Kyzylorda Travel Guide

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KYZYLORDA is a city in Southwestern Kazakhstan, only 400 kilometers far from the infamous Aral Sea. The name of the city, according to the local people, is translated as Red Center .

The city is located in a vast semidesert that might remind you of some places in Utah or Nevada. In spring, the lands near Kyzylorda are covered with a beautiful carpet of flowers, among which wild tulips are the most beautiful. The landscape is quite flat, which is very representative of Southern Kazakhstan. One of the most constant features of Kyzylorda is the wind. As one of my acquaintances said, it only blows twice a year: six months in winter and six months in summer. It blows salt from the Aral Sea to the city, and as you take a ride to the north, you can easily see salty crust on the sand.

The first thing that attracts your attention when you go to the city from the airport is the Syr-Darya, or the Syra, the river from the Kazakh folk tales. It is amazing that a river can flow so far through the sands without drying. At some point in history, it supplied fresh water to the people who lived on its banks.

However, at present nobody uses its water anymore. As it runs from the south, on its way there are fields that need a lot of water and from which various toxins such as pesticides pour into it. Presently, people have to drill wells to have fresh water supply.

The region is rich in oil. To the north of the city there are numerous oil fields operated by Russian, Canadian and Chinese oil companies. This gives hope that some day this place might become one of the richest in Kazakhstan, although given the pervasive corruption in all levels of government and local business this is uncertain. Oil profits tend to flow to Almaty and Kyzylorda has seen much less than it should.

A major recent development is the introduction of natural gas. For decades the gas that comes out of the reservoirs along with oil in all the central Kazkh fields has been burned off. This is because there historically was no local market and no infrastructure to transport it to China or Europe. A gas pipeline has been built into the city and local infrastructure project was started in 2005 to distribute natural gas to local homes and apartments. Natural gas will replace mazut (heavy fuel oil) as a means of heating, thus helping to clean up the air.

It usually does not get extremely cold in the city, if not to take wind-chill factor into account. However, only two hundred kilometers north temperatures can drop down to -30 degrees Celsius (-22 Fahrenheit) in winter. In Kyzylorda, the last few winters (except for 2004-2005) have indeed been mild, comparable to winters in the U.K. The 2004-2005 winter, however, saw several weeks in January when temperature dropped to -20c (-8F), with wind-chill of about -30c.

The winter of 2005/ 2006 has been the coldest for 15 years (say the locals) with nightime temperatures dropping to minus 33 deg C. With windchill the teperature has plummetted to minus 50.

Summers are hot and dry, reminiscent of southern Arizona or southern New Mexico. The peak summer temperature in 2005 was 50c in July (130F).

Kyzylorda can be a fun place. One has to get over the shabby Stalin-era prefab apartment buildings, adorned with ubiquitous satellite dishes, clotheslines and pieces of sheetmetal hanging from the balconies. Kyzylorda has many good pubs and clubs (Traktir, Kyz-Zhybek, Prival, Baron) and a great disco (The Paluba). The best sashlik can be had at the Baron. There is also the Britannica, a somewhat overpriced western-style restaurant with a central bar and pool tables. Most of the local pubs have Shymkentskoye beer on tap, a very good smooth-drinking brew made fresh in the Shymkent brewery 5 hours away. Prices are about a dollar for 1/2 liter glass. Other beers one can find are Derbes and Tien-Shan from Almaty and Baltica and Stary Myelnik from Russia. All are quite good, and the western expats living in town have overwhelmingly preferred them to the overpriced and generic-tasting $5-Heinekens and weak $7-margaritas at the Britannica. For a great night out, go to the Paluba after 10 pm and enjoy a heavy dose of techno dance music and great looking women.

Kyzylorda has public busses and abundant taxis. Just about any car can be stopped and asked for a ride. Negotiate the price before getting in as there are no meters and one can potentially get into an unpleasant confrontation with the driver at the end of the ride. A typical ride half-way across town should not cost more than 300 Tenge ($2).

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