Arrived in Zharkent, Kazakhstan
Saturday November 23, 2013 - 48.166667° N, 80° E
Казақ тілі - Nexus Information in Kazakh language
2013 mileage in Mongolia= 1320 kms / 820 miles
2013 mileage in China = 1332 kms / 827 miles
2013 mileage in Kazakhstan = 45 kms / 27 miles as of Nov 21st
2013 Total Mileage: 2697 kms / 1675 miles in 49 cycling days
Very happy to report that we have arrived in Kazakhstan!
We would love to relate to you on this blog in pictures and words how went our 1332 kilometers in Xinjiang province, China, but at this stage we prefer postponing this matter until we take a break from the expedition in late December.
The temperatures are rapidly dropping in southern Kazakhstan, and therefore we need to first and foremost keep moving west during the next few weeks.
In the meantime, feel free to enjoy a few shots we have taken in China and posted recently on Instagram.
So, we were able to contrive our way to cycle the 7 kms No man's land / buffer zone on Wednesday night between Khorgas, China and Хоргос, Kazakhstan, without been forced to ride any bus as it has been somewhat customary recently for some other cyclists/walkers going across this border.
No GPS were confiscated, 2 time zones were gained, and we had the pleasure to witness one of the most circus-like border crossings we had both ever seen.
A scene out of a Fellini's movie, giant Russian black-clad contracted security guards wearing intimidating black face masks, carrying and lifting my bicycle over a 4 meter high separation wall, while shouting at a myriad of smuggling Kazakhs, busy shoving each others and pushing their large bags full of Chinese Adidas/Vuitton/Gucci counterfeits...
Last year, there was a deadly incident in the region which could explain the tense environment at this border crossing.
Once past the initial threshold described above, we were very well greeted by the multiple Kazakh border guards/ immigration officers we met, all welcoming us to Kazakhstan.
We were also amused to hear several Kazakhs shout in English: "Welcome to Kazakhstan" out of their moving cars as they were overtaking us while we were riding our first Kazakh kilometers in the night...
Since we arrived in Zharkent three days ago, we first spent an enjoyable diner with two helpful young Kazakh cousins Ernur and Ermek.
We also spent time at the local bazaar/market where we observed a mishmash of Kazakhs, Uyghurs and ethnic Russians, all selling some of their respective traditional food items which we were glad to sample, such as Uighur kebabs, pilafs, home baked bread, Kazakh manti and Russian pirozhki .
At the market, I received free service from a welder and a cobbler, both telling me that they couldn't charge a travelling cyclist, no matter how much I insisted to pay.
This definitely made me feel even more welcomed in Kazakhstan!
While in Zharkent, we also took the time to visit the local orthodox church which was the first christian establishment I visited since the time I spent at the Catholic cathedral in Ulaan Baatar, back in August.
Indeed, since then, on our way, we have mostly spent reflecting time in Mongolian or Chinese Buddhist temples as well as in Chinese Hui, Uighur or Kazakh mosques.
In Xinjiang province, we also had the opportunity to visit Buddhist temples and Manicheist ruins which were built by Uyghurs before they converted to Islam, 600 years ago.
On this topic of coexistence, we had the pleasure today to visit as well in Zharkent, a beautiful Chinese designed mosque which, with its floating roof, resembles more of a pagoda.
Now, on a separate matter, let me warn anyone else planning a similar westbound route by bicycle or by foot from China into southern Kazakhstan:
Kazakhstan has complex registration rules for foreigners.
Gulnara, as a Russian citizen does not have to register for one month, but myself with my Kazakh visa on my American passport, I am required to register within my first five days in Kazakhstan at one of the two migration police posts "nearest" to Zharkent, either 300 kms away in Taldykorgan or 300 kms away in Almaty.
So, yesterday, because I was not made aware that I couldn't register in Zharkent until my 3rd day, I had to travel a fast 600 kms round trip in an affordable shared taxi in order to go and register at the Almaty migration police office.
I am now back in Zharkent where I have been reunited with Gulnara and my bicycle!
Starting tomorrow morning, we plan to ride 350 kms from Zharkent to Almaty and visit on our way the "Valley of the castles" in the Charyn canyon .