An Uzbek Train from Russia to Kazakhstan

When we boarded our train from Russia to Kazakhstan in Yekaterinburg, we had the first time on this journey the feeling, that we were already far from home. It turned out that the train was not headed only to Nur-Sultan in Kazakhstan, that was going to be our stop, but all the way to Tashkent in Uzbekistan. Therefore, the train was not Russian, as we had hoped for, and not even Kazakh, but from Uzbekistan. 

The first shock

As we entered the train, we realized that this was a serious downgrade from the comfortable train rides we had in Russia. At first it was a small shock. The train was much more aged. It was hot and the smell was not what we would describe fresh, maybe more something like dirty laundry and horse sausage. The other passengers in our carriage were mostly older men. They had huge bags and even some wide screen TV’s with them – seems like the Uzbek men travel to Russia to do some shopping. Even our beds and the shelves above them were full of someone else’s bags, so that we couldn’t fit ours anywhere. Also, there was one man sitting at our place. As we tried to tell him he was on a wrong seat, he didn’t show any interest in moving. But after some time he luckily did so we could take our place.

Soviet time control centre
Soviet time control centre

Needless to say, there weren’t any electrical plugs. And the toilets… The first time we entered, the floor was floating, and the walls were covered in splashes too. So much that Johanna had to throw away the slippers she had gotten from the Russian train, as they got soaking wet. Everything you put to the toilet goes straight to the rails. There was no toilet paper, but we figured that the coke bottle cut in half, hanging on the wall, was meant for taking water from the tap to wash your ass.

Getting comfortable

One of the best parts about travelling is that you adapt to things that are new or “strange” to you, that you broaden your comfort zone and, above all, get rid of your prejudices. This is what happened to us after a while. As we got over our little shock of being the passengers of an Uzbek train instead of a Russian one, and made ourselves comfortable there, we realized it was all good.

The old men next to us were friendly, as were the train staff too. The men tried to talk to us but once again, because of us not knowing their language, it was hard. One of them gave us some sweet treats to eat and showed us from a map where he was from. The others helped us stupid tourists with sign language when we wondered how things worked or where to stuff our bags.

It turned out that the bags on our bed were filled with sheets. That meant that we all got nice, fresh sheets for our beds, as well as mattresses and pillows.

The 3rd class of an Uzbek train and the comfy beds
The 3rd class of an Uzbek train and the comfy beds

The wet matter in the toilet might have been mostly water, not pee like we assumed. It seemed that the personnel were cleaning the train often and later the floors of the toilet were not that wet anymore. Even a roll of toilet paper appeared some kilometers before the border to Kazakhstan.

There was also a samovar which is the savior of every train ride. Until now we had washed our cups in the sink of the toilet but then one of the men working in the train showed us that we can do it by the samovar too. He showed us how it’s done the best, he gave us soap and a sponge and even basically washed the other cup himself.

Delicious mushroom soup and dried up bread
Delicious mushroom soup and dried up bread

Basically, on this train one wouldn’t even need to cook, since every once in a while someone is passing by with huge, steaming pots, selling food. We didn’t buy any, though, since we were 99,7% sure it all contained meat. There were also sellers for drinks (water, beer…) and even for battery packs.

Seller on the train showing his booze and phone accessories
Seller on the train showing his booze and phone accessories

We wouldn’t have believed it at first but in the end we thought that the train ride was quite comfortable, and the 22 hours passed fast.

Border control in the middle of the night

The lights got turned off early, around 10pm, assumably so that everyone could catch some sleep before arriving to the border. The hazzle started some time before sunrise and lasted over two hours. 

The officers on the Russian side of the border were strict and very precise. They went through the wagon with and without a dog several times. One officer walked directly to us. “Get up”, “sit down”, “why were you in Russia?” We didn’t have to unpack our bags, unlike many fellow passengers, but we have probably never before had such detailed passport control on any border. They inspected every single page with different kind of lights. Finally, we got our exit stamps and the train started to move again. It felt like a win already when the border control on the Russian side was over. It was surprising that they did it so thorough, considering that we were all leaving their country.

As we arrived at Kazakhstan’s side of the border it was light already. The Kazakhs seemed relatively relaxed. Again, a cute dog came in and sniffed around a little bit. Then they controlled some bags. In one bag they found a toy gun, tried it out and put it back. They also wanted Seri to open his bag but as he opened it, the guy smiled and told it’s fine. The only question we had to answer was the purpose of our visit. After we had posed for some pictures, we got our passports and immigration cards stamped. It took almost three hours until we all could go back to sleep and enjoy the rest of the train ride. We slept long and followed our daily train routines with preparing food and writing. Also, we realized the landscape changed quite much. From birch and needle tree forests to grassy steppe.

But finally, here we are in Kazakhstan!

Arriving in Nur-Sultan
Arriving in Nur-Sultan

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2 thoughts on “An Uzbek Train from Russia to Kazakhstan”

  1. Meidän passit syynättiin todella tarkasti kun mentiin bussilla Ulan Udesta (Venäjä) Ulanbaatoriin (Mongolia). Viisi kilometriä ennen rajaa bussiin tuli joku rajavartija: venäläisten ja mongolien passit kansi riitti, mutta kun näki Suomen passin niin otti ne ja lähti 10 minuutiksi tarkistamaan niitä toisaalla. Samoin itse rajalla taas syynättiin todella tarkkaa ja kun oltiin poistumassa bussiin tulivat jotkut “opiskelijat” haastattelemaan — ja viimeistään silloin kun alettiin kyselemään sotilasarvoja ja palvelupaikkaa sekä työpaikkaa tajusin että taitaa olla FSB miehet asialla. Mongolian puolella kaikki meni joutuisasti.

    1. Ookei, ilmeisesti siis raja-asemasta riippumatta Venäjältä lähtemiseen kannattaa varata vähän enemmän aikaa 😀 mekin ollaan itseasiassa kerran ylitetty raja Ulan Udesta Ulan Batoriin, mutta auton kyydissä. Auton kuski kuljetteli passeja eestaas ja hoiti suurimman osan rajamuodollisuuksista, joten en itseasiassa tiedä, kuinka tarkkaa meidän passit silloin tutkittiin.

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Johanna & Seri

We are Johanna and Seri and this is our travel diary. At the moment we are on our way overland from Finland to India and beyond. Read more about us here.

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