We reached the Kazakhstan border only by evening and by the time all the border crossing formalities had been completed, it was pretty late. Since we hadn’t eaten lunch, we were pretty famished and luckily, there we found a near by restaurant willing to serve us at that late hour. While our food situation had been sorted, we still didn’t have a place to spend the night. The nearest city was miles away and everything in the vicinity was already booked solid. The universe must’ve heard our prayers because while trying to explain how to prepare french fries to the cook, my mum ended up making a friend. When the elderly lady’s daughter in law (an english teacher) came to pick her up from work and came to know of our predicament, she was quick to open the doors to her home for us to spend the night. It was hospitality at it’s finest and to Rose, we shall remain forever grateful.

Kazakhstan (at, least the parts we drove through) was nothing more than endless flat land, sometimes covered in grass and other times in sand. We navigated roads built on what used to be the Aral Sea a long time ago. At times we’d get lucky and see team of horses running wild across the highway, maybe even a couple of camels. Visually, pretty unappealing; but what the nation lacked in natural beauty, it makes up for in terms of its people. Throughout our drive we were cheered on by passers-by. A thumbs up. A short cheer.  A quick selfie. I oscillated between feeling like a celebrity and a monkey in a zoo. Another interesting fact- the people in Kazakhstan love the Hindi TV series Balika Vadhu. On multiple occasions, people have pointed at me and exclaimed, “Anandi!” I’ve added it to the list of “Aishwarya’s” and “Katrina’s” thrown my way. Cheap thrills? Absolutely!

Aktobe was our last stop before crossing into Russia. We reached early enough to be able to walk around and soak in the city. After all the continuous driving, being able to lazily stroll around was a treat. The beautiful mosques, churches and numerous fountains in lush green gardens made for a welcome change from the tiny towns we had grown accustomed to. A mall, a pizza and a dozen pictures later, we were back at the hotel.. I took multiple deep breaths, inhaling the intoxicating scent of the city before I let the familiar buzz of traffic lull me to sleep.