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20.06.09 04:48 Age: 9 yrs

Harry Copper and the Wizard of Zhezkezgan

By: Roger and Megan

As seen on (Zhezkazgan local news) TV

As we rolled into Zhezkezgan we were soon approached by a young man named Sasha on a bike, who was infatuated by our mighty quike. He asked us to follow him and meet some of his other cycling buddies. After a short ride with him to the city centre, we were soon met by his other friends on bikes, who circled around us doing tricks.  Some of their bikes had very unique setups too (eg. motorcycle mirrors and downhill forks on a commuting bike), which was interesting for us to see too.  They were very excited to meet us, and they even told us that "you are a miracle to us, we just want to touch you", which made us laugh.  After a quick photo session and chit chat with them, Sasha soon invited us to stay with him for a few days.  And so we packed away the quike in a garage somewhere, then hauled all our luggage upstairs to his small apartment (hard work on a hot day!).  There we enjoyed a late dinner of Ruski palmeni whilst we shared bike touring videos with Sasha and his friends.


The next day, it was off to the Bazaar to see which delicious (and cheap!) foods we could find for the next long stage of our journey.  It took us several hours to gradually navigate our way through the large market, tasting everything as we went, and in the end we had two large boxes of supplies to add to our luggage.  That evening, we finally got in contact with the English interpreter that we had met on the road to Zhezkazgan - Balgyn - and she promptly cancelled all her appointments for the day just to come and meet with us.  After a quick round of negotiations, the decision was made that we would move to Balgyn's apartment, where she could answer the many many questions about Kazakh culture every night (in English).  That night we were again treated to horse bisbarmak, the cooking and making of which takes about 4 hours, so as per usual dinner was at 11 pm at night (how do they do it?!).


In the morning we had a quick chai and then it was straight into the day's activities, beginning with a 9 am appointment with the director of the Department of Culture at the Akimat.  The director had a ministerial request written up, stating that we were to be helped in anyway possible in our quest to document the ethnographic and cultural aspects of the region.  She also sent out a press release about us, and arranged a meeting with the director of the museum.  But we didn't really know the agenda and so we just followed whoever/wherever we were told to follow.  Upon arriving at the museum, we were asked to wait downstairs whilst some "errands" were run.  A lady then came downstairs to ask us to come up, where we were ushered into a room. What a shock awaited us!  Upon walking in to this elaborate and large board room, we were greeted with a standing ovation and the flash of cameras... it was the press conference! We hadn't even come properly dressed or prepared as we didn't know it would be happening that day!  However what could we do, as the cameras (from the main TV stations, and newspapers) were already rolling!



And so, before we knew it, it was question/speech time, where we were bombarded with questions by the head of the department of culture, and the founder and president of the museum.  Megan answered the general questions about the trip - why did we choose Central Asia, and what are our impressions of Kazakhstan so far - and then it was Roger's turn where he captived the audience for about an hour, discussing how the fundamental questions of philosophy, politics, and economics could be integrated into questions of cultural diversity.  After this there were a few ceremonial shots for the newspapers and TV crew before the end of the press conference.  And then we enjoyed the rest of the day (many many hours) talking to the research academics in the museum, comparing notes, swapping ideas, learning about places to visit, and just general chit chat.


The discussions about religion and culture continued into the evening with Balgyn and her family, but was interrupted for the TV news, where we watched ourselves on both the Russian and Kazakh local news.  The next day it was time to run a few more errands - picking up some more food and accessories at the bazaar for the next leg of our journey (a 14 day ride in 40 degree heat without any water).  As usual, everything took about 3 times longer than expected, and we were hot and exhausted by the time we returned to Balgyn's house at 5 pm for another round of chai and khleb.  However halfway through the chai, we were interupted by the founder of the museum (Bahktihar), a very famous and well know historian. He wanted to show us (just the two of  us and our interpreter) the burial place of Genghis Khan's son, a grave that was very well hidden, literally in the middle of nowhere, in the middle of the steppe....a few hours from where we were staying... and he wanted to take us right away.


Despite being dog tired (or bike-tyred), this was an unbelievable opportunity that had opened up for us, so we snatched it without hesitation.  On the way out through the steppe (2 hours away) we passed by what we thought to be a shepherd's house.  Bakhtiyar pulled over and introduced us to the man of the house, who turned out to be a famous wolf-whisperer.  He told us lots of stories of his exploits about communicating with wolves, and how no one had believed him until they saw it first hand.  This was quite interesting for us as we still hadn't seen any wolves out on the steppe yet, but had been warned numerous times by many many people.


After saying goodbye, we then continued on to the Jutchi Khan's tomb.  Jutchi Khan was the son of Genghis khan, and was said to be the founder of one of the Kazakh hordes in this oblast. The Ulytau region is considered to be the heart of Kazakhstan, as in this mountain range there was the capital, with many many yurtas.  As we went, Bakhtiyar continued explaining the significance of various points and landmarks in the hills.  At the tomb, Bakhtiyar showed us the correct way to approach such a sacred site, by kneeling a few metres from the entrance and praying. 

Then, while we were at the tomb, another few cars pulled up and a big group of people started approaching the tomb.  Amongst the men, we recognized the Mayor of Satbayev, who we'd met in Terekty, and he recognised us too!  He then introduced us to friends - the Deputy Speaker for Kazakhstan Parliament, and the Mayor of Zhezkezgan.  And so we stayed on a little while longer at the tomb, until it was getting a bit late and we had to head back into town.  On the drive back, Bahktihar explained to us the origins of Turkism, Christianity, Shamanism, and Islam in the region (and the controversies surrounding these topics) which was very interesting and informative for all of us too.


After seeing all this our tummies were starting to rumble, so it was off to one of Bahktihar's friend's house for shaslik before bedtime.  The owner of the house happened to be one of the most well-renowned photographers in Kazakhstan, and he happily showed us through his albums of photographs from his career as a journalistic photographer in the Soviet era. 


The next day the President of Kazahkhmys (big mining firm) museum called us, and personally invited (insisted!) that we attend his museum for a personal tour and interview with him.  When we arrived he was dressed in traditional, green, ceremonial Kazakh garb. The way he spoke, dressed, twirled, and swirled his coat whilst explaining to us the wonders of Kazakhstan's stones gave him the air of a wizard.  After asking him many questions about the history, ecology and geology of Zhezkazgan, he was so excited by us that as a parting gift, he presented Roger with a full traditional Kazakh ceremonial costume, which we were very very very honoured to recieve. Roger could now look like a wizard too!


That night we got some information back about our Uzbek visas, and it confirmed what we had been dreading - time was definitely running out and we were in danger of not making the exit deadline from Uzbekistan at the end of July.  We had some 1500km to ride in only a few weeks through very hot (everyday over 35 degrees C!) and sandy desert country. Trying to weigh up our options we came to two conclusions. One was riding through sand dunes for 2 weeks with no water sources at all, and the other was riding about 3 times the distance (with no water at all either) but on much nicer terrain (but still a VERY rough track). We decided to go with the rough track (and thus were dreading loading up our full 140L capacity the next day) due to more certainty of direction as opposed to riding through open sand dunes with no tracks or markings on the map to point the way.


Thus after late night of route planning it was up early in the morning to fill up our water bladders... all 140 L worth...

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