In Soviet times, when it was all one country, the main road continued in a straight line from Chelyabinsk to Omsk and most maps still show this – the Trans-Siberian Highway clips Kazakhstan. But we couldn’t go through Kazakhstan – we didn’t have suitable visas – and we couldn’t get much information about the alternative route. Times are, indeed, changing in this part of the world, however. Finally, after 18 years of there being an international border, the Russians were building a brand new road in order to avoid it.
On paper it looks like a 300km detour – sizeable by our normal standards – but truck drivers in the towns before advised us that, if we didn’t use it, we’d spend hours at the two border crossings and the unrefined Kazakh roads would slow us down to a crawl – so this part of the route actually becomes a short cut.