Thursday, July 17, 2014

DAY 29 – 14 July 2014; Bishkek to Almaty

It was the day to leave Kyrgyzstan and get to Kazakhstan. I was originally scheduled to get to Kazakhstan via Shymkent. The route changed via Almaty and Astana in the past few days with benefactors and well wishers suggesting changes. I was keen to get as much of advice as possible about the ground conditions before setting out. Raveendran had also chipped in with his. In the morning before the others had woken up we launched on an excellent discussion about souls and their indestructibility. The discussion gave me a better understanding of why human beings refer to themselves as brothers. Souls emanate from the same source and hence, the appropriate address as brothers. The common descent and the eternal cycle of birth and rebirth bind souls into a network of conscious and unconscious brethren. The Universality of Man and Brotherhood of Mankind was established.

Mrs. Raveendran made dosas and pooris for breakfast. Besides these I feasted on the fantastically juicy melon. After the heavy breakfast we went down to the car for Raveendran and his wife to do the honours ‘converting’ the red sticker to green on the route shown on the car, signifying that we have visited Kyrgyzstan along our route to London. Four countries in the 27 have been done. We were off to the fifth.

The previous evening Danile Sivas, the guide who was to get us across the Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan borders, had told me that he would be on time for an 8 am start from Raveendran’s flat. He was a few minutes early and he got into our car and asked his to follow. Initially we were to have used the Korgay border. But Danile changed the entry border to Karaza. I was a bit worried about the change, but Danile comforted me saying that he had spoken to Ali’s contact who was to meet us at the Kazakhstan border. It was less than 40 kms to the border. The exit from Kyrgyzstan was smooth and so was the entry into Kazakhstan. I expected detailed documentation and check of baggage. We had to fill out a form to be stamped and retained for the exit from Kazakhstan. I was surprised that they were not bothered about what we had in the car.

When we were waved across the barrier to enter Kazakhstan Geniya was waiting for us. Immediately he handed over a mobile phone with Ali’s number and asked me to speak to him. Ali told me that Geniya knew only Russian, but would be an excellent pilot to get us to Almaty. He proved so. If it had not been for him we would have ended up paying huge penalties to the Police; they were everywhere, behind tress, around the corner and even targeting radar lying in bushes! Ali was constantly on the phone asking if we were comfortable and if we wanted anything en route. I was moved by his commitment to help. Danile had helped me secure a car insurance at the border on entry into Kazakhstan which cost me 400 Som. The 200 plus kms to Almaty was extremely slow despite the decent roads due to the omnipresence of police and surveillance cameras; the tough policing was there to be seen. I saw them chasing after cars and even dramatically informing forward posts to nab the offenders.

We arrived the Royal Tulip Hotel at 1.30 pm, where Ali had arranged accommodation for us. The hotel accommodation was superb but we did not have much time to relax there. I had two immediate tasks on hand – get the car serviced as it had done 10,000 kms since setting out from Cochin and finalise the route. Ali’s staff met us in the hotel and ensured smooth check in formalities in the hotel. The Ford service centre said that they would be able to take the vehicle in for servicing only the next day, which was not compatible with our schedule. Ali told Geniya to get the oils, etc checked in a private garage. The garage did a good job, completely drained the old oil and filled up the new that I was carrying. The brake fluid and pads did not require top up or change. Once I got back to the hotel Ali came there to finalise the route plans with Geniya. Ali wanted the route to be okay by the latter and also wanted him to pilot us to Russia. In a couple of hours the route via Astana, Kostanay, Ufa, Vladimir and Moscow was cast. Geniya also promised to pilot us with his friend all the way to Moscow in his car! He also spoke to another friend of his to accompany us from Moscow to St Petersburg. Ali had his own strategy to get Geniya to agree to what he wanted!

Alex Alexander (Alex is a CIS veteran having worked with Ranbaxy) had organised a get together in one of the local restaurants. We were joined by Elvis Roberts (Of Cruz Shipping), Sanju, Georgie, Nibi & wife, Rizwan, Sudhakaran and Antony. Elvis, Sanju and Antony have married local women and Riswan is dating one. Many Indians who come to study or start their career in Kazakhstan end up marrying locals and resettling from India. They prefer the life style there and do visit India at least once a year. Sanju, Alex and Riswan ordered traditional items for dinner. There was lamb, beef and horse meat, in kebabs, pilaf and soup. I had had a long day and was keen to get back to the hotel sooner than the rest. Ali agreed to drop me back and on the way back he gave me a short synopsis of his life (sounded as if he possessed an Aladdin’s Lamp) and work. More than his diversified businesses I was impressed by his philanthropy. He cares for orphans in various parts of the world. The self confessed ‘Black Sheep’ of the family has done extremely well in life. He makes it a point to utilise 20% of his gross receipts for philanthropy. I am extremely beholden to Suresh, in Cochin, for enabling me to meet this noble soul during the journey.

Ali asked us to repack our bags in such a way that we could leave some behind for him to send to Cochin with his employees. That was a boon. Accordingly, even though it was late by the time I got back to the room I repacked my bags and filled up one big one to be left behind in Almaty. I had also arranged with Ali to jettison the oxygen cylinders in Almaty, as also the extra fuel cans. This would substantially reduce the luggage in the car. We have a long day ahead of us tomorrow as we have to get to Astana – over 16 hours on the road for over 1200 kms.

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