Bumpety-bump – Ivan takes his foot off the accelerator and uses the retarder. The road surface is rough. Then there’s a drop that feels like one and a half kerbs in height from the beaten track down onto a temporary gravel road. What a good thing that Ivan and Nikolai are wearing seat belts, because although they are driving at walking pace, in the cab it still feels like being in a tumble dryer. “Well, we make fast progress but some of the roads here are in a bad state, so we often lose time,” says Ivan, avoiding the deepest potholes as best he can.
Driving on the temporary road.
Long-distance traffic travelling at 20 to 30 km/h for the next few kilometres somewhere in no-man’s land between Almaty and the Kazakh-Chinese border, the end of the long journey. “But all in all it works fine, particularly because of the fine weather. We’ve experienced completely different things,” says Nikolai. Five days ago, they set off in Europe from Koroszczyn in Poland. Right next to the border with Belarus there is the logistics centre belonging to WEA Transport from Lage in east Westphalia, and that is where the orders for Russia and central Asia are picked and packed.
Through desert and steppe.
“We deal with the customs formalities on our own premises. That saves several hours at the border. But otherwise you never really know what’s to come,” says Ivan, who, like Nikolai, lives just over the border in Brest, Belarus. The journey goes via Minsk and Moscow towards the Volga. From Samara there is the choice of either the eastern route via Astana, the Kazakh capital, and Karaganda to Almaty – or, as on this journey, the southern route towards the Aral Sea and Tashkent, then along the edge of the mountain range to Almaty, and finally on to Khorgas, the gateway to China. The journey: at least 5,500 kilometres.
The New Silk Road is being built.
Kazakhstan means endless plains, steppes and desert. “When we leave the desert and reach the steppe heading for Almaty, generally the first camels come into sight. It’s amazing to think that once almost all the long-distance transport between Asia and Europe, Arabia and Africa was done on their backs,” says Ivan. Part of the journey actually goes along the old Silk Road, which for a long time was the fastest trade route to Europe, with its network of roads and paths.
The Chinese government is now picking up this idea again. Work has been going on on the “New Silk Road” for years in order to create efficient, much faster overland transport in addition to marine routes.
More pictures and a video about Ivan and Nikolaus adventure are available on RoadStars.