Central Asia

November 2, 2016

To be honest, I had little idea of ​​what awaits me in those parts where I was going. All my knowledge about Central Asia was limited to its participation in the history of the Russian state, some excerpts about the Golden Horde, the empire of Tamerlane, and, of course, that it is from here that hundreds of thousands of migrant workers go to Moscow. In fact, everything turned out to be much more interesting.

My route:


Known to the whole world as Semipalatinsk.

In fact, the Soviet tradition of calling secret settlements the names of neighboring large cities played a cruel joke with this city. The notorious Semipalatinsk nuclear test site is named after the city of Semipalatinsk-21 (now Kurchatov). And Semipalatinsk itself was far enough from the landfill, so that the radiation level here is normal.

But the level of life is not very good.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, they stopped investing in the city, and the once large industrial center fell into decay.

But people still somehow live.

Kazakh response to the Venetian Grand Canal.

Central square. It is difficult to imagine a person who will be deeply nostalgic for this place if he suddenly has to move somewhere.

Kazakh trains are quite cheap, I bought a ticket to Almaty (about 1000 km) for $ 10. In Russia for a ticket for the same distance would have to pay about $ 50.


Perhaps the most pleasant city in Kazakhstan. If I come to this country someday, I want to come here.

There are many bike rentals in the center.

Sometimes you literally walk from park to park. The city is very green and beautiful.

I expected to find a lot of Chinese women and teahouses, but European cuisine dominates here.

Tourist signs in which we decided to cram everything that is possible. There’s a really full-blown guide below.

I remembered a conversation with a man who said that Catholics are more willing to go to church than Orthodox, because people would rather want to join the beautiful eternal than the awesome. But what if all Orthodox churches were like this?

Modern bus stops. There are cross lines on the glass, so it became … well, a little harder to imprint your face while sticking to the phone.

New Residential Complex In The Center.

Dzhambul Dzhabayev and his jagolubi.

The monument to independence from the Soviet Union looks monumental in a Soviet way.

There are already two parks of the first president in the city, although they had only one. One way or another, both parks are cool (but Nazarbayev is not). As elsewhere, it is very clean and well-groomed here.

And hungry squirrels, gray from the cold, run around.

A huge museum of the history of Kazakhstan. Inside it is littered with some nonsense in the main, a bunch of artifacts from different eras, carrying a minimum of information. Half of the things can be thrown into the basement, and at the expense of the free space, you can make a lecture hall, a small cinema for showing documentaries, a historical library, some kind of public space, whatever, there will be enthusiasts.

Previously, Kazakhs were nomads and lived in yurts. And they constantly fought with each other, and sometimes the khan came and redirected their ardor to external enemies. Moreover, to become khan, it was necessary to have genes of Genghis Khan.

Over time, all these guys merged with the Russians, it became not so fun to roam and kick each other, well, metamorphoses fell. And even warm slippers the size of a Soviet TV are a thing of the past. It’s a pity, I would have bought myself such a pair.

Am I the only one here to see the bow of a big ship?

Inside is an ordinary modern shopping center.

Creative placeholders.

ATM machine in the form of a box. From the outside, it resembles rather an electrical substation.

Farmers’ market.

Chinese staff. Competition for pretentious shopping centers.

Central Mosque. Many Kazakhs remembered that under the Horde they actually had Islam, and they are returning to the get-together.

VIP Khrushchev.

Despite the great difficulties with laying and supporting, the guys finally launched the subway. There is only one branch so far, many stations are still under construction.

There is a lot of socialist realism in the national gallery, something else feels like a breath of fresh air.

The structure of the universe some.

A platform in front of another shopping center. Night lighting pleases elaboration of details.

Here, too, are interesting placeholders. El Salvador would appreciate (or not).

It suddenly turns out that at 8 pm the buses no longer run. I had to walk 2 km to the metro. Illumination outside the main streets becomes minimal.

Portrait of Nazarbayev at one of the metro stations. Guys, the cult of personality does not lead to good, checked.

Indira, 17 years old, height 108 something there. Accused of being cute and wanting to show the steep mountains in the south of the city.

Of course, it was at the time of our arrival that everything was overcast and looked like a scene from Silent Hill. But I learned a whole mountain of interesting insider information about life in this country.

