Uralsk – 7 days – 35 metres above sea level

Version française disponible ici. 

We arrived in Kazakstan by the border post of Ilek. The checking was easy. On the Russian side, they were happy to say a couple of French words. The customs officer indicated us to go through without checking our luggages. Even the bag of bulk tea offered by Ivan, looking like illegal herbs, passed the check point.

Once on the other side of the bridge to reach the Kazakh border, same thing. Our unusual vehicles intrigued the custom officers and the control was not stricter. In less than an hour, we did the paperwork and entered in Kazakhstan.

The closest city was about 150 km away. The road was sometimes unpaved, sometimes paved, but often with massive potholes. From the first kilometres the landscape changed. The Russian green fields and bushes have been replaced by plains blowed by the wind, without trees or greenness. The heat was back, the motorcycle clothing became heavier and unbreathable. 

At our arrival in Uralsk, we collected the engine oil reserved by the Night wolfs for us in a Motul shop.

The “Gengis Khan” motorclub has been alerted of our arrival. Two of their bikers arrived  at the shop for meeting us and helping us. After a false depart as Julien lost his phone but found it in the sand next to the shop (Thanks Cедой), the two bikers negotiated a good hotel for us, at a good price with parking within the building (thanks to their good negotiations) and in the city-centre.

Our afternoon was dedicated to research an insurance for driving legally in the country. We found one with Nomad Assurance. Warmly welcomed in their office with a glass of peach juice, we signed a contract with them allowing us to drive 15 days, the time to reach the Caspian Sea.

Our second Kazakh day started with a giant breakfast offered by the hotel. On the table, there were eggs, sausages, pastries… At the same time, we started chatting with a man from Almaty. During its discussion we were bluffed by his knowledge in geography. He was able to compare, with a great precision, the surface in square metres of various countries.

The day continued with Alex and Sabit, our two friends from the motorcycle club. With them, we discovered the city and its history. As the history of the country, it is linked to the Khan dynasty. Gengis Khan, symbol of the Mongolian invasion on the Central Asia lands, is a hero here. The city of Uralsk was built at the junction of the Ural and Changan rivers. Closer to Moscow than Astana, the Kazakh capital, it explained the atmosphere of the city. In the town-centre of Uralsk, it is possible to see beautiful buildings from the 18th and 19th centuries, with wooden walls, plus buildings from the same period with a Mediterranean style. Both cohabit with the marks of the Soviet architecture. About the buildings which were worth to be seen, they were the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour built from 1591 and finished 300 years after ; and the impressive memorial of the World War II with its column piecing the sky. Again, Soviet architecture is not about cosiness and flowers, but  about massiveness and greatness.

After this break in Uralsk, we took the road in direction of South, to reach the city of Inderbor. No difficulties on the road, no hills and a correct asphalt. We followed this straight line across the steppe with almost “closed” eyes. The only surprising thing was the several herds of cows and horses. On the road, we saw many people welcoming us with horn blasts, even policemen were waving to us on the side of the road.  It was like on the Colombian road.

We arrived mid-afternoon in the Inderbor city. The streets were empty and the asphalt was in vey bad conditions this time. We looked for something to eat. But the city was deserted and the restaurants were closed. As it was currently the Ramadan, it was hard to find a place open at 3pm. Finally, we managed to order a salad with stuffed peppers and a beer in a café. Back in the streets of the city, the life was back too. Kids were playing with balls and bicycles while adults were doing the usual daily tasks: food shopping, repairing a wall, doing deliveries with their cart… In this city, the face shapes of the people we met have now changed. Their features were more similar to the ones from Central Asia rather than to Russia. The houses have also changed. Previously made of wood or concrete blocks with an angled roof, there were here made of soil with  a flat roof.

We followed the advice of Sabit met in Uralsk. We left Inderbor and reached Atyrau by a small secondary road which was actually in better conditions than the main road. On this new straight line, there was a herd of camels, living in total freedom. Along the road, we saw many of them, sometimes they crossed the road just in front of us. 

A hundred of kilometres before Atyrau, we left again the main road to discover the remains of the ancient medieval city of Sarayshyk. In the past, this city was a main axis for trades, on the Silk Route. But at this historic place, we saw only a little museum and three stones, the last remains of this ancient city.  

We arrived at the end of the afternoon in the oil-producing city of Atyrau, along the Ural river. We stayed in a youth hostel where we have been welcomed very warmly. To avoid the issue we had previously, we asked where we could find a place to lunch at this late time of the day. The kind family offered to cook a meal for us. On the menu, a hearty dish with a delicious fish served with pasta and a Kazakh salad.

We enjoyed the end of the afternoon to stroll along the river and to discover the city. Here, like in the other Kazakh cities we crossed, there were a mix of cultures. For example, a Mosque and an Orthodox Church were separated of only a few hundred metres. 

On the following day, we continued our journey towards Kulsary, 200 kilometres further. The road was in good conditions. Many horn blasts when people saw us and the scenery stayed pretty flat. After some kilometres, we saw salty lagoons offering nice colours in the desert. The free animals continued to share the road with us. In the wide fields, the horses gathered together to protect themselves from the strong wind. 

Arrived in Kulsary, we lunched in a “globetrotter” café. We met two Russian bikers who just finished their Kazakh trip. After chatting a bit about the tips and must places to visit, they recommended us a “biker” hotel at the entry of the city. We looked for this place of the “Uncle Lesha”. After going back and forth during 10 minutes, we didn’t find him. The two other hotels we saw were very expensive. We looked on the iOverlander app to find another option but, finally, we discovered the hotel of Lesha was actually in the next city, Beyneu, which was 200 kilometres further. We reached the city at 9pm and met the famous Lesha, a true character who received us like VIP guests in his home.

After Beyneu, the first 100 kilometres were similar to the previous days. But after a Kazakh salad for lunch, the first hills appeared. After a little hill, we saw our first canyon. The road was going between the chalky cliffs, with purple and white colours, specific features of the Mangystau peninsula we just entered.

It was raining from ten days now. We were not able to reach the Tuzbair lake as planned. The sat nav indicated its position at less than 10 kilometres from us, but we managed to do only 3. Indeed, the road was too muddy and slippery due to the rain. By looking the sky, we understood the storm was coming and we didn’t have much time left to arrive in Shetpe, the next city to find a roof to shelter.

During all the night, it was heavily raining. Next step: Aktau!

Where to eat?

Toykhana Na Malibu
улица Пугачева 38, Oural

A traditional address on the riverside of Ural, famous for big feasts with all the family or for dining with a few friends. For small groups, it’s possible to share the dinner in a little room, sat cross-legged around a coffee table. On the menus, there are the Kazakh traditional dishes. There, we enjoyed a delicious Beshbarmak, a meat dish with boiled horse meat. The name of this dish means “5 fingers” as this dish needs to be eaten with hands. 

Where to sleep ?

Hostel Keruen
Карымсакова 3а, Atyrau

A youth hostel without anything fancy by with nice dormitories including wooden bunk beds and a warm welcoming. A hearty breakfast is the cherry on the cake! 

Uncle Lesha

This address is not a hotel but a good place for the two or three-wheel travellers willing to meet people. Between Atyrau and Aktau, Lesha is a character who deserves to stop. Plus, his workshop can be very handy for repairing your vehicle.