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.