As soon as we got ready to leave, the clouds began to quickly dissipate and seduce with snow-covered slopes. Another confirmation of the theory that nature is the invention of some evil misanthrope.


Spoiler: the capital of Kyrgyzstan turned out to be the saddest among the capitals of the countries of Central Asia.

Road condition in the city center.

It feels like the house was demolished along with the tenants. Water flows from the tap in a thin stream, a bare electric cable sparks from the drops nearby.

“The administration is not responsible for the safety of bicycles.” A voice in my head ironically adds: “And it is far not only for the safety of bicycles.”

One of the few pleasant alleys in the city. Spacious, clean, brand new shops everywhere.

Something like a central square. Perhaps it looks more cheerful with fountains, but now I want to leave here as soon as possible. Gloomy man.

Feel like a little Kyrgyz.

Central department store.

Victory monument. In the distance, the guys bask in the eternal flame.

The end of the building of the national theater.

The poster is drawn by hand, in the old fashioned way.

A Kyrgyz matryoshka and Kyrgyz yeti are on duty at the basement of the art museum.

“There, guys, to Buryatia!”

Stoned Masha and the bear look with glass eyes into the void.

Rather, a garage.

Then I noticed that in the middle of the day in the park there was almost no one except me. It’s strange somehow.

Cool mural.

Chicken is not meat. Apparently, Kyrgyz chicken is a mushroom or some kind of fish.

Normal shopping center. Even somehow surprising.

And “literate” here is one of the minimum requirements, not just an epithet.


Suddenly a pretty pretty city.

A street, a lantern, there is a pharmacy somewhere around the corner. Here I, ​​literally 15 minutes later in the city, first met the local paranoid police. To seem like a suspicious type to them it was enough for a second to hold a glance at the chevrons.

Fountains in front of Independence Square. Around dozens of police officers, which now began to strain me.

One had only to go down the subway and take a shot of the space transition between the branches, as from nowhere the police came running, surrounded and almost politely ordered to follow them. A half-hour interrogation. The biggest stupor they caused was that I voluntarily renounced Russian citizenship in order to get Ukrainian. They were convinced that my trip was financed by the SBU for intelligence activities in Uzbekistan, they checked all the bases, leaked the list contacts, checked my correspondence on the phone, flipped through all the pictures on the phone and the camera, and only after making sure that I was (still) clean, they explained that it is strictly forbidden to take pictures in the subway. I had to delete this photo in front of their eyes. 🙂

Another corral showed up literally an hour later. It turns out that in every city it is necessary to obtain registration, otherwise, later on at the border, they will write out either a gigantic fine or a month’s imprisonment. Moreover, the hotels and hostels in which you stay, they also additionally note whether you were in the room at night and all this data also goes to the local KGB. Well, my hostel ended up in a nice area among beautiful villas.

A park not far from where I stayed. At first glance, everything is very beautiful.

But when you begin to look closer and closer, you understand that the Uzbeks are putting things in order only very superficially, and if you dig closer, a sad reality will emerge.

In the cosmonaut park, the path is lined with large slabs. An interesting concept of the “effect of weightlessness”: not one plate lies in the same plane as the other. Shoes are killed with a bang.

Saturday noon, day off, no one on the streets in the center. Something strange is happening with this city.

I don’t know what’s the matter, but the vast majority of cars in Uzbekistan are white.

There are no price tags anywhere, the sellers see that you are not Uzbek and immediately break the inadequate price, like the Chinese are straight, even worse, they also prove that it is cheap and you cannot find a better price-quality ratio. A special chic is to prove several times in a row with examples that he is wrong, to force him to drop the price two or three times, and after five minutes to say that you are not going to buy, you are simply interested.

Damn it, where are all 2.4 million people?

Tamerlane Museum. Interestingly, the Uzbeks are still proud of the military successes of 600 years ago.

I decided to walk to the old mosque not along the large avenue, but along the old ornate streets. Feeling as if I was in the Arab quarter (although the Uzbeks are Turks, the difference here is not so great).

Tashkent mosque Khazrati Imam and a large courtyard with a madrasah (a Muslim educational institution, such as a college and theological seminary at the same time).

