On the way from there to the bus stop i fell into conversation, in English, with a Muslim cleric from Bangladesh who was interested in the ‘inter-faith’ dialogue angle of Astana; we also discussed its unique character as a ‘millennial’ capital. At nightfall i opted to head back to the cathedral and spend the night in a better place, behind bushes tucked under a ground floor balcony, though i did come under attack from mosquitoes, and a young chap discovered me at 5 in the morning, without making any fuss. I went to 7am Mass again, at which the Polish priest was saying in his homily that Jesus uses His friends in the world to save it. From there i walked quite a long way, in the direction of a rather Russian-looking high-rise edifice, knowing that the Chinese embassy is opposite. A statue of Mustapha Kemal Pasha, ‘Ataturk’, caught my eye on the way. Arriving at the consulate entrance however, i was soon disabused of any notion that a Chinese visa would be easy to come by; one needs an invitation from inside China. Final confirmation that China was closed to me came afterwards, from first one then another travel agent; it’s necessary to have a residence permit before applying for a Chinese visa. So after a coffee i checked the internet for information about, apparently, the last remaining alternative – Mongolia. From what i could see, the Mongolian embassy was not in Astana, but in Kazakhstan’s ‘former, warmer and cultural capital’, Almaty, about 1000kms south east. In my experience that meant a physical journey thence, by an affordable overnight coach, since no trains were available.
|Practically the Himalayas, Almaty|