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Uralsk (Oral)/Kazakhstan

Introducing Uralsk (Oral)

Closer to Vienna than Almaty and straddling the dividing line between Asia and Europe, Uralsk (Kazakh: Oral) is the first or last city for some Central Asian overlanders. It’s also a base for many expat oilmen hauling themselves out to the pumping stations at Karachaganak, 150km east of the city.

Uralsk, founded by Cossacks in the 17th century, has its roots in Russia, as is clear from the beautiful, brightly painted, traditional Russian architecture throughout the centre. Lenin saw to it that Uralsk was included in the Kazakh SSR in order to make Russian migrants feel happier.

Teatralnaya, the main pedestrian street, is Uralsk’s mini version of Moscow’s Arbat. Kazakhstan’s first drama theatre, a handsome brick affair, has stood here for 150 years. The main boulevard, Dostyk, has some of the finest architecture in town, including two Russian Orthodox churches, brilliantly lit at night.

A famous Russian serf rebellion was launched in 1773 at what’s now the Pugachev Museum (50 65 86; Dostyk 35; closed Mon & Tue). Yemelyan Pugachev led a group of Cossacks and hundreds of thousands of serfs in a rebellion against the autocratic Catherine the Great that spread to the Ural Mountains and along the Volga. The museum is in Pugachev’s original log house in Uralsk’s oldest district, Kuriny, with plenty of replica and original furniture and artefacts – best reached by taxi.