Day 32: Visa Stamped, Entered Kazakhstan & Car Breaks Down
We had a nice relaxing sleep and woke up just in time to catch breakfast. The window for us to go through all Stan’s was getting narrower day by day and any delay in getting the visa would mean, we might have to cancel our trip and take a flight to India!
Keeping our fingers crossed and with a positive outlook, we got all our stuff packed and were waiting for a call from the Embassy regarding our visa approval and stamping. And the call did come, we were very happy and thankful to the Kazakhstan embassy for approving our visa in record one day. They called us to the embassy with all paperwork. We checked out from the hotel and left to collect the passports and leave on our way to Kazakhstan border.
At the consulate, the Counsel general himself welcomed us and after talking to him we realized he actually was a big Bollywood fan. We talked about Mithun, Raj Kapoor. We told him about our trip, the fact that we were distributing T-Shirts signed by Kapil, they were all excited and happy that it worked out just in time. We clicked photos with them and bid farewell.
In a matter of an hour, from being worried about completing the trip to actually being on our way to Kazakhstan border, we went through a roller-coaster of emotions and were glad it worked out.
Crossing Russia-Kazakhstan Border
We were not too far from the border, we left almost immediately and after getting lost on the way we were at the border in 2 hours. We were greeted by familiar faces and the fact that we got our visa stamped in record time, they felt good for us and we shared some laughs as well. It was a long process at the border thou, and all formalities we got back into the car trying to play down with our excitement, the moment we were out we could not help but scream with excitement and in the process jumped the red light right outside the border control premises. Kazakhstan Police Office cam out from their office building on the side of the road after the traffic signal and waved us to stop.
Me and Aarti looked at each other as if someone had poured water on excitement. Keeping fingers crossed, i took my document folder with me and followed the officer into their building. It is now we realized that communication is not going to be as easy hereafter (even though English is not a widely spoken language in Russia as well, but cops had access to technology and with the help of translator tools they were keeping their pockets warm), and it kind of played to our advantage as after spending close to 10 minutes in making me understand that we did a traffic violation and we need to pay fine, the offices gave up and asked me to leave 😀
Thanking God for the visa and getting away with the violation, we setup the GPS and started moving. The road was in a very bad state, reminded me of roads in rural Jammu (my native). I was hoping the things will get better since it was a highway and i could see trucks and other cars on the road quite frequently, but on the contrary now i have to drive zig-zag or on the side to avoid large potholes. I don’t know if it is applicable to most of you but sometimes when you are in a peculiar situation and suddenly you realize that you have a solution for that, while you do not spell it out for others in the room but you have that grin on your face! It was that moment for me and parked our car, extended my hand towards the switch to raise the air-suspension of our RR and looked at Aarti for her reaction.
Suspension Broke Down
I heard the air-pump comes to life, the front of the car rising and in an instant the whole front just dropped down. I tried again a number of times, again the sweet sound of the air-pump but nothing. I was still avoiding Aarti’s questions hoping soon the RR will rise and we will be on our way but nothing like that happened. Now i had to explain to Aarti, while everything was working fine, i decided to experiment and now we are in a bad situation! “No Front Suspension” was not the only problem right now, if you guys recall i had winch upfront and that too quite low and the fact now it was touching the road!
After accepting what just happened myself and explaining to Aarti that everything will be fine, my initial troubleshooting idea was to checkout the air-pump. Air-pump in a RR is mostly the main issue in any suspension related issue and to my smartness i was already carrying an air-pump repair kit. We were on the main road, so we started moving slowly with the winch scrapping against the road, trying to find an open place where i could park the car and check out the pump. In another 10 minutes we found an open area on the side with some small houses, i pulled the RR over and started removing the luggage from the back in order to get access to the air-pump. I was quiet confident that it was an air-pump issue and after i repair it we will be good to go. Opening up the pump was not going to be straight forward, to get some guidance i took out the printed document that came with the kit and while going through it i realized none of the issues that can arise because of a broken pump fit the situation we were in! So, after pondering for a while, i put the stuff back in while strong winds were blowing carrying quite some amount of sand with it. Now, the idea was to remove the winch from up front and put it on top of the roof until we are in a area where we can find a mechanic. I could have tried dismantling the winch but after the suspension came down and after all the scraping the screws were unscrew-able, so the task was out of my hands. We asked some villagers looking at us with a surprised look on where to find the mechanic and what we could understand was there was one 10-20 minutes away.
Luckily it did not take us much time to find one, explained them the situation and they started working on it happily. It was a father-son duo and they were excited to see a SUV and strange faces. One point i want to highlight is that if you are from Hindustan and you tell that to anyone in any of the Stan’s (Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan), you get so much love and warmth from them. It is a great feeling and one of the moments you wish India was not called India but by her old name “Hindustan”.
While they started cutting the winch off, we asked how much will they charge us. Dollar is a very popular currency in Russia and the adjoining areas, and we were planning to give them 1-2 dollars and leave them with smiling faces but to our surprise they asked for $5000.00! While we were shocked, we knew there was some non-trivial calculation involved which went wrong somewhere. Finally we had the winch move to the top and we parted with $5 and were on our way. While there was nothing scrapping against the road, but the whole front suspension was dead with 3+ Ton of weight.
Original plan was to drive through Kazakhstan non-stop (not stopping for tourist activities as we had to get out of Uzbekistan before the visa expires), as if driving through the worn out roads was not going to be difficult enough, now we had no suspension as well!
Sticking to the plan we started driving towards the Uzbekistan border via Atyrau. We have been driving for miles and miles and road was not getting better even a bit, there were no lights nothing. I was driving literally on the extreme right side of the road as it was all sand and stones instead of potholes filled tarmac. In addition i had to maintain a minimum speed of 80 miles/hour in order to make it on time. And full marks to RR, even without the front suspension and rear suspension stuck in off road mode, it appeared as if the suspension has just gone hard and not missing.
After driving for more than 6 straight hours, came the first major city i.e. Atyrau. We were confused if we would stay overnight here or carry on as there was still a lot to be covered and driving with no suspension on Kazakhstan roads did get us tired little bit. While we were looking for a hotel in sight, we could not find any on the mail road. Also we had to get diesel, so stopped by a gas station but to our surprise they refused to accept dollars. Luckily Rustam was at the gas station as well and offered to help us, he accepted dollars for the local currency and answered all our questions which we would had google if internet was available 😉
We filled the gas, bought some snacks, cup noodles, clicked photos with Rustam and were back on the road. Road was now better and smooth, we managed to drive for another 3 hours and checked into a really bare-bones hotel in Kulsary. Even thou the room was not too comfortable, our bodies were tired enough to not complain and sleep 🙂