some of the long stretches of roadworks took their toll on our cheap Chinese alloy roof cage. Probably the biggest mistake I made building up the troopy. Looking back I don't know what I was thinking, maybe it was the $2000 price tag of an ARB one. Or the fact the steel Chinese one I had on my patrol was still going strong after 25,000km of punishing km on Aussie roads.
We found an ARB dealership here in Almaty, they have a massive 4x4 culture here, with predominant Japanese 4x4s sporting all the Aussie goodies. They love it, half the fourbies either have ARB, tough dog or Ironman stickers covering them. This worked well for us because ARB had a steel full length roof cage suitable for our troopy in stock
and ready to go.

One of the many jacked up 4bies going around

The guys there were absolutely awesome Victor and Anna were the two English speaking employees that we dealt with. Our roof cage had all sorts bolted, strapped and wired to it so it was far from a straight forward job. Turned out after two days of labour with up to 6 blokes helping out they only charged us about $200. This included looking over the car and welding up a busted exhaust bracket. We tried to pay them more but they wouldn't accept any more. They told us they charge the locals more but for us overlanders they do a special price.
We also met Tim and Nic, father and son from Leura in the blue mountains. They were travelling from Vladivostok to England in their 1980's troopy. ARB were going above and beyond what was necessary to help them sort a few small issues their troopy. We had them over for dinner at an apartment we were renting in Almaty.


Tim and Nick and the ARB Almaty team

From Almaty we headed up to shymbluk a ski resort in mountains that surround almaty. It's only a 30km drive and your in the snow capped mountains. The final ascent sees you climbing to 2500m and is really steep. From here we got a cable car to the top of the mountains and within a few hundred meters of a glacier slowly working it's way down one of the peaks. You get an incredible panoramic view of Almaty from here.



This is a real truck, Russia Ural 6x6

We camped in the mountains that morning so we could get an early start because after the cable car we were off to the Charyn cannon. It's the 'grand canyon of Kazakhstan' and only a 200km drive.
The last 20km of the drive is down a rough badly corrugated track before you enter the national park. There were bugger all people around and some spectacular views of the canyon and surrounding mountains to be had. There is a proper 4x4 track into the base of the canyon where we planned to camp that night. We hit it and were finally able to crank low range for the first time in our trip. The road into the canyon is amazing particularly in the late afternoon with the sun striking the rocks and drawing the different colors. At the base of the canyon there was a pristine river flowing surrounded by Prehistoric Sodgian Ash trees. It was a welcome sight after driving around in the dusty desert from most of the day. We camped the night here and were invited to dinner by some of the locals. It was a great meal with great company and plenty of vodka. It's amazing how much you can learn about people with hand gestures and maybe a few words of the local lingo.
The next day we spent chilling out by the river and exploring a little more around the canyon.
Getting out of the canyon proved challenging, even with low tire pressures, locked Diffs the troopy struggled right at the peak. So much weight in it, we are pushing easily 3.5t.





A tight fit with a few cm to spare!




After some mucking around we were off to the Alatu Emle national park. This route took us with in 50km of the Chinese border, which is as Far East as we will be travelling and a bit of a detour on the way to Cape Town from London.
The Alatu Emle National park is home to the singing sand dune, white mountains and a few other attractions. You need a guide to escort you because of the distances between the sites and remoteness, most peoples vehicles are not suitable for the trail either.
We spent the next few days camping and following the guide in his old Russian 4x4 van through the park while checking out the sites. Unfortunately for me, being in a wheelchair not everything was accessible. But none the less we got to see some amazing landscapes. Particularly the singing sand dune which must be 70 odd meters tall and emits a humming comparable to a jet engine when the wind hits it. Scientist are still unable to explain the phenomenon.







our setup vs traditional Kazak yurt.

We made our way back to Almaty visiting lake Balkhash, Kazakhstan's biggest lake and camping for the night.


The next leg of our trip will take us into Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. Over the Pamir Highway second highest road at 4655m.
We stopped in to ARB once again as we needed to do a service and tweak a few things on the car. We spent half a day there using their hoist and all their equipment. They refused to charge us. Kazakhstan's hospitality at its best.
Although it's a long way from home he highly recommend visiting Kazakhstan. It's one of those less travelled destinations that has so much to offer with such contrasts and so many friendly people.
If you want to hear more about our trip we have many, may more stories and pics on our blog LOSTABOUND.
I'm in a wheelchair after falling off a cliff in 2009 and breaking my back. We are traveling around the world to raise funds for spinal cord injuries Australia, so please donate if you like our blog.
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Reply By: rb30e - Wednesday, Aug 06, 2014 at 22:21

Wednesday, Aug 06, 2014 at 22:21
Oops, Just realised there's not one photo of my beautiful partner Jess.

