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Silk Route Project Craig and Simon are currently travelling from India to Istanbul with the fantastic support of World Nomads. On behalf of Footprints, World Nomad's charity, they will be visiting of a number of projects along the route to deliver supplies of essential medicines to impoverished children.

Lada … King of the Track

KYRGYZSTAN | Monday, 28 August 2006 | Views [2259] | Comments [3]

It’s not often that you get a Lada driver in Kyrgyzstan without vodka on their breath but that’s all part of the charm. Apart from a smattering of Mercedes and BMW’s (I have suspicions they are stolen from Germany) everyone drives these sturdy Russian vehicles. Whether its cruising the suburbs, tearing along a pot-holed highway or ploughing along a goat track in the mountains these cars are everywhere and the people love them.

The big question I have is WHY?

They are terribly unreliable and will overheat whilst climbing a pimple of hill. It’s arguable whether acceleration is possible except when going down hill. Their interior is a minimalism that Lenin would be proud of and their cantankerous performance is purely Stalin-esque. A jaunty, boxy lump of iron, they come in a variety of colours: off-white, off-green, off-orange and very brown. While most are at least 20 years old there are some newer models in circulation but the Lada design team has stuck to the traditional body shape and made few other changes. The engines definitely sound louder but I have a sneaking suspicion that they have the same strength.

We had a memorable Lada experience traveling to Lake Son Kul in Eastern Kyrgyzstan. We managed to secure a ride with two farmers in their aging vehicle for the 60km ride from highway. This mammoth distance was covered in an epic three hours as we nursed the car over bad roads and moderate hills. Its radiator wasn’t much bigger than a cushion and had a leak so we had to pull over regularly to refill it. Sometimes we drove only