DES­TI­NA­TIONS - RUS­SIA

NZ Ad­ven­ture 4x4 tour spe­cial­ist Rally Tours NZ has just com­pleted another epic Silk Road trip. Greg Paul ticks off the high­lights.

NZ4WD - - CONTENTS - Story and photos from Rally Tours Di­rec­tor Greg Paul.

On July 15 this year Rally Tours NZ ar­rived in Vladi­vos­tok, Rus­sia’s far eastern seaport. The three-ve­hi­cle con­voy made up of the two Rally Tours Land Cruis­ers (AWH161, a 2002 100 se­ries and UH9692 a 1996 80 se­ries), and Derek and Mar­garet Jones in their 2002 Nissan Sa­fari SWB, had been on the road for 75 days and cov­ered 19,000km pass­ing through 12 dif­fer­ent coun­tries ex­pe­ri­enc­ing a va­ri­ety of con­di­tions. Here at Rally Tours NZ Ltd we like to de­scribe our Silk Road 4x4 ex­pe­di­tion as the ul­ti­mate over­land jour­ney and as par­tic­i­pants in the 2015 edi­tion found out ev­ery day was an ad­ven­ture. Our jour­ney started at the Lon­don Heathrow Novo­tel on the Tues­day May 5 and crossed into Europe by overnight ferry to a port near Am­s­ter­dam. Our transit through Europe then took us to Ber­lin in Ger­many, War­saw in Poland, Kau­nas in Lithua­nia and Rezekne in Latvia be­fore cross­ing into Rus­sia. Our first of three vis­its to Rus­sian Fed­er­a­tion ter­ri­tory took us into a cold and wet Moscow for three nights be­fore fol­low­ing a new and ex­cit­ing route to the south eastern cities of his­tor­i­cal Vol­gograd and the bor­der town of As­trakhan.

Cen­tral Asia

Af­ter a smooth bor­der cross­ing from Rus­sia into Kaza­khstan, our first ‘Cen­tral Asian’ coun­try to be vis­ited lived up to its rep­u­ta­tion of hav­ing some of the worst and rough­est roads in the world. For the next few days as we trav­elled to­ward Uzbek­istan and most of the jour­ney would be at be­low sea level as we skirted the wealthy Caspian sea re­gion. Uzbek­istan hosts the his­toric cities of Khiva, Bukhara and the hub of all of the var­i­ous Silk Road routes, Sa­markand. All of these places are fas­ci­nat­ing and just bub­bling with history. The an­cient build­ings are mostly nicely re­stored so that it is not dif­fi­cult to imag­ine what it was like 10 cen­turies ago. One of the driv­ing high­lights of the Silk Road trip is a di­ver­sion to take on the Pamir High­way. This is one of the last great roads in the world and rates as my num­ber one drive on the planet. The four- day, 1200km drive starts from Dushanbe in Ta­jik­istan and passes over moun­tain passes up to 4655 me­tres, fords ma­jor rivers, and runs along­side Afghanistan for a whole day, just sep­a­rated by the rag­ing Panj River.

Amaz­ing roads

The roads are amaz­ing and the scenery just spec­tac­u­lar. A ca­pa­ble 4x4 is es­sen­tial to deal with any even­tu­al­ity that may oc­cur. Ven­tur­ing fur­ther into Kyr­gyzs­tan on this trip was a new ad­di­tion to our itin­er­ary in 2015. This year we vis­ited the cities of Osh and the cap­i­tal Bishkek. The sur­prise was the stun­ning alpine scenery at high al­ti­tudes, the spec­tac­u­lar snow-cov­ered moun­tain peaks and the amaz­ing moun­tain roads. The cap­i­tal Bishkek is a very civilised and vi­brant city that we look for­ward to re­turn­ing to in 2017 on the next Silk Road trip. Just across the bor­der and back in Kaza­khstan for the sec­ond time is the city of Al­maty. Again another sur­prise and won­der­ful place vis­ited be­fore head­ing out into the vast­ness of the Kazakh wilder­ness to­ward neigh­bour­ing Rus­sia. De­spite no longer be­ing the mother of the ‘Stan’ coun­tries, Rus­sia’s in­flu­ence in the gov­er­nance and well-be­ing of the

ex-USSR con­glom­er­ate is still in ev­i­dence. And the price of fuel in Kaza­khstan at less than 0.50 cents US per litre, makes road travel in­ex­pen­sive.

Back in the USSR!