Near each road and sidewalk there is a ditch – a small depression that serves as an open drain. It is very dusty here, which is why ordinary closed gutters are easily clogged, and then, during a prolonged rain, floods occur (clearly visible in the pictures from the Kazakh Semey).

Chorsu bazaar, one of the largest in the country. So that’s where all the Uzbeks hang out!

Another building surrounded on all sides by the schizopolitan. There was not the slightest desire to discuss the angle with them, so I decided to leave and take a picture of it from the park. It turned out even cooler.

A piece of the Ankhor River, made up as a canal. Tricky assholes, even when they wanted a channel, they did not dig it.

Alisher Navoi in the rays of the setting sun.

And again, at first glance, it is very beautiful.

And if you look closely at the details, you realize that the first impression is deceiving.

The picturesque island is actually abandoned for a long time, the buildings are shabby, the courtyard is littered with some kind of rubbish.

A clear trail of Soviet urbanists: to lay a railroad for wildly rumbling trams right in the middle of a quiet and cozy park.

Modern shopping center. There are a lot of people, although the prices are high by the standards of local residents. But, apparently, not everyone likes to bargain with the greedy sellers in the market, pushing Chinese consumer goods.

Chocolate shawarma. That’s what I call being creative!

In front of the entrance to this gigantic underground passage, the police stood, who searched me and checked my entire backpack. I don’t know what its strategic value is, but just in case I took a picture. I wonder what will happen if I try to draw graffiti here? .. Perhaps it’s time for me to publish a book about the most stupid ways of suicide.


How many Uzbeks does it take to sweep the park in the morning?

Once Samarkand was the capital of the empire, now it is just a beautiful town.

Tomb of Tamerlane.

Modern Uzbek architecture (not much different from Soviet).

Peacocks roam freely around the city.

The Samarkand Registan turned out to be much larger than I imagined: I had to move 300 meters away to take a picture of the entire ensemble of three madrasahs as a whole. In fact, it was a real medieval campus, there were not so many educational institutions in Central Asia at that time, but here there are three at once. Plus, it is in the center of the city, located in the middle of the Great Silk Road, that is, it is also economically developed. In short, a combo.

Walking down the street, I noticed that a lot of people around spoke Tajik (not that I’m an expert, it’s just that their soft Persian language is very different from the rough Turkic). Of course, you can try to explain this by the Soviet voluntary-forced resettlement of peoples in 1925, when the former Tajik emirates, by the decision of the Russians, went to the Uzbek SSR. But, damn it, almost 100 years have passed!

Entrance to the mosque Bibi-Khanym, built by Tamerlane on the occasion of a successful trip to India. By the way, there is a funny story: he declared a jihad to the guys and with 30 thousand army men cut down more than 200 thousand Indians, capturing Delhi, although at that time there was already a sultanate. It turned out that he slaughtered under a quarter of a million Muslims, spreading Islam. In general, he now had something to pray for before Allah.

Let me remind you that all this is more than half a millennium. Of course, a lot of things were restored, something was rebuilt, sometimes something completely new was added. But in general, all these complexes are very, very old.

As in the case of the Registan madrasah, inside all these buildings are completely empty. In short, the Uzbek tradition reappeared to do everything cool only at first glance.

Siab bazaar. This is where life really boils.

Our raw foodists would be happy there: a huge selection of nuts, dried fruits and other goodies literally for a penny (again, if you haggle desperately).

I came to the rowing canal. The locals have a “penny” here – group taxis go from here to the border with Tajikistan. The Central Asian peoples are gradually inflame old claims, so that Uzbeks do not allow Kyrgyz, and Tajiks do not allow Uzbeks, and therefore, to get to another country, you have to look for a ride to the border, walk it, and look on the other side another ride.

And everywhere you have to bargain all the way to just go for a normal price. Locals call such taxi drivers “bombils”. And then I had to wait another hour, while my bomb bombed all the remaining empty seats with other fellow travelers. All the time, some gypsies were hanging out with a frightened goose, who did not wait for a convenient opportunity to steal something.

And this is how most of the country’s territory looks like.


After spending the night in a village near the border, at 6 am I arrived in the capital. It was just getting light, so I went to rest and deposit my backpack.

