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17 | Samarkand to Nukus to Beyneu

30 April - 2 May (Mon - Tue)


Late night train from Samarkand to Nukus, restless sleep, while the sun revealed a stark Uzbekistan desert. Engaging conversation with some of the locals on a train that arrived in Nukus around noon. The Savitsky Art Museum is worth a look but best to avoid Nukus, as it has no soul. Back on the train early the next morning with a Nukus-Beyneu ticket although confusion emerged about this train's final destination. Google translate supported communication with helpful train officials. Patience and a sense of humour are useful qualities when traveling in a foreign country.

Train to Nukus

My train to Nukus began in Tashkent and was pretty much full when it arrived in Samarkand. I was escorted to my assigned lower-bunk and set about making my bed with sheets that might have been previously used and re-folded. It was an old Russian train in a car with 50+ sleeping passengers arranged in sets of six - four on the left window, an aisle and two on the right window. Lower right side is definitely the preferred sleeper and that is what my helpful Samarkand ticket agent booked.

Occasionally I would see a flurry of sparks fly past my window - especially when the train accelerated. What was the train burning for power? I would have thought oil, but I don't think that oil would generate such sparks.

Uneasy sleep. The train was pretty bouncy and there were people moving around - plus a couple of snorers. I worried I might later join in their song...

The sun finally revealed a stark desert and eventually the four passengers across the aisle engaged me in delightful conversation (a story I told in "My EurAsia" found in the Introduction on the Homepage). All four were travelling home to Nukus, while I was a curiosity in their world. These four had just enough English to produce meaningful understanding. We parted at the Nukus train station - never to meet again. 

Urban Planning by the Communist Party

Nukus, I was told, was built by the Russians and it must be true. If any part of the city evolved organically it could not be found. Wide streets, large buildings - no old town here. It appears planned by a Communist Committee a hundred years ago. If you were from Nukus, with any aspirations, you would want to leave and if you are only visiting you will want to leave. Nukus seemed to have no soul.

The Nukus Jipek Joli Inn - named after the street it is on - came highly recommended in the guidebook. This Inn is very nice as was the Cinnamon Cafe - wonderful chicken fettuccini for lunch.


The Nukus highlight is the Savitsky Museum, named after its founder, which has historic significant. Savitsky hid art that had been banned by the Communist Party in this little Uzbekistan backwater. Some highly significant work if you enjoy early 20th century art that does not toe the Communist Party line.

Late Night Plan to Skip Beyneu

Not a lot to do in Nukus and since I had not slept well on the train the night before, I thought I would go to bed early but then I began thinking...

Shamsiya, (the Almaty Backpacker manager who grew-up Aktau) had previously contacted the Azerbaijan Caspian Shipping Company on my behalf about their Shipping schedule. Shamsiya had learned that there was a Ship departing Aktau for Azerbaijan on Friday, 3 May. Information I had gained off the Internet suggested that there were only two Cargo Ships a month - but that information was old. 

Once I arrive in Beyneu I have 24-hours to wait for a train to Aktau, while the Beyneu-Aktau train is an 18-hour journey. That puts me into Aktau on Saturday 4 May around noon. But, Google said that Beyneu-Aktau can be driven by car in 6-hours. By train, I will likely miss the Friday Cargo Ship, but I might make that Ship if I arrive by car. 

Perhaps I can find a taxi to take me from Beyneu to Aktau and then I might have a chance at catching that Friday Cargo Ship.

I turned the bed lamp back on and emailed Shamsiya and she wrote back immediately. We must have exchange 5 or 6 late evening emails, working out the feasibility and cost for this new venture.

Shamsiya said that there are share-taxis departing from Beyneu train station for Aktau for about US$15. Even if I took a taxi on my own it would not cost more than US$50.

So, now I am going to try to make that Friday Cargo Ship for Alat (70km south of Baku Azerbaijan). I went onto and cancelled the Victoria Seaside Hotel in Aktau and then went to sleep.

I think time is on my side if I can secure a taxi, as loading a boat on time is an uncertain business with many delays. 

Early Morning Train to Beyneu

My train from Nukus to Beyneu departed on time at 4.12am. Car 21 was almost completely empty and my second-class sleeper (no first-class on this train either), is in a compartment with six beds (three on either side) It was unoccupied when I arrived but eventually another passenger and her child joined me. She was a slender young woman with a beautiful child that was not more than 6-months old. The two quickly drifted off to sleep in the lower-bunk opposite me. Others will arrive, as it is a 14-hour journey across what I expect will be unliveable desert.


I was to too excited to fall asleep, as I was thinking about the late night emails that Shamsiya and I had exchanged. Securing a taxi for a 6-hour ride in Outback Uzbekistan appeared to be a real challenge - I would prefer to take a train - but I wanted to catch that Friday Cargo Ship across the Caspian Sea. Shamsiya assured me that the next Cargo Ship was on Friday with no details available when another Ship would sail. We will see...

Yes, we will see...

Each train car had a car manager and the manager of car 21 befriended me. So, I ask about his home and he said Aktau. So, the obvious question: Where does the Nukus-Beyneu train end: He replied - Aktau...

All this by Google translate.

A Nukus-Aktau Train Exists!

If you are following all this - now it gets complicated. How do I extend my Nukus-Beyneu ticket so I can remain on a train that is travelling to my final destination?

Not possible, I was told. 


But eventually, I learn that I should take my bags off at Beyneu, go buy a Beyneu-Aktau ticket at the ticket office, and then get back on the train. The car manager recommends that I ask for car 21 and helped me write a message on my smartphone - in Russian - for the ticket office. He believes in my EurAsia quest.

The train will arrive in Aktau at 8.00am Friday, while the Cargo Ship office opens at 9.00am.  Pretty close to perfect timing with a planned Friday departure although in my heart I hope the Ship is delayed by a day or two, as I would like to check out Shamsiya's hometown.

But how did all this transpire? First, lack of a common language is an important factor, but something more sinister is at work here. Why could I not buy a Nukus-Aktau ticket in Samarkand? Why did they sell me a Nukus-Beyneu ticket when the ticket agent clearly understood that I wanted to travel on to Aktau?

My Samarkand ticket agent was very helpful but she said she could not sell me an onward journey in a foreign country (Samarkand and Nukus are in Uzbekistan and Beyneu is in Kazakhstan). She could only sell me a ticket into that country and not beyond. Her computer system told her that the next train from Beyneu to Aktau would depart 24 hours later on Friday. That must be the train that departs from Nukus on Friday morning at 4.12am.

Why a national railway does not include the entire train schedule for a train originating in their own country is a curiosity - these countries do not share information when it is in their interest to do so...

Equally curious is the fact that the very helpful English-speaking hotel clerk at the Nukus Jipek Joli Inn could not assist me in making an international call to secure a hotel reservation in Beyneu Kazakhstan. International calls are very difficult to make between Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan - he said. How odd…

The Stan countries desperately need a regional association - they probably have one but it is dysfunctional.

The Timor Dynasty organised all these people into a single nation 500 years ago but it dissolved. I wonder if these people were distrustful of one another before the Russians arrived.

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