Embi and Aralsk, Kazakhstan Week 123 August 1st - 5th 2013
At Qandyagash we could travel SE on the A26 or NW on the A27 (then S on M32).

With absolutely no knowledge of road condition we took the shorter SE road through Embi to Aralsk.

We are beginning to thing there's a pattern.

The further we are from major towns the worse the road.

But we continue to wonder about the mausolea (is that a word).
This branch of the railway has concrete sleepers.

And fish plates for joins.

We are used to long straight roads from Aus.

Near Qandyagash the land seemed a little greener.

We had passed some wheat being grown just before town.

Then a lunch stop.

The river is flowing quite fast.

Some of the rail lines seem to have been built in the first decade of the 20th century.

This looks like an old water tower for filling steam engines.

There's one at every siding on this line.

Getting late in the day we are thinking we should have camped where we had lunch.

We are tired after several hard days.

Which of course is a good combination for mistakes.

The only positive about our first attempt to camp unobtrusively was this little character.

We've seen the burrows. And we've seen the eagles.

Now we think we know some of how the dots are joined.

With an obvious sense of purpose.

Doing what should have been done before we attempted to drive onto it.

Its "gibber plain" that's been rained on.

Soft clay through the surface layer of stones.

But worse.

There's a bit of a ditch with indications that it may be a bit soft which we totally ignored.

Too gooey to dig.

And the second mistake was, once stuck, to lock the hubs but not select 4wd.

Which meant that the front wheels became no longer in the same wheel ruts as the rear.

We really are tired. Some may suggest "approaching brain dead".

So as penance we got to work out how to clean the max-trax.

They did their job exceedingly well.

Now they weigh three times what they started. As did my shoes. The shovel weighed five times.

A nearby puddle in one of the large potholes helped a bit.

A couple of vehicles passed. Then a cheerful truckie in a 6wd Kamaz stopped just as we were packing up. And the next car stopped.

Nice to know there's help!

Shortly after we found a campsite on sandy soil.

Put the max-trax out to dry in the sun and be washed by the rain.

After drying hit them with a hammer. The clay had shrunk and fell off.

Great clods of it!

We declared a day off.

A tank strap had broken. There's supposed to be a "T" on the end to locate in a "keyhole". Temporary replace strap with some webbing. Weld at first opportunity.

Made sure we had a suitable bolt to weld on the end - just like the two straps we had welded in Spilsby.

Hindsight says should have done all four! But then again, the welded bolt approach needed testing on just one tank. Its a long time since we broke the first one on the way into Halligans Bay (Lake Eyre, Aus in September 2010, almost 3 years ago). Finally figured out they break on rough roads when a tank is full and we are using the other one. Obviously designed for some "liquid slosh".

The house water pump fuse had blown after lunch and blew again in the evening! A so far untraceable wiring problem associated with a circuit to run one or both pumps and hot water solenoid. At least the pressure release valve worked!

Temporary solution to disconnect one pump - we've never used two in parallel. I'll reduce the wiring.


It really was one of those days .... our capacity to make mistakes and overcome problems is greatly reduced when tired.

And of course most problems arrive when we are tired!

There is of course only one thing to do when the list of problems has been turned into scrap paper and all possible issues resolved.

Eat the last of our supply of Lincolnshire sausages. All the way from Boston in Lincolnshire.

And have a few moments remembering Tim and Angela's hospitality.

More tombs, with no habitation in sight.

Further away than I thought, the sun was nearly below the horizon by the time I'd walked there.

I needed the exercise.

So after a day's rest we set forth again.

Surprised a bit to find a low range of hills. About 600m high.

With a few mines and quarries.

We met the plain again on the other side.

And crossed the railway line - in totally the wrong place for the map.... which we think is a few km out.

And so the dusty bit.

The road is really a bit bumpy so we took the parallel track.

The trucks took the track on the other side of the road.

Our guess is we are crossing dried lake bed.

After 5-10km we reached Shalqar.

Not sure of the time as computer updated through internet says one thing, the mobile phones another, the current time from google yet another, and Ali's watch set by asking someone yet another.

Temperature back to around 32C after a few days of mid 20s. Plays havoc with fluid levels.

Stopped about 10km north to camp after a difficult 150km.

Much better than we have been, though for a while I thought we would become catatonic, the step beyond weary.

We'll drive back to Shalqar in the morning and buy some bread. Are welders open on Sundays?

This is the beginning of a road to Aralsk.

I spent about 3 hours with googlemaps last night.

The track was obvious at only one zoom level of the satellite view. It disappeared at other zoom levels so I doubted its existence, and my sanity. Quite bizarre really.

This is about 6km north of the town and rail line, no road shown on google, and the road on the Reise map is south of the rail line, but can't be seen on google. Garmin has nothing.

This is the coordinates I identified where the track leaves the main road.

We asked the people from the truck "which way to Aral?". They pointed down the track, and wrote 150km. 

They also told us where the other three roads led. And which were bumpy or smooth.

All with hands and Kazakh.  

It was nice to have the confirmation of a local, and to see a track where I expected. The confidence to proceed.

We are not the first people to be flumoxed.

There are a lot of straight stretches. It follows a pipeline and the rail line can be seen. Here are the rough coordinates of the corners, though once started its a bit obvious.

I used my web page with the googlemap which conveniently shows me the mouse coordinates.

The track ends are north of Shalqar and the M32 north west of Aral. 

But first to Shalqar.

We found bread and some veggies.

But no welder on a Sunday.

This is the town, and the shops are just around the corner. 

But even the military post was asleep.

Of course the track deteriorated a bit.

This is largish stones on top of sand.

And something to help stop the sand drifting.

Shortly after we started we were waved down by a security vehicle.

"Australia" seemed to be the acceptable magic word and we carried on.

The tower has mobile phone. No Edge or 3G.

But the internet works.

Not sure about the lonely bail of "hay".

And just to remind us of Mongolia.
We continue to see mausoleums.

No town near.

Kazakhstan was "de-nomadified" by the Russians in the 1920's.

A lot of resistance, killing of flocks rather than give them up, and starvation.

We wonder if these isolated mausoleums go back to the time when people roamed more freely.

Some camels just don't know whether they are right or left handed!
This eagle was sat beside the track.

We got the camera ready to catch it in flight.

But it must be injured, fell, and lay, stuck, on its back.

We could either try and tickle its tummy or right it.

So we righted it.

Though it couldn't fly off.

We are camped on a hilltop above Toguz.

Looking south-west the rail line snakes a bit. A train at least every half hour.

We've traveled 100km for the day.

But it was easier. A consistent 20-30 km/hr with some corrugations but mostly sand or clay and just bumpy.

Much easier than the constant gear and direction changes for potholes, bumps, mughals, corrugations, craters, ruts, wash-outs, etc. of the last few days.

Using the binoculars we now also know what rail crossing look like out here - they don't occur where the sidings (and villages) are. They are where the line is single.

Looking south west.

That's water. To the left it seems to become salt flat.

Part of a river bed which empties into the Aral Sea.

The North Aral Sea is being refilled but we are still a bit surprised to see the water here.

A morning look at our campsite.

With Toguz in the background.

We slept in a bit!

Another patch of sand dunes as we descended towards the Aral Sea.

Or what used to be the sea.

Stopped by security again.

Same magic word worked.

And a few more dunes.
We detoured into Dzhamboul.

We've also seen it called Zhalanash. But then we've seen Zhalangash further south on the Reise Map. And then we've seen it said that 2004 Reisemap has the ship cemetery marked in the wrong place but there's no date on the digitised version.

Somewhere on the other side of the rail line there's the old coast of the Aral Sea and the remains of a ship cemetery.


The only level crossing for miles,

well km anyway,

is closed for maintenance.

The water flowing into the Aral Sea was diverted by well meaning Russians, about 50 years ago.

To grow cotton.

They understood the consequences for the Aral Sea but proceeded anyway.

The ships were beached as the sea receded.

There are apparently few left now as they've been broken up for scrap.

We'll lick our wounds, contemplate the futility of following a pipeline track for two days, and carry on.

We've nearly reached the end of our pipeline road.

And we've been able to work out why Garmin tells us 7km instead of 2km to destination.

It finds the closest road to current position, starts its guidance from there, then draws a straight line to destination from closest place on road.

The blue line is our actual course. A straight line to destination as found on the satellite imagery.

Garmin was not designed for this sort of use.

Not the coast of the Aral Sea.

Further back.

But at one time it possibly was.

We met the sealed road at SekseOil.

Headed towards the M32 and Aralsk.

We are still tired and will need to stop for a couple of days sometime soon.

But first a bit of welding for the tank straps.

It took about a half hour to explain, get the job completed. I removed the second strap, removed temporary webbing, and fitted welded straps. 

Then we went into town to the market.

Aralsk is half the size it used to be. About 37,500 people.

It was a major fishing port on the Aral Sea.

They will finally get some sea back in port in the next few years.

We left the town and followed the M32 south.

Stopped after about 20km for a roadside camp.

A few spots of rain, which makes us grateful we aren't still on the pipeline road as it would turn muddy fairly quickly.

Did I mention we are tired and need a rest!

Lake Kambash (Qamystibas) and Baikonur, Kazakhstan Week 123 August 6th - 9th 2013

Laurie Wed, 07 Aug 13 08:01:20 +1000
Hope that much-needed rest is happening at your current lakeside camp :)
One assumes you won't have internet there.... ?

Ian Wed, 07 Aug 13 08:22:11 +1000
Well done so far Julian you have earned that rest. Those roads must be wearing.

barry & Robyn Smith Fri, 09 Aug 13 05:50:53 +1000
Interesting travels, makes ua want to stay in our own safe wee beds and feel secure. The fellas doing the crossing maintenance must have taken a leaf out of the Invercargill City Council book, just do it and bugger the consequences for everyone else

Sorry, comments closed.