Our Current Position via GPS & www.globalmarinenet.com technology
** Much more detail regarding the cultures and the natural environment of the region can be found in the CENTRAL ASIA pages within this website. But for a short(ish) summary, read on...
The route of the Steppe by Steppe journey is necessarily not too rigid a plan. Of course logistical concerns such as visas and border crossings have to come into it, but we'll try to just wing it, accepting and exploring opportunities as they arise.
Our journey will begin when we depart from Astana on May 2, 2009. We decided to hang around Astana for the Kazakhstan National Unity day, which celebrates the diversity of cultures in Kazakhstan, and the tolerance, co-operation and respect between them.
Our first stage will be cross-country through the Kazakh steppe to the Ulytau mountains. The population density out there is comparable to outback Australia. Since it'll be early summer, temperatures will get quite warm, so we'll have to be quite mindful of water points. Our sources tell us that going across the steppe will be better suited to the Quike than the "roads" out there.
Next we head to the Syr-Darya region along the river of the same name. The fertile ground there boosts the population, and this is where Kazakh and Uzbek cultures meet. Turkestan through to Samarkand has a rich history of conquerors and explorers passing through, with Genghis Khan, Alexander the Great, Tamerlane and Marco Polo all having close ties to this region. This region is the religious centre of Central Asia.
Next we go through to the Ferghana valley, which is the melting point between Uzbek, Tajik, and Kyrgyz cultures, where the population density reaches 250-550 people per square kilometre. Here, the land boundaries between Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan are still under negotiation, and currently separate families from their next-door neighbours. Annual rainfall in the valley is high, but we'll be visiting in the height of summer, so we'll be expecting hot, muggy days. And this will be an amazing place to be during Ramadan.
After that, the Tian Shen mountains should provide us with welcome relief as we climb into Kyrgyzstan. More than half of Kyrgyzstan is at an elevation of greater than 2,500 metres. This will be tough on our legs, but as long as we do our ascents slowly, our lungs should adapt to the thin air quite comfortably. And believe us, we'll be ascending slowly.
Our planned city stop in Kyrgyzstan is Bishkek, where we have to switch to winter-specialist gear, send our summer stuff home, and maybe we'll have to arrange China visas (if we can't manage it back in Australia).
We expect to be crossing into China at the end of October, via the Irkeshtam pass. We had planned to use the Torugart pass but our sources say that the former is very straightforward (politically) for bikes, whereas the latter is a big hassle. Since we're twice the bike, that may mean twice the hassle.
We expect to be on the southern Silk Road for the Corban festival, which will be celebrated in late November by the Muslim people of China. Then we head north through the barren dunes of the Taklimakan desert to Korla. We are aiming for December for this desert crossing, as even though it will be -40 deg C, at least there are only about two sandstorms per month then.
Our plan from there is to bypass Urumqi and cut through to northern Xinjiang where the Junggar basin meets the Altai range. Providing all the paperwork is in order, we'll then cross into Hovd aimag, Mongolia via the town of Bulgan. We're aiming to celebrate the White Month festival (Tsagaan Sar, mid-February) with local families somewhere in Western Mongolia. Then we'll drop in at the Golden Eagle festival in Olgii in late February before crossing into Russia.
Our route in Russia will depend on our ability to obtain the necessary permits for access to certain areas. Ideally, we'll take the route from Kosh-Agach to Chadan then onto Kyzyl in Tuva. Then we head back down into Mongolia, pay a visit to Lake Khovsgol and the Tsataan reindeer herders, and then end up back in the steppes of Central Mongolia.