Tashkent and Almaty (and Tyres).

The group is currently parked on the outskirts of Almaty, Kazakhstan in a "military" compound at the base of the city's ski jump (43.214182°N 76.932245°E). This rather strange, but secure location, was found for us by the Kazakstan Agency that secured our visas - Asia Tourism of 160 Zheltoksan St., Almaty. Phone: +7 3276 673-564. Our contact here has been the very helpful, and English speaking Alexander Kochenko who can be contacted out of hours or in emergency on his cell phone on +73007245871.

An expedition campervan body under construction.Originally we were only going to spend one day in Almaty but the need to register with the OVIR (Police), and the fact that their offices are not open on Saturday and Sunday made us decide to stay till Tuesday morning. (A leaflet issued by Asia Tourism claims that Kazakstan recently was one of the winners of a Lonely Planet contest to determine the country with the most difficult visa regime.) OVIR registration takes at least a full day and costs, via an agency, about $25.00USA.

Our neighbor at the compound (the head of the Kazakstan Mountain Rescue Service and the person in charge of the men working here) is currently building an interesting expedition campervan based on a 6x6 Zil truck.

Our trip back thru Uzbekistan from Bukhara via Samarkand to Tashkent was uneventful other than being told by the police on the outskirts of Tashkent that we could not enter the city. Clive corrected their misunderstanding, and after a phone call to the "chief" we were eventually allowed to drive into Tashkent. We had hoped to stay that the "run down" Hotel Rossiya, alas it was no longer run down and like all the posh hotels in town was hosting delegates for a meeting (the presidents of China, Russia and several Stans John helps Stephen change a wheel on Mog.were in town). They did not want the likes of us cluttering up their car park. We eventually ended up in the car park adjoining an hotel? (the An-Xocnnot?) at 41.265593°N 69.232335°E. Here we were charged $1.00USA per van per night with no water or electricity. Several of us visited the Taj Restaurant in the centre of town, highly recommended.

Most of our time in Tashkent was occupied with tyres.

In addition to Imp's problems with under specified tyres, Mog had also suffered a slow loss of tyre pressure, due, not to a puncture, but to an air leak thru a crack in the metal rim of one wheel. This problem was "fixed" in Tashkent by fitting a spare inner tube to the "tubeless" tyre. Not a good long term solution, but an acceptable one for a (now) spare wheel.

Peter collect his eight new tyres from the wharehouse.Imp's tyre problems proved more time consuming and expensive to solve. With the help of an enterprising taxi driver we located a tyre wholesaler in Tashkent who had eight new 6.5x16 cross ply tubed tyres of a 1010kg load rating for sale for $48.00USA each. These were eventually fitted to all six of Imp's wheels and two spares. A process that took most of the day. Unfortunately several of the inner tubes were damaged during fitting and Imp suffered a "puncture" on the 2km drive back to our "hotel". However with this fixed Imp now has a full set of new identical tyres of a suitable load rating (well at least twice as good as before).

Between Tashkent and Almaty Imp suffered yet another puncture and discovered that his rear right-hand wheel nuts were loose. Luckily although the studs and spacers were worn they were re-usable.

The border between Uzbekistan and Kazakstan was relatively straightforward. On the Kazakstan side we were all digitally photographed and each van was searched for drugs by a very friendly dog.

Most of us had saved sufficient Uzbekistan Som to fill up with fuel, fortunately there were no diesel fuel station on the Uzbekistan side of the border. We were however able to change our Uzbekistan Som into Kazakstan Tenge and then buy fuel in Kazakstan at a significantly lower price.

Compared with Uzbekistan, Kazakstan seems more relaxed with far less police checks. However on our second night in Kazakstan, whilst camped by the roadside we were visited by a passing group of soldiers who took exception to Mog's Chinese number plate, probably only as en excuse to try, unsuccessfully, to extract a few dollars. The number plate was removed (and kept by Mog) and the soldiers eventually left.

K-Nine was hoping to collect the parts necessary to repair his rear lights that had been sent out from the UK by DHL. The good news was that DHL confirmed that the parts were here in Almaty, the bad news was that it would take two weeks to get them out of customs! So they will be returned to the UK by DHL free of charge.

Almaty appears to be a relaxed city with excellent western style supermarkets. The wooden cathedral and the nearby Musical Instrument Museum are both worth a visit (the curator will follow you around and play samples of each composer's work on a two stringed Kazakhstan instrument if you are lucky).

En E-Mail from Mongolia.

We have been trying to establish (via the Lonely Planet web site Thorn Tree) the current state of the roads in Mongolia on our intended route from the west to Ulaan Baatar. So far with little success. However today we received an e-mail from other members of the Silkroute Club:

Subject: Ulaanbaatar

Nous suivons avec interet votre voyage Siberie 2004.

Nous faisons partie du club CC sur les routes de la soie. et faisons le meme trajet en sens inverse. Nous sommes en Mongolie depuis 2 jours. Nous partons vers l ouest et esperons avoir le plaisir de vous rencontrer sur les belles routes de Mongolie.

Friendly yours Christiane Francoise Jacques Paul.

We have naturally replied with lots of questions about where, when and how we might meet. We await an answer.

Stephen Stewart.

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