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Soviet Bus Stops in Central Asia

Monday, 18 September 2017

I was a fan for Soviet Bus Stops – a wonderful photographic book by Christopher Herwig – years before I crossed the border from China into Kazakhstan and entered the Soviet bus stop heartland. You can read a CNN article about the Canadian photographer’s crazy mission or watch this YouTube video about his photographs.

Simon Calder, my co-driver as we crossed the central Asia, ex-Soviet ‘stans, and I are both Soviet bus stop fans so we made frequent quick stops to snatch photographs of fine examples of the genre. The story is that in the Soviet era the design of big buildings was all tightly controlled by central planning which tried to run everything, Socialist Realism aimed for the grand, the majestic, the over-decorated. Somehow bus stops escaped the net. On these small projects architects were allowed to let their imaginations run wild. And they certainly did.

▲ On Day 57 along the Silk Road, between the Charyn Canyon and Kegan in Kazakhstan we spotted this fine example with an extraordinarily morose Virgin Mary portrait.

▲ Later the same day we’d crossed the border into Kyrgyzstan and noted this one.

▲ And then another, before we’d even reached the town of Karakol, our first stop in the country.

▲ Still in Kyrgyzstan this one between Karakol and Lake Issyk Kul featured snow-capped mountains as a backdrop, but like so many of the stops we saw it was slightly crumbling, totally deserted and plonked down seemingly in the middle of nowhere.

▲ Day 63, just before we crossed the border into Uzbekistan this one popped up beside the road between Arslanbob and Khanabad.

▲ It’s Day 69, we’re in Uzbekistan and near Samarkand here’s a fine example of a purely architectural Soviet bus stop.

▲ And then later the same day, out in the desert in the middle of nowhere near Nurata, a lonely and somewhat utilitarian bus stop although at least there was somebody waiting for a bus.

▲ Day 74 in Ashgabat in Turkmenistan and this one isn’t a Soviet bus stop at all. The capital city is noted for its enormous number of grandiose white marble buildings and flash design even extends to the bus stops, many of them include small shops integrated into the bus stop.

▲ Unfortunately Simon couldn’t come with me into Turkmenistan – absolutely the wackiest country on the whole trip – they wouldn’t give him a visa. I did manage to ride a bus while I was in the city, there’s a white marble sporting stadium visible out the bus window as we pass by.

Soviet Bus Stops in Central Asia

18 September 2017 | Culture

I was a fan for Soviet Bus Stops – a wonderful photographic book by Christopher Herwig – years before I crossed the border from China into Kazakhstan and entered the Soviet bus stop heartland. You can read a CNN article about the Canadian photographer’s crazy mission ...

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Nancy Hatch Dupree & Afghanistan

15 September 2017 | Culture

The amazing Nancy Hatch Dupree died, aged 89, on September 10. There were fine obituaries for her in The Economist and The New York Times and many other places. I never met her, but I certainly knew her most famous book very well indeed: An Historical Guide to Afghani...

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Recent Exhibits – London & Melbourne, Pink Floyd to Hokusai

13 September 2017 | Culture

I’ve been hitting the galleries and museums in London and then in Melbourne the last few weeks. First of all at the Victoria & Albert Museum in Knightsbridge, London there was Pink Floyd: Their Mortal Remains. I was never a huge Pink Floyd fan and the only time...

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Signs in China

12 September 2017 | Culture

I’ve posted on the weird and wonderful signs you encounter in China on previous trips and I certainly saw plenty on my recent Silk Road journey. ▲ Sometimes the signs were potentially very useful, but never seemed to appear at the right time. On more than one occas...

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Ebao or E Bao or Ebuzhen, Qinghai Province in China

11 September 2017 | Places

It’s always interesting when your travels take you somewhere which doesn’t turn up on an internet search. In English at least, there’s probably lots to be said about Ebao (or E Bao or Ebuzhen) in Chinese. We stopped for lunch in Ebao on Day 47 of my recent Silk Roa...

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Pakistan-Bangladesh, Russia-Australia – observing, watching

8 September 2017 | Living

Yogi Berra, that famous source of folk wisdom (I think he played baseball as well), noted that ‘You can observe a lot by just watching.’ You certainly can, I felt that over and over again on my Silk Road trip from Bangkok to London earlier this year. None of the Centr...

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Epic Drives of the World

8 September 2017 | Media

I played a small part in Lonely Planet’s new Epic Drives of the World book, each chapter features a longer report on one ‘epic drive’ and three smaller features on related drives. ▲ The shattered tyre is a reminder of what can happen if you don’t take care of them ...

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VPNs, Website Blocks & ‘Climbing the Wall’

10 August 2017 | Media

Oh you’re ‘climbing the wall’ – fan qiang – the Chinese journalist commented. I was indeed, I was using a VPN – Virtual Private Network – to ‘climb over the Great Firewall of China.’ China is the most notorious of the countries in the world which spend a great deal...

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Electric Bromptons, Brompton Racing, noted Brompton Riders

8 August 2017 | Transport

I’m another enthusiast for those classic British folding bikes, the Brompton. I’ve clearly had mine for a long time, here’s a comparison between my Brompton and two other bikes in my small collection, from nine years ago. The other day I went for a ride on a new Br...

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500 Bicycles Rides in France

6 August 2017 | Media

And it’s in French! Lonely Planet France has just published a guide to 500 great bicycle rides in France. Rides suitable for people from 7 to 77 they claim, whether you want rides with friends or family, by yourself or with your lover – well it is French bicycle ridin...

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