Excursion To A Former Gulag

Dolinka Travel Blog

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The KarLag museum in Dolinka

Zhandos and I met mid-morning and hopped a city bus to the bus station, where we caught another bus bound for the town of Shakhtinsk. About 25-30 kilometers outside of Karaganda, we came to a perpendicular intersection where we got out and waited for another bus to take us to Dolinka. Now a sleepy village in the steppe, Dolinka was home to KarLag, one of the largest concentration camps, or gulags, from Stalin's regime of political prisoners. The morning was cold and a thick frost covered everything from the tree branches to the pebbles on the side of the road. It added to the eerie atmosphere of the village.

The museum was about a block and a half from the road where we got off the bus, and was rather small.

The former administration building
Zhandos had taken travelers here many times before so they knew him well. A hunchbacked guide gave us a tour in Russian while Zhandos translated to English for me. The museum was essentially just one room, and it was very imaginative with its displays and use of space. Aside from typical photos and artifacts, the walls were half covered with registration slips that prisoners had to fill out when they arrived at the camps. Pens were available for visitors to add any name of a person they knew to have been at the camp, since records are incomplete for this information. Images were imposed on the window blinds featuring scenes of some of the camps. One wall contained several photographs of famous political prisoners. I was told the museum was planning to expand to a larger building where they could add more information about the prisoners, since I felt that there needed to be more emotion put into this aspect of the museum.
In the eerie basement of the admin building

We walked from the museum building to a large decaying building that had been the main administrative building for the camps in the area. Aside from the blue painted door, it gave a sinister impression. I asked if we could go in and although the guide responded that it was dangerous, we entered through the back and into the basement. There I got much more of a feel for the place. It was quite spooky to look down the dark, deserted hallways with crackling paint and debris along the corridors. Zhandos told me that one room was the location of where the commanders would make their sentences to the prisoners. I think the place gave him the creeps, and he was glad to get out. It was certainly a haunting experience, but I felt I needed more history to truly comprehend what happened here.

The mess hall, now a store

As we approached the bus stop after saying goodbye to our guide, I noticed a purple building across the street. We walked over and Zhandos told me it was a place where the prisoners would eat. In addition to its color, it certainly didn't fit in with the rest of the town's architecture and I suggested it should be included in the tour as well as any other buildings nearby that could have been associated with KarLag. Apparently all the structural remains of the actual camps or other buildings were either off-limits or destroyed. Overall, though, it was an interesting visit and I'm glad I stayed to get another perspective of the area.

Back in Karaganda, I had lunch at a cheap stolovoy, or canteen, and hung out in town. In the evening I met Zhandos's girlfriend and we talked for awhile.

Unusual cafe at bus stop
Then Zuhra and Friedemann came back from Zuhra's birthday party and she stayed for a few minutes. Zhandos, Friedemann and I stayed up very late talking and I don't think I went to sleep until 3am. It was only a few days there, but it started to feel quite comfortable. I especially enjoyed hearing the different perspectives all of us had and it was a true CouchSurfing exchange! A nice transition from a rather somber visit to KarLag and a good way to end my visit to Karaganda and pretty much Central Asia. One more night and then I'll be in Turkey.

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The KarLag museum in Dolinka
The KarLag museum in Dolinka
The former administration building
The former administration building
In the eerie basement of the admin…
In the eerie basement of the admi…
The mess hall, now a store
The mess hall, now a store
Unusual cafe at bus stop
Unusual cafe at bus stop
Dolinka
photo by: sayohat