August 2018

Research trip to Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan

Participants: Verena La Mela, Zarina Urmanbetova and Agnieszka Joniak-Lüthi

The research trip to Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan in August marked the official beginning of the ROADWORK project. The aim of this three-week road-trip was to get in touch with potential research partners and to visit the field-sites in southeast Kazakhstan and southern Kyrgyzstan where Zarina and Verena will conduct their research in the coming years. In Kazakhstan, it was amazing (and extremely instructive) to drive around with Verena in our blue Lada Niva (thanks to Peter Finke for a kind loan of the car!) to visit some of the new infrastructure projects and also to explore what lies behind the glamorous façade of the new investment. Verena was a fantastic driver – driving through a sandstorm at dusk was a major feat! During our stay in Almaty we were very happy to have had the opportunity to meet researchers from the KIMEP University and to discuss the possibility of future collaboration.

A cut fence, a make-shift ramp and a wooden market stand. After the construction of the expressway, the farmer had the fence cut and the ramp made in order to maintain his access to the road to continue selling his watermelons to the travellers.
New gas pipes proudly on display along the streets of Zharkent, a settlement thirty kilometres away from the Chinese border.
Animals and cars. Encounters on the Almaty-Taldyqorghan Expressway.

During the second part of the research trip, in Kyrgyzstan, Zarina and Agnieszka decided to first travel eastwards on the expressway linking Bishkek with the Issyk-kul Lake, and from there move on southward in the direction of the town of Naryn. The aim was to check out possible field sites to study high-attitude roads like the one connecting Naryn and Kashgar in China via the Torugart Pass. In Naryn we were joined by the lovely Nadine Plachta (University of Heidelberg) and Galen Murton (LMU Munich and James Madison University, Harrisonburg) with whom we then continued our trip on Kyrgyzstan’s pre-Chinese roads first to Kazarman, then to Jalal-Abad and finally to Osh. We are very grateful to our bold Kyrgyz taxi drivers and their second-hand Audis, Toyotas and Suzukis for delivering us safely to our destination. During the trip, the meeting with road maintenance workers, the possibility to observe the work of drying sunflower seeds on the hot asphalt, and the encounters with animals which reclaim their right to use their pathways-turned-into-tarmac-roads gave us plenty of food for thought. Please take a look at the pictures!

The networks of taxi-drivers take us further every day. We have just been swapped between taxi-drivers at the Toguz-Toro Pass.
“This mountain slope on the right-hand side keeps moving. Look, it has already broken the road, one year after construction” [Taxi driver on the Naryn-Torugart road].
Road maintenance station on the way to the Torugart Pass. The new border road was built by Chinese companies a couple of years ago but the maintenance buildings date back to Soviet times.
Non-normative uses of roads: a family dries their harvest of sunflower seeds on the conveniently smooth and hot asphalt.

While Chinese companies work on the ‘alternative road’, the east-west traffic between Naryn and Jalal-Abad district today relies on this high-attitude road which is buried under meters of snow for many months a year. Here we are slowly approaching the final pass before a long descent to Jalal-Abad.

Reported by: AJL