Due to an in­ter­est­ing ge­o­graph­i­cal bound­ary line it’s not pos­si­ble to travel from Kaza­khstan into Mon­go­lia with­out pass­ing through the Rus­sian Al­tay re­gion, not that this is a hard­ship.

The Al­tay re­gion is of­ten re­ferred to as the Switzer­land of Rus­sia with moun­tains, val­leys and fast flow­ing rivers and is the win­ter and sum­mer play­ground for wealthy Rus­sians from cen­tral Siberia.

Our di­rec­tion to­ward Mon­go­lia’s western bor­der took us via the city of Bar­naul, the re­sort town of Che­mal and lastly the vil­lage of Chibit be­fore ar­riv­ing at the Tashanta bor­der cross­ing with Mon­go­lia.

Af­ter cross­ing out of Rus­sia there is a 30km drive though ‘no man’s land’ to en­ter Mon­go­lia and the start of a new 15-day ad­ven­ture in the vast coun­try­side of a coun­try I love to play in.

Ul­ti­mate 4x4 driv­ing

Mon­go­lia is noth­ing like most peo­ple imag­ine. The roads are in­de­scrib­able, be­cause gen­er­ally there aren’t any and it has to be the ul­ti­mate 4x4 driv­ing ex­pe­ri­ence on the dirt with lots of river cross­ings.

The lo­cal peo­ple are friendly and lots of peo­ple ex­pe­ri­ences are guar­an­teed as we visit lo­cal vil­lages, shop from lo­cal shops and sleep in the tra­di­tional ac­com­mo­da­tion called ‘Gurs.’

The vast­ness of the rolling Mon­go­lian coun­try­side and the sim­plic­ity of this sparsely pop­u­lated land makes for a mem­o­rable ex­pe­ri­ence that most clients just want to re­peat as soon as they can. It’s al­ways a sad oc­ca­sion to leave the bor­der of Mon­go­lia but we still had another 3500km to travel in the far east of Rus­sia to fin­ish in Vladi­vos­tok.

Ulan Ude is our first stop back in Rus­sia for the third time. It’s es­sen­tial that we visit Lake Baikal, the largest lake by vol­ume of wa­ter in the world and in the win­ter frozen over for seven months!

Back on track and head­ing east on roads that don’t even ap­pear on most mod­ern maps we passed through Chita, Sko­rovodino, Blagoveshchensk, and Khaborovsk be­fore ar­riv­ing in Vladi­vos­tok

on the Rus­sian Pa­cific seaboard.

The last part of the jour­ney was just as ex­cit­ing as the first part and we all agreed that the 75 days has just flown by with more than 3000 photos taken, 2000 litres of (cheap) fuel con­sumed and 13 borders crossed in 19,000km.

You can imag­ine the huge sense of per­sonal achieve­ment amongst our group as we cel­e­brated at the farewell din­ner in Vladi­vos­tok on Fri­day July 17.

More please!

Rally Tours NZ Ltd plans to re­run the Silk Road Tour in 2017 from Lon­don to Vladi­vos­tok for clients with their own ve­hi­cles, or in a hire Rally Tours’ 4x4 Land Cruiser. Also new for 2017 will be the chance to buy a seat-in-a-ve­hi­cle ticket and travel in a spe­cially-built 4x4 lux­ury mini-van

with driver and tour leader.

Rally Tours will also of­fer mod­u­lar tours on the trip with op­tions for a seat-in-ve­hi­cle trip from Bukhara (Uzbek­istan) to Bishkek (Kaza­khstan) via the Pamir High­way.

A sec­ond mod­u­lar tour tak­ing in Mon­go­lia, Siberia and the Baikal re­gion will also be of­fered in 2017.

And if you can’t wait un­til then?

Rally Tours NZ Ltd will also op­er­ate two tours con­sec­u­tively in May/June/July next year from Shang­hai to Lon­don for both mod­ern and clas­sic cars, and from Vladi­vos­tok to Lon­don for 4x4s and mo­tor­cy­cles.

To find out more check out our web­site at www.ral­ly­tours.co.nz or call Deb Hol­lier on +64-27-258-6614

Group of 3 x cars leav­ing Novo­tel Heathrow.

Spec­tac­u­lar and vast Mon­go­lia

Dis­cov­er­ing an old Rus­sian cathe­dral near Vol­gograd

Greg Paul and Silk Road map in Khiva, Uzbek­istan

Rally Tours Land Cruiser fords one of many rivers in Mon­go­lia

A spec­tac­u­lar moun­tain near Bishkek, Kyr­gyzs­tan

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