CYCLING KAZAKHSTAN – steppes on the pedals

I really don't know what camels do when you get close to them.

‘Richard, we’ve found some guys in Atyrau who’d like to take you cycling after you finish your teaching day. They say bring your own helmet and pedals.’

That could mean that people in Kazakhstan pick up rusty bike frames by the roadside and cobble together a rideable machine by adding bits and pieces.

Or these guys could be rather serious cyclists. Both possibilities are dangerous.

It turns out to be the latter. Kiet and Mark have organised a rather good and well-used mountain-bike for me, and my fellow riders are decked out in what look at first to be Astana team uniforms, but on closer inspection read ‘Atyrau Cycling Team’.

The team - ageing Australian representative centre.

‘We start out on a busy road,’ says Mark, ‘Watch out for the cars, because they sure as hell won’t look out for you.’

Beware of the white van man. Renaissance Hotel on the left, with Atyrau's main mosque behind it.

After a few tense kilometres of major road, we turn left into the steppes, crisscrossed by dusty tracks between illegal rubbish dumps. The country is dead flat, and a few metres below sea level.

The Atyrau Cycling Team is kind enough to wait for me to catch up, pretending they needed a drink stop too.

Taking a breather on the steppes.

There are few sights…until we spot the herd of camels. They look wild, but I’m told they all belong to somebody. Once branded they’re set out to graze on what little grass there is on the common land.

The camel whisperer.

We’re aiming for a 30 kilometre loop, so it’s time to head for home, past a cluster of low buildings.

It turns out to be a muslim cemetery...

Then it’s back into town. Thanks for the ride, people! Not the most beautiful ever, perhaps, but one of the most interesting for sure.

Here’s the route we took. To see it in detail with our speeds and elevation and too much information, click here.

Lenin would have been proud of me - more about him on further Kazakhstan posts!


Filed under Cycle touring

10 responses to “CYCLING KAZAKHSTAN – steppes on the pedals

  1. I think our bridge may just be a little prettier than this scenery, but yours certainly must have been interesting.

  2. Jan

    What an interesting life you are leading, Richard. I don’t know how far camels can spit, but from your description of the ride I would be hoarsely whispering – please, carry my bike! The picture of Lenin is impressive – but what a complex man he was.

    • Thanks, Jan.

      The interesting thing about this Lenin depiction is not so much the statue itself but where it stands. It’s been moved from the square in front of the city hall to a dusty laneway behind an apartment block.

  3. It might not have been a pretty ride, but definitely not something you do everyday. How wonderful. Do your grand kids appreciate your travel stories?

    • I’m really pleased to have done it, CHF. Our grandchildren at an age where they are are interested in any location where we can buy them a plastic iguanadon. Otherwise, forget it.

  4. Jan Trounce

    I see! A ‘don’t call us, we’ll call you’ location.

    • Jan, I was asked, ‘Is this your first time in Atyrau?’

      I was tempted to answer, ‘Does anyone come back a second time?’

      This would have been unnecessarily cruel. It may not be one of the world’s more obvious beauty spots, but I met some great people and had a great time. It is certainly developing very fast – and improving, say the locals.

  5. Karen Bray


    Our daughter Echo just finished 2 years of the Peace Corps in Kazakstan and she was thrilled to discover that her early children’s book writer was pedaling out on the Steppes! Did you sleep in a Yurt??


    • Nothing quite so exotic, Karen. Just a nice generic hotel in Atyrau. But the experience was fascinating, as I’m sure it was for Echo. I hope she saw more of the country than I did in a brief trip. (PS. Spoke to Chip a few days a ago. He seemed very well.)

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