Fascinating ‘Stans

Watched a fascinating travel documentary on BBC Four (late) last night, about “The ‘Stans“. It was the first of two 1 hour programmes about the former Soviet Republics of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, X and Y – X and Y being the ones covered in the second programme, which only started at 11:30 or thereabouts…. too late for me (yes, I surprise myself by saying that). I was banking on the second programme being repeated ….. not looking too likely.

Highlights of Kazakhstan included:

– the female guide, talking about her home town, created by sending opponents / victims / the educated there during the 1950s, including her parents. People from all over the USSR.
– ships in the desert: rusting hulks of fishing trawlers and ferries left high and dry (and dessicated) when the USSR re-routed two of the major arterial rivers which feed the Aral Sea. Once the third (?) largest inland sea in the world its now 50% of its former size, and the harbour village visited by the team is now 50miles from water ….
– ships of the desert: really hairy camels, with two humps! on the freezing steppes…..
– the amazing 2am impromptu performance by the Kazakhstan Beatles – a word perfect performance in an out of the way town which the filmakers only visited because their car got its umpteenth and final puncture (no more spare types). The group even dressed and looked like their heros…. and their dream was to visit, even perform, in Liverpool…. and guess what, just before the final title rolled, we got to see their dream coming true. Genuinely moving.

Highlights of Kyrgyzstan
– the open uranium mines: no security, no restricted access, no reason why a terrorist couldn’t go and dig up some highly (1000x background levels) radioactive rocks…. and nothing to stop local people being exposed to that radiation on a permanent basis.
– (Illegal) Islamic fundamentailist flyers: In Russian. and the paranoia about getting caught with them.
– the US air base: support troops for the combined forces in Afghanistan. Where you can buy Harry Potter “Russian Dolls” (you know, the ones made out of wood, with smaller ones inside the next size up), and Lenin embossed hip flasks.
– the guide: chinese-looking, 22 year old, reminsicing about visiting Moscow, the centre of his nation (his universe) aged 10.