An unexpectedly cool station.

But the locker tokens were clearly made in the last century.

The city was originally designed as a provincial town with low-rise buildings. But now Dushanbe is the capital of the state, and enterprising Tajiks have decided to build up the center with elite housing, so now massive high-rise buildings rise above the relatively narrow avenues. Admittedly, it looks impressive.

The police receive children at the monument to Ismoil Somoni.

A small garden leading to the Independence Monument.

A small area with fountains in front of the embankment of the Varzob river.

Persian poet Rudaki. In the country in general, there are a lot of monuments to the Persians, because before the Tajiks ruled a large empire and peoples of many Central Asian countries were their own for them.

Palace of the Nation, residence of the President. It looks very powerful, no joke, it can compete with the American White House. The passage to the territory is closed, remembering the Uzbek enclosures with photos, I decided to do it from the park, otherwise I was tired of talking to the police. Then I found out that Italians built it, I got upset, because I already started to think that Tajiks could build something like that, if wanted.

Park named after flag of the country.

More brand new houses.

There are so many satellite dishes here that one might think that this is not a residential building, but some kind of operational satellite communications headquarters.

And this is what the old building looks like. It’s cheap to build good houses in Tajikistan now, so she hardly has much time left to live.

Most likely, soon the whole center will look like this.


The Haji Yakub Mosque, by far the largest in the city.

At the mosque there is a madrasah, and next to it is a large Islamic institute. By the way, there are a lot of believers here, so there is definitely no shortage of students.

Street food culture.

Shopping center occupying 4 floors of a residential building.

Tajiks do not know much English, and even with Chinese they are very bad, so at first they look suspiciously at a double trash can with some kind of cyclical symbols and incomprehensible letters, freeze for a second, and then turn and take the garbage into the next ordinary trash can.

Old quarter. The temperature outside rises to + 30 ° С (end of October), but I’m the only one here who wears shorts.

Sometimes among the old houses there is something that starts to seem as if you are somewhere in Italy, and not in Tajikistan.

However, this feeling then quickly dissipates.

Full-scale lunch for $ 1.5, kettle of tea for free. Tajiks have a huge plus in karma for the fact that they immediately say a normal price, they don’t have to knock it out with protracted bargaining, as I was used to in Uzbekistan.

City courtyards.

Invisible payphone.

Summer Terrace, Economy Option.

Freshly squeezed and not only juice for 1 somon ($ 0.1).

The streets around the bazaar are filled with people. And I go like this with a large watermelon in my hands (bought after a small bargaining for only $ 1) to the botanical garden to throw the rug on the juicy grass and sit there to hamster. Looking ahead, I will say that our watermelons are noticeably tastier than those grown on fresh land.

I’m driving to the north of the country. There is heavy traffic on the opposite lane.

Damn it, if the passes through the spurs of the Pamir look like this, then what does the Pamir Highway look like?


The second largest city in Tajikistan.

Colored houses.

In general, everything is pretty neat. Benches near some state institution seem to hint that it will take a long time to wait.

Syrdarya river.

Some sad fountains in the central part of the city.

Yes, it seems to be a whole national network.


Tajiks are very fond of roses; they make whole rose gardens on the streets.

A slightly less sad fountain. The wet footprints show that someone took a refreshing shower here today.

I don’t know how about the electorate in general, but the tenants of this building will definitely not vote for him.

The Internet is tight here, so some people prefer to get acquainted with the news through street newspaper stands.

Khujand bazaar very old, it was here even during the campaign of Alexander the Great.

Who knows, maybe he also ate baklava somewhere here?)

Due to the lighting, the meat looks quite ominous.

Mountains of goodies. : 3

A beautiful square with fountains right next to the bazaar. This is an old center, so, apparently, this square was once central.

There is a large mosque literally opposite all these commercial premises.

And some other religious buildings, the domes of which are inexplicably passionate chosen by local pigeons.

To return back to the north, had to go in transit through Uzbekistan. Because of all these problems with the visa regime for each other, I had to take one taxi to the Tajikistan-Uzbekistan border, cross it on foot, then take another taxi to Tashkent, then take a minibus to the Uzbekistan-Kazakhstan border, cross again on foot, and then take another taxi to the nearest large Kazakh city – Shymkent.


