Ruin porn, who can resist it? Our imagination gets sucked in by the crumbling walls of the train station, housing estate or factory, finding the memories of older lives carelessly abandoned on the floor. Is it saudade that draws us in, a desire to wallow in someone else’s sadness, or, like gossip, do we use it to learn from the mistakes of others? The rise and fall of empires, the folly of humanity, the ultimate demise of all that is, splayed out in front of us in an orgy of dust, cement and reinforced steel peeping through the cracks. Whatever the reasons, it will make for a great Instagram feed.
If I know anything about the Central Asia traveler, I know this much: she loves a good ruin. Visiting ruins is a great way to learn about the recent history of the region, the Soviet program of industrialisation and collectivisation, the Lenin cult, Modernist architecture, etc. This map should get you on your way.
Smiling nomads in yurts and horses galloping on the jailoo? Perhaps. But in equal measure: abandoned mines, factories, collective farms and Lenins, and a couple of radioactive waste sites spreading like spilt milk.
- Ak-Tuz: Ore-dressing and processing enterprise. Now 4,7 millions cubic metres of radioactive waste is buried here.
- Inylchek: Top ghost town. Population from 15 000 down to 15. Impossible location. Permit needed.
- Min-Kush: Very depressing former uranium and coal mining town
- Jergalan: former coal mining town
- Mailuu-Suu: Uranium wastes buried in former mining town
- Balykchy: Former industrial port
See this photo reportage for a little taste of the possibilities.
Ruins of collective farms can be seen all throughout the country, and unused factories can be found in pretty much every town and city, big or small. For ghost towns, the north of Kazakhstan is a treasure trove. We have listed some of the most famous objects like Alga, Balkhash-9, missile defense complex Argun and Baikonur Site 110 on the map. Visiting military facilities is of course highly illegal, and buildings in disrepair are prone to collapse. Visit at your own risk.
This forum (ru) has details of Kazakh urbex trips, but we are still looking for a dedicated chronicler of this hidden wealth.
For the Aral Sea: On the Kazakh side, there are still a few remains of ships in the desert at the Ship Graveyard, but most have been taken out. Visiting the Uzbek side is more cost-effective and perhaps more interesting/atmospheric/depressing.
The ruined village of Kurchatov and the surrounding radioactive area called the Polygon are the site of the atomic bomb tests of the Soviet Union. Can only be visited with a permit. Contact these people.
- Aral Sea: A few puddles remain on the Uzbek side, otherwise it’s desert everywhere.
- Angren: former coal mining town, now largely abandoned
All tips welcome with regards to Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, as well as more on Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. We have barely scratched the surface.