The long march back to Almaty

April 22, 2013

The day started well rested, as it needed to be. It was to be a long day of traveling and sightseeing all with my full pack. After getting quoted full fare for only going half the distance at the mashrutka station, I found the bus station where surprisingly, someone knew English and had good news for me.  There would be an appropriately priced mashrutka in half and hour. I should have been more optimistic, but it’s quite common to be told such things in these countries only to find that 1) it’s no cheaper 2) it leaves much later and 3) it’s a good friend of theirs. For half an hour, it was worth the wait to find out. This time, it was all true and I was on my way with the driver knowing where to drop me off.

The plan was to see Otrar, another abandoned city, but with much less interesting ruins, photographically. The only reason was to see the place that brought the wrath of Genghis Khan upon Central Asia AND where Tamerlane died. So, I deemed it worthy of the arcane method of traveling there. Once I was dropped off the first time, I had to take another mashrutka to another town, where I would take a taxi to the ruins. Mashrutkas and taxis tend to hang out in the same places, which made it surprising that they didn’t know where I could catch a mashrutka to the town of Shauildir. The only advice I received was to walk 2km up the highway and wait at the turn off for someone. Wondering if this was going to pan out, I decided to try with a firm deadline to abandon the trip if it didn’t work. Luckily, less than 10 min later, I got on a mashrutka as THE last passenger that could fit. That meant standing for at least half of the 50km ride until someone was let off. I didn’t care, though. I was just happy that I was on schedule.

Again, the ruins were of little interest, but still very cool that I stood where two marauding legends did. The story goes that Genghis Khan had sent two envoys to establish trading relations with the city and region. Possibly out of fear or hubris, the governor had his envoys murdered. Genghis Khan was deliberating whether to expand via commerce or conquest, and this made up his mind for him. So, after capturing the city of Otrar he made sure he witnessed the governor get molten silver poured into his eyes. DAMN! He wasn’t done, though. After letting the horses trample Korans in the streets, he went into the pulpit of the mosque there an declared that he was God’s punishment for their sins. Whoa! Now that’s a sermon history didn’t forget. That episode made it more clear why some cities just ceded control to the Mongols. Tamerlane, on the other hand, had just gathered an army and was headed to China for conquest, but died of illness before the campaign could begin.

The rest of the day was spent traveling back to Shymkent to get an overnight bus to Almaty to pick up my visa. With no time for a restaurant, I made due with what was being sold at the station (see below).

The unimpressive ruins of Otrar from a distance

The unimpressive ruins of Otrar from a distance

Some restoration of the entrance to the city.

Some restoration of the entrance to the city.

Aristan Bab Mausoleum- commemorating a man who taught the revered Yasaui

Aristan Bab Mausoleum- commemorating a man who taught the revered Yasaui

My taxi driver

My taxi driver

One of the many used buses from Western Europe. This one seems to be heading to the Netherlands.

One of the many used buses from Western Europe. This one seems to be heading to the Netherlands.

Street samsa. Cheap, generous with meat, delicious, and rumored to have cat and/or dog in it.

Street samsa. Cheap, generous with meat, delicious, and rumored to have cat and/or dog in it.

Korean salad

Korean salad

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