Turkestan, Kazakhstan, wearing a headscaff out of respect.

Jerome and Jess
AnswerID: 537294

Reply By: Member - Beatit (QLD) - Thursday, Aug 07, 2014 at 08:47

Thursday, Aug 07, 2014 at 08:47
Great report, thanks! Couldn't help thinking the Australian stickers might have been from missing (read stolen) cars here. Probably not but it seems weird.

Kind regards
AnswerID: 537304

Reply By: Member - Matt M - Thursday, Aug 07, 2014 at 09:01

Thursday, Aug 07, 2014 at 09:01
Wow! Shall spend some time reading your blog. What a fantastic challenge and experience.

Cheers,

Matt.
AnswerID: 537307

Reply By: mikehzz - Thursday, Aug 07, 2014 at 15:59

Thursday, Aug 07, 2014 at 15:59
Nice! I'd love to do that but looking at a map it seems that to get from Kazakhstan to Cape Town, you have to maybe drive through Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran or Egypt. It's a pity the rest of the world isn't as safe to drive in as Australia. Cheers.
AnswerID: 537327

Reply By: Slow one - Thursday, Aug 07, 2014 at 16:25

Thursday, Aug 07, 2014 at 16:25
Very, very impressive.

Best of luck with your trip and hope the troopy hangs in there.
AnswerID: 537329

Reply By: philw - Thursday, Aug 07, 2014 at 19:49

Thursday, Aug 07, 2014 at 19:49
The spirit of adventure lives. Inspirational stuff. Good luck with the rest of your journey.
Cheers Phil.
AnswerID: 537335

Reply By: Steve - Thursday, Aug 07, 2014 at 19:59

Thursday, Aug 07, 2014 at 19:59
What a fantastic report Jerome...and a fabulous trip of a lifetime.

Look forward to going through your website and making a donation.
AnswerID: 537336

Reply By: Robyn R4 - Thursday, Aug 07, 2014 at 20:34

Thursday, Aug 07, 2014 at 20:34
Thank you for educating us with such an inspiring story and amazing pictures.
You have made us all stop to admire a part of the world we honestly would not have thought about.
Congratulations on your achievements.
"If you think you can or if you think you can't, you're right" (Henry Ford)
Robyn :)

AnswerID: 537338

Reply By: Member - Alastair D (NSW) - Saturday, Aug 09, 2014 at 17:48

Saturday, Aug 09, 2014 at 17:48
Jerome,
Glad to see you and your partner are well and truly on the way and have solved the practical problems.

You are travelling a very similar route as we took in 2009. It looks like the scrap metal scavengers have been at work as the size of some of the ships I recognise as being much smaller. We were told that some of the locals cut it and sell it and it ends up in China. Did you see some of the racing camels in the yards where they breed them in Aralsk.

We liked Almaty too, apart from having my backpack slashed on the cable car. They would have been disappointed as I only had some warm weather gear and our lunch !

The gorge you visited just accommodated our troopy too and we camped down the bottom on the river. Great spot.

Will start to follow your trip on your blog as it will bring back many memories.

well done.
AnswerID: 537442

Reply By: Member - Alastair D (NSW) - Tuesday, Aug 12, 2014 at 15:15

Tuesday, Aug 12, 2014 at 15:15
Jess & Jerome,
I wanted to pass on some info re diesel in Tajikistan. I am assuming that you will enter from Kyrgystan just south of Osh like we did. Osh is a big town and fuel is no problem - fill up there. There was diesel available just near the border but I would not trust it to still be there.

We had 190L capacity in our tanks and make it to the capital Dushanbe without filling up but you will need to watch your consumption since you have a turbo and in the high altitudes it will probably use more than usual.

Diesel is hard to find in Tajikistan away from the few big towns. Petrol is commonly sold in jugs or buckets from the side of the road (not joking) but diesel is rare. It was available in Murgab which is the only largish town in the east and is early in the trip. After that I did not see it until we got near the capital in the west. If you get low you may find it by asking but don't count on it.

Once in the west it is no problem. After that in Uzbekistan no problems.

cheers
Alastair



AnswerID: 537582

Follow Up By: rb30e - Thursday, Aug 28, 2014 at 17:41

Thursday, Aug 28, 2014 at 17:41
Thanks for that, we made it from Osh to Khorog as we have 3x90L tanks. We then went Khorog to Dushanbe and there are no probs here finding diesel.
Was interesting doing the big climbs with a totally mechanical setup. Had to adjust the fuel mixture a few times. It was still overheating so we removed the AC condenser as it was totally clogged with crap. The two auto coolers in front of that weren't helping much either. After that no probs reaching the 4700m mountain passes.

When I have a chance I'll put up a report of the pamirs. Very spectacular!
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FollowupID: 822665

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