BEAM ME DOWN, SCOTTY

This week's random coordinates picked by the computer are:; Latitude: 47 58' N Longitude: 59 57' E
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The Independent Travel
Country and region

Kazakhstan, approximately 200km north of the Aral Sea.

Nearest human settlements

This is a very thinly populated area, though a village named Kort-Tas lies about 55km west. The small town of Shalkar, 60km south, is on the main Moscow to Tashkent railway and has a minor airport.

Time

GMT plus 4 hours

Nature of terrain

The general area is an barren mix of steppe-like grassland and desert, though small pockets of parched wheat-growing land are nearby.

Altitude

250m

Possible hazards

Dust storms of sand, salt, poisonous chemicals and radioactive waste sweep up from the man-made deserts around the Aral Sea to the south.

Useful languages

Kazakh, Russian. At a pinch, German, Uzbek or Tartar.

Take me to your leader

President Nursultan Nazarbaev

Likely weather conditions

Very hot and dry, with maximum summer temperatures reaching between 30C and 40C. The average annual rainfall in this area is less than 8mm.

What to play

Try to join in with the wild horsemen of the steppes and get a game of kokpar, a version of polo in which the pitch is three miles long and the 'ball' is the headless body of a dead goat.

Reason for staying in the area

To see the ghostly abandoned fishing ports on the dried-up Aral Sea, site of the world's worst ecological disaster. Rusted old hulks of ships lie 70 or 80km miles from the nearest drop of water.

Getting the hell out of there

If you walk in a general east/south-east direction over the barren steppe you will reach the main railway in about 15 hours. Follow the line in a south-easterly direction towards Shalkar. From here you can be in Moscow by train in 40 hours, or in Tashkent in 24.

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