Not only was my head buzzing after all this epic, but I was in the city only late in the evening.

But after all these strange Kyrgyz, Uzbeks and Tajiks with their corrals and living standards, the return to Kazakhstan felt like a return to civilization.

Parks night mode.

Bicycles for rent. They even have cycling computers there.

They change the pavement cover, and the first thing they do is put an irrigation ditch. Apparently, they got tired of cleaning the rainstorms from dirt.

In Tajikistan, everything was very bad with access to the network, so when I went into the mall, just caught Wi-Fi and finally went online after several days of offline, there was feeling like escaped insulator.

Suddenly, all the train tickets were already sold out, so I had to go by bus. One and a half thousand kilometers across the desert In general, I love this world.


By some Kazakh logic, they decided that Almaty was too good a city, so the capital should be moved to the industrial part of the country with a terrible, sharply continental climate.

Going to the cafeteria with booze, cigarettes, cinematographic equipment, dog, pipe, speed skater, cyclist, camel, elk and African elephant? Ha, it won’t work!

The city is quite large, but the route map clearly shows that its size is completely artificially inflated. Oh, those Soviet city planners.

The modern Tulpar bridge over the old Soviet embankment.

The guys play hockey, running in sneakers on the wet asphalt.

Horse parking.

This bay has not been cleaned for a long time. Strange, the central city park is kind of like.

Janitor MK2.

Large flying saucer and cars stuck in textures. There must be a hole in the space-time continuum somewhere nearby.

The Karaotkel Bridge, one of the symbols of modern Astana. Some wretched parody of the Moscow Zhivopisny bridge.

Even the route number was not visible behind a thick layer of mud. Apparently, tired of answering for the hundredth time where this grimy monster was going, the conductor pulled himself together, got up, pulled out a mop, went out and wiped the right place. To wash the bus, apparently, no one from the depot even thought.

It was enough just to write “Click here” at the traffic light button. And although what I am talking about, here it is generally surprising that the canvas of the text does not begin with the template “Dear Astana residents and guests of the capital!”

Modern shopping center. And it looks like a retouched Soviet department store.

It’s better inside, of course.

Mosque Khazret Sultan, the largest in the country.

Independence square. Huge, but most of the space is not used in any way. However, this well symbolizes the situation with the efficiency of using the territory of the country.

Huge presidential park. Damn, some kind of gigantism. Walking around the territory for about 20 minutes, I never met a single living soul.

The bike rental stands are completely empty everywhere. Perhaps they are simply hidden until spring when it gets cool.

It feels like the Chinese live here, not the Kazakhs.

The Bayterek monument, erected in honor of the transfer of the capital from Almaty to Astana in 1997. Another symbol of the city.

Some kind of wild conglomeration of glass and concrete. The ensemble “covered the architect”.

“A giant egg on a stand? Are you seriously? And you know why not, almost like in London “

In general, basically everything is built up with some soulless high-rise buildings, like in some sad Chinese provincial town.

A very strange way to list the countries participating in Astana Expo 2017.

But honestly.

This is approximately how I perceive people who are dissatisfied with their lives, but nevertheless are guided by the proverb “Where I was born, I came in handy there.”

Khan Shatyr shopping center in the form of a tent of nomads. This is cool.

Dome from the inside.

Some kind of curve parody of Stalin’s skyscrapers.

Wildly creepy mutant with common degenerate legs, turning into three separate bodies and fused through the wrists with hypertrophied hands, silently screaming in three throats. It’s scary to imagine why the Kazakhs decided to make the “Friendship of Nations” monument just like that.

The last couple of hours I decided to spend in a nice little cafe, drinking coffee with a cake and trying to somehow organize in my head everything I saw in Central Asia. What I definitely did not expect was the enormous differences between different countries and sometimes even cities of the same country.

But everything that I saw is only the very tip of the iceberg. It is difficult to imagine what is there below the waterline. But anyway, it was really interesting to look at all this from the inside.

In the evening, it became cold outside, a strong wind was blowing. Apparently, Siberia was already tired of waiting for me and called me to continue my long trip across Russia.