Journey To The Red Center

Kyzylorda Travel Blog

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Gabit and his family to the rescue

After Sayram I had a quiet evening at Vicente's flat. We were going to go to a jazz club of all things, but decided not to and just hung out and decompressed from each other's days. The morning of the 4th I said goodbye and went back to the Samal bus station for a long, uncomfortable 6-hour ride to the city of Kyzylorda. The city's name means "red center" or "red capital" in Kazakh, and actually was the capital of the Kazakh Soviet Socialist Republic for a short time in the late 1920s. Now it is the capital of the Kyzylorda Oblys (province) and an oasis of sorts on the banks of the Syr Darya river. It's making a comeback economically due to an abundance of gas and oil, and this is evidenced by several new buildings, restaurants and a sprawling suburb build essentially for the industry just a couple years ago.

Kyzylorda's Syr Darya promenade and a very cold tourist

I arrived a little earlier than planned at the cold bus station. I was originally supposed to stay with a Peace Corps volunteer but we couldn't reach each other so I ended up contacting my friend and former student Eric who I'd just met in Shymkent. He put me in touch with his friend Beybit who agreed to meet me after work. I walked a few blocks from the station to a cafe and warmed up with a bowl of soup and some coffee. After an hour, Beybit called me to find out where I was. Within minutes of telling him, he appeared at the door and we took off in his nice new SUV. He worked at one of the gas companies but also was dabbling in real estate and had to show a house to a couple, so I went along with him. The house was newly constructed and quite large and modern (i.

The main monument in Kyzylorda
e., two bathrooms, two dining rooms, central air/heating, modern kitchen, etc.). It was actually his house, and I have reason to believe his parents lived on the other side since there were two kitchens on opposite sides of the place.

After my lesson in Kazakh realty, Beybit drove me around Kyzylorda for the night tour. We drove past the main square, downtown, the theater and the Syr Darya promenade. He then took me to a nice Uzbek restaurant called Registan. There I had a very refined and absolutely delicious version of a popular Kazakh dish called kuurdak, essentially this was fine cuts of steak and potatoes. Eventually his friend Gabit joined us and I learned that I'd actually be staying with him. Beybit generously paid for dinner and took me to Gabit's car, where we traded off and I said goodbye.

The decadence of a former amusement park
Gabit also spoke English and was pretty cool and laid back. We went to his house on the edge of town not far from the bus station. I met his family there, including his cute son Ilyaszhan, who was actually crying when we walked in. Gabit also owned a billiard club adjacent to the house, which could be accessed from the back yard. We went over for a beer and to check it out before bedtime.

In the morning (December 5th) we went to the bus station and found out that the only ticket to Zhezkazgan was for Saturday, so I bought a rather expensive ticket and Gabit drove me back to his place where I went back to sleep and poor Gabit had to go to work. When I woke up, one of Gabit's brother's sons came to invite me to breakfast and we enjoyed eggs, bread with thick cream (qatiq) and delicious Kazakh tea (black tea with milk and water; I added sugar).

Big guns outside the World War II memorial park
Gabit's brother offered to drive me to the center of town, and we picked up some coworkers of his and off we went.

It was a sunny but very cold and windy day. My wanderings took me through the center of town, past the theater and in the direction of what I had tried to remember as the Syr-Darya promenade. I passed by a turquoise-domed mosque and then found the promenade a couple blocks further. The river was filled with chunks of flowing ice. The wind was biting hard but I couldn't help stopping for awhile to admire the sun shining on the icy river. In the opposite direction, I noticed two men paddling across the river towards a man standing on the barren other side. Thankful that I wasn't getting drenched by icewater, I turned and walked back towards town and past the main monument of the city.

Kyzylorda at night
Nearby was the old bazaar, particularly narrow and crowded with people shopping in the cold. Gloveless vendors sat amidst the blowing tarps and tried their best to sell cheap Chinese goods. I had forgotten my scarf at Gabit's but had no luck finding one in the labyrinthine bazaar. At least it offered a temporary shelter from the brunt of the wind.

I discovered an abandoned amusement park that really captivated my attention. Because it symbolized the decay often left over from the Soviet Union days, I found it interesting and although it was sad, it represented a part of the city's history and clearly it was still standing, perhaps in hopes that someday it will be revived. From there I found a World War II monument and made my way back to the main square and government buildings.

The brand new mosque in the southern suburb
The square was the size of a football field and the buildings were equally large. A few young couples sat in the cold on park benches, probably trying to avoid the crowded dwellings of their parents in favor of some public displays of affection. Around the corner I found a cheap cafe that offered a "meal deal" for only 300 tenge ($2.75), featuring a soup, main course, bread and a cup of tea. It was perfect! I escaped the cold again at the local Internet cafe and then visited the regional museum. Again, only in Russian, but I focused on pictures and maps, and learned that the city was actually called Akmeshit during its time as capital, and had been called another name before that (something like Perovsk). It was an extensive museum, featuring everything from artifacts to mineral resources to famous athletes from the area. After that I did some shopping for the long bus ride and bought some candy for Gabit's family.

Gabit called me around 6pm and told me he was heading back and he'll be there to pick me up soon. When he came, he was with his boss and another coworker. After dropping off the boss, we went to his coworker's flat in the new suburban community south of the center. We passed by a gleaming new mosque that was one of the largest I'd seen thus far. We walked up five flights of stairs in the dark to a spacious, warm and bright apartment with a splendid view of the lit-up mosque. There we had dinner consisting of besbarmak soup, several carrot or cabbage-based salads and my first cup of shubot, fermented camel's milk. It was a little bitter but not as bad as the bobo I'd tried in Kyrgyzstan, so I finished it, glad we didn't have time to be offered more. We had to hurry because we had to take his mother to the train station to catch her train to Aralsk. I had planned to visit Aralsk, actually, because it was reported to be a better base from which to see the revived Kazakh portion of the Little Aral Sea. However, this was as close as I would get due to time and expense. I was pleased we went to the train station, though. It was built during the time when Kyzylorda was the Kazakh SSR capital, but had obviously been renovated. Still it was somewhat ornate compared to typical regional architecture. We ended up running with the mom's bag, Gabit with one handle and I with the other, down the platform to the other side where her wagon was. It was after 9pm when we got back to Gabit's house, exhaused and ready for bed, but not before some more Kazakh tea!

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Gabit and his family to the rescue
Gabit and his family to the rescue
Kyzylordas Syr Darya promenade an…
Kyzylorda's Syr Darya promenade a…
The main monument in Kyzylorda
The main monument in Kyzylorda
The decadence of a former amusemen…
The decadence of a former amuseme…
Big guns outside the World War II …
Big guns outside the World War II…
Kyzylorda at night
Kyzylorda at night
The brand new mosque in the southe…
The brand new mosque in the south…
photo by: sayohat