Cooler 4x4 Trucks
More OffRoad Freedom!

Kazakhstan Offroad

Kazakhstan Offroad
Photo by: Vera Darmiceanu

You a’re at work. Closed in your office, just after finishing off something you had to do and allow yourself to drift away for a minute. It’s the same dream you’'ve had a thousand times: it’s morning and the car is ready to go. You check the list of supplies for the road one last time, to make sure everything’s in. You pick up the last remaining items, the transparent box with sandwiches, the wallet and the car keys. You lock the door and, as you walk down the stairs, the air you breathe suddenly becomes fresher, cleaner, lighter. The engine is started and suddenly you’re on the open road, the great outdoors and a track leading to amazing adventures and beautiful but wild landscapes. We ha’ve all had this dream. And from one 4x4 owner to the other, the dream isn'’t that much different. The car make is, and maybe the company. But the adventures and the pleasure of driving will remain the same.

Kazakhstan Offroad

Kazakhstan Offroad
Photo by: Vera Darmiceanu

It takes courage as well as skill and funds to set off to an expedition, attributes that the group of adventurers that I will be presenting undoubtedly possess. They set off in two cars, from the capital of Romania, Bucharest, on a 9400 km journey who’s country of destination was Kazakhstan, with the aim of documenting the current state of the Aral Sea.

Kazakhstan Offroad
Photo by: Vadim Bondar

The team set off at the end of the summer, 2nd of August to be more precise, with the precise purpose of documenting, photographing and video recording objectives that present a socio-cultural, scientific and tourist interest in the Western part of the Republic of Kazakhstan. For this particular trip, a Nissan Terrano II and the all new Suzuki Grand Vitara were used to safely carry the 9 members of the expedition to the dry banks of the Aral Sea and back. They managed to secure important sponsorships from companies such as Nikon, BFGoodrich, Rompetrol, Zebra 3, Akita, TEMAD and Conceptor, who’se help made the whole adventure possible.

Kazakhstan Offroad
Photo by: Vera Darmiceanu

The first three days saw the overlanders crossing Romania and Ukraine and making their way, on the forth day, through to the Russian border. Passing into Russia, the look of things changed. The large country is a world in itself, where some areas are better than others – from the good road that links Rostov to Moscow , but also less glamorous areas, such as the suburbs of Volgograd, where fuel is paid for in advance and everything is under video surveillance and shut off by tall fences.

Kazakhstan Offroad
Photo by: Vadim Bondar

At the end of the sixth day of driving, the team make their way into Kazakhstan, after experiencing a failure in their information systems as well as a shift change. They finally make their way in the “destination country” and stop at a bed and breakfast, Kazakh style. The de luxe room was your garden variety room with beds and a pull-out couch and it’s bathroom had a limited use due to the fact that the settlement had been out of water for four days.

Kazakhstan Offroad
Photo by: Vadim Bondar

In the seventh day, leaving Ganyushkino, the two cars set off on their journey through the lovely country, stopping in the towns of Maquat (end of day seven) and Quandaghash (end of day eight), before setting their tents at the end of the ninth day, for the first time in Kazakh steppe. The feel of the environment changed in those days, the tarmac roads that the maps showed were nothing but large dirt roads that led to and from various human settlements, that were also populated with camels.

Kazakhstan Offroad
Photo by: Vera Darmiceanu

One of the things that anyone traveling to the country needs to do is register with the authorities. The registration in theory needs to be done in every settlement, but in practice only in large towns or cities – like Aqtobe where the 9 members got registered. Day ten saw the Nissan experience the first technical issues, with regards to the bull bar welding giving up. They managed to remediate the problem for the time being and drove to Aralsk, where they got rooms in the Aral, the only hotel in town and experimenting with shashlik, traditional food made of mutton, as well as shubat, fermented camel milk.

Kazakhstan Offroad
Photo by: Vadim Bondar

Their next morning would see them driving ever so close to the Aral sea, and specifically the town of Aralsk, where they stopped for the night. In the twelfth day, the team met up with a couple of Russian overlanders, writers for a 4x4 magazine and were advised to renounce the plan tu visit Ustyurt and Mangistausi because the cars were way too heavy for that road. The 500 kilometers that separated them from the destination would have imposed strict and slow driving regime of 100 kilometers a day so the decision was taken to travel to Sirdaria to see the ships close to Bogen village. The downside was that there are no more ships at Bogen.

Kazakhstan Offroad
Photo by: Vera Darmiceanu

Just like in Aralsk, they have been taken apart and sold for scrap. Fortunately, they managed to cross the bridge over Sirdaria, which insured the continuation of their trip between the North and South Aral, thus saving a few hundred kilometers towards the ships in the North Western part of South Aral. Listening to the advice from some workers loading a truck full of sand, the team camped in the vicinity of the dam that separates the North Aral from the South Aral.

Kazakhstan Offroad
Photo by: Vera Darmiceanu

The following days, the two expedition vehicles and their occupants explored the bottom what was the Aral Sea, now dried up – camping near the Kokaral dam (end of day twelve), close to the ship graveyard from the Tschebas gulf (end of day thirteen), followed by four days of sleeping in the open steppe.

Kazakhstan Offroad
Photo by: Vera Darmiceanu

The route for the last four days of sleeping in the wilderness passed the settlements of Bozoy, Sorqudiq, Begimbet, Shalquar, Embi, Quandaghash, Shubarqudiq, Bayghanin, Maquat, Dossor and Atiraw. On this adventure-filled route they got stuck in the tricky mud of the ex-sea bottom and met wonderful people, but they kept in view their main aim, documenting the abandoned ships – thus further exploring the socio-cultural scene of the country.

Kazakhstan Offroad
Photo by: Vera Darmiceanu

 

Kazakhstan Offroad
Photo by: Vera Darmiceanu

 

In day seventeen, the two cars crossed the bridge over the Ural, which officially separates Europe from Asia. On the dawn of the eighteenth day, they woke up on the Old Continent, started the engines and braced themselves for the Kazakh – Russian border. Taking in the city of Astrahan, in Russia, everyone tried to breathe in the last days of what was, for some if not for all, the adventure of a lifetime. Four days later the two cars and their crews would arrive in Bucharest, with stories of an unbelievable land where sunken ships and camels are something far from extraordinary, where people have very different habits but also to raise awareness regarding the impact our actions have on the planet we inhabit.

Kazakhstan Offroad
Photo by: Vera Darmiceanu

 

Images Courtesy of Vadim Bondar and Vera Darmiceanu

Radu Tudoroiu

Radu Tudoroiu is a photographer and an editor for 4x4 Off Roads and other publications as well as an off-road enthusiast. Radu lives in Romania.

 

 

 

Comments

comments

For more check out:

4x4 - Cooler 4x4 Trucks!

Offroad

Overland