Kazakh Language derives from Old Turkic language. “Kazakh” means “independent, free spirit” and reflects the source of the Kazakh culture based on the life of nomads living for hundreds of years Asian steppes. Kazakhstan country is enormously high, in terms of the surface it is ranked as ninth in the world, and the area that is equal to the whole of Western Europe. It is also the largest landlocked country in the globe, on the western edge of the sun gets up an hour earlier than at the eastern end . This country, although its roots dating back to 3000 years ago, reached the identity after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Like other independent countries that arose in this way it is full of contradictions. Monuments of socialism, ancient culture and modernity are intertwined everywhere. Wealth of Kazakhstan – oil, natural gas and uranium – allows this country to make up for lost decades.
Our team experience with Kazakhstan are (as in Russia), largely divergent. The main group (Kasia, Malina, Stojan) went the route originally planned – through Atyrau, Baikonur and Shykment. I entered Kazakhstan from the north and travelled to the south – from Kustanai by Astana to Almaty. Like in Russia, it is extremelly difficult to visualize the enormity of this country. For me, the symbol of his greatness was the length of the day. Coming from the west to the east by Russia passed 4 time zones (entering Kazakhstan I was away from the home by 4 hours), but the sun hid behind the horizon was always at the same time. But going south could I obeserved as the sun goes about getting an earlier time. In northern Kazakhstan could ride up to 22.30 in the light of sunset. Next to area of Almaty dusk began to fall already about 21.00 which reduced real time to continue driving.
Geographical border Europe-Asia runs in Russia by the ridge of the Ural mountains. In Kazakhstan the situation is already complicated by geographers and can cause a lot of problems. The most recent definition says that the border of the continent runs along the river Emba, believed to the Caspian Sea.
The majority of the country is occupied vast plains and low built the high places of the monotonous, slightly wavy landscape. In the west of Kazakhstan is a vast Caspian Depression, which occupies the southern ends of the East European Platform. The western part of the lowlands is monotonous and sandy, eastern and in many places has the form of marshy plains, which are almost entirely located in the depression. Caspian Depression of the south limit lying between the Caspian Sea and the Aral Sea: highlands Ustyurt Plateau with a maximum elevation of 340 m above the sea level and the peninsula Mangystau (former Mangghystau) with a height of up to 556 m asl Both the highlands, and this peninsula are by deep hollows. Among these areas is the lowest place in Kazakhstan – Karagiye depression lying 132 meters below the sea.
The south-eastern part of the country ends with the ridges of the Tien-Shan mountains, rising to over 7000 m above the sea level South-eastern and southern part of Kazakhstan are areas with steppes, semi-arid and desert. The climate of Kazakhstan is characterized by a particular polarity. In the winter, temperatures in the north can reach -50 degrees Celsius, in the summer temperatures can reach 50 degrees Celsius. All this is seasoned with frequent and strong winds, depending on the season – which increase or lowering the temperature.
If the above description is is a too scientific, I will try to go a little closer. If you are traveling through Kazakhstan be prepared for a long and tedious journey. Especially, if are arriving from the north side via Chelyabinsk. Just after crossing the border landscape of Russian forests quickly turns into a steppe landscape. 360 horizon, not broken by any hills moving away from our eyes and you can be clearly see the line between heaven and eth earth. This is the first impression that come to my mind when I enteried the steppe. There are no trees and only low shrubs and grass that stretch for hundreds of kilometers. Flat and monotone landscape is accompanies the travellers all the time. Only sometimes the plain suddenly collapses on the short slope, revealing a wide valley, looking like ravaged by the fist of forgotten god.
Coming closer to Almaty, we are entering the plain before next to the feet of the Tien-Shan mountains. A semi-desert landscape turns into a belt of green grass, bushes and trees.
Kazakhstan is already a region where you can footprints of the Silk Road – remains of the ancient empires, places that are reaching into the future, but also places that demonstrate how destructive may be the mankind.
One of best examples of this destroying force is the Aral Sea, or rather wretched remnants of former lake. In the 30s of 20th century the Soviet authorities began an intensive cultivation of cotton in the areas of the current Uzbekistan. The water from the Amu-Darya and Syr-Darya was used to by hydrate plains using poorly designed and sealed irrigation canals. As a result, over the past 50 years, the Aral Sea was reduced by 4/5. To see how great is the change you can watch old maps .Coastal city Aralsk is now located 30 km from the shore on the sands of the desert, In several places you can see abandoned fishing boats that are lying between the dunes. in the middle of the Aral Sea it was located the storage of hazardous waste from the biological weapons threat of contamination.
At the east of the Aral Sea there is another monument to the power of the former Soviet Union – still working spaceport Baikonur. Operating since 1957 spaceport was the site of firing thousands of rockets and ballistic spaces. Although it is situated on the territory of Kazakhstan, it is under contract possessive managed by Roskosmos – the Russian Federal Space Agency. It’s worth to plan a route across steppes to visit Baikonur for two reasons – firstly, there is always a chance to see rocket launch space (eg. here ), and secondly, you can visit the existing Baikonur museum and see how developed the Soviet and then Russian space technology.
I experienced a long, monotonous ride with any sensations. As I wrote above, the only frequent companion on the road was the wind. Blowing from the North to my back, sometimes it was helping me, but often, it was blowing to the side and driving was more difficult.
The landscape and road conditions rapidly change after entering to the southern Kazakhstan. After Karaganda, at about 150 km before reaching the lake Balkhash. begin to appear low hills, devoided of vegetation that looks like prairie landscape from the well-known American westerns. Balkhash lake itself is huge and although not equal the area of Baykal lake, it is really impressive. It has a length of over 600 km of where the road Astana/Almaty pases the 300 km of the egdge of the lake. It is not clearly visible from the road but several times road comes closer. There are a lot of salty-sand places, in the spring filled with water but dry in the summer. Interesting fact about Balkhash is that it is a sweet-salty lake. The western part fed by the river Ilya has the advantage of fresh water. Eastern evaporation condenses the salt and makes water distinctly salty (a similar phenomenon also occurs in the Caspian Sea).