Before crossing the small wooden bridge that gives access to the fortress ruins, no one would say that Sauran was once the largest city in the Kazakhstan. Described as "a great city surrounded by seven walls with a mosque located in the heart of the city", Sauran was also one of the few cities in the region that "survived the Mongol attack."
All together, between the thirteenth and sixteenth centuries, Sauran played a major role in Silk Road, an important trade route between the West and the East. But, little by little, the inhabitants were leaving in search of better conditions of life, making Sauran to languish, as places like Turkistan were gaining importance.
Today, Sauran is only memories and sun and ruins. A rectangle of almost nothing surrounded by what little remains of the defensive walls, with some walls of half-recovered buildings. Still, I had to go see with my own eyes.
When Dylia, one of the receptionists at Hotel Edem, in Turkistan, told me the price of a taxi to visit the old town of Sauran, I inquired if there would be no tourists in the hotel with whom I could share the trip - and the cost. "But there are no tourists here," he replied promptly. "Tomorrow comes an American, we can ask him." It was given the nickname for the visit to Sauran - a region totally off the mass tourism routes (just like all Kazakhstan, incidentally), visited by some intrepid travelers with plenty of time available.
My visit to Sauran
As might be expected, I went to visit Sauran alone. In other words, in the company of a taxi driver with whom he did not have a single word in common. We traveled part of the road from Turkistan to Qyzylorda under unbearable heat on the way to Sauran.
It was deserted.
I found the extensive ruins covered with vegetation. The sandy soil hides a sophisticated system of subterranean channels similar to the qanats Iranians who played a key role in Sauran's prosperity. I believe; but with the naked eye, without the company of an expert guide, it was very difficult for me to interpret what that heap of "stones" meant. Still, I went looking and seeing and playing.
And so he was, quietly exploring, alone, when a large Kazakh family parked their cars and burst into the fortress of Sauran. They were three different generations, plus a baby goat carried in the lap, all very curious with my presence and very smiling after hearing the answer repeated a thousand times during the passage through Kazakhstan: "Portugal"!
I was intrigued by the presence of the little goat in the lap of the pet, as a pet, but the language barrier did not allow for great conversations. By this time, Sauran's silence had disappeared, but fortunately for me it was time to leave the ruins behind. I said goodbye, patted the goat one last time, and returned to Turkistan.
Coming from Almaty, in southern Kazakhstan, the best way to get to Turkistan is by train. The journey is long - between 13 and 20 hours - but it does relatively well. I bought the train ticket at a local branch in Almaty (to avoid having to go to the train station).
From Turkistan, and in the near absence of public transport (there are sporadic buses that connect Turkistan - Qyzylorda, but would have to return to the hitchhiking), the best chance is to arrange a taxi to take you to Sauran, wait for you to visit the ruins and return to Turkistan. I paid 10.000 Tenge for the service, but I believe I could get cheaper by negotiating directly with the taxi drivers.
Where to stay
I stayed in the Hotel Edem and although it is not the cheapest hotel in Turkistan, I think it was a great choice. Even because I paid 8.000 Tenge (less than 20 €) for a single room with bathroom and breakfast included. Be prepared to listen to music and lots of excitement, since Edem is the meeting point of Turkistan night (ends before midnight).
An undoubtedly better (and more expensive) alternative is Hotel Khanaka, where I also pondered staying. Both have fantastic locations, very close to the Khoja Ahmed Yasawi Mausoleum. Note that there are not many hotels in the city of Turkistan where you can book on-line. Search through link below.
A World Nomads offers one of the best and most complete travel insurance recommended by National Geographic and Lonely Planet. Other excellent and cheaper option is IATI Seguros, which has no age limit and allows multivariate insurance (including long-term travel) to any destination in the world. It's the insurance I use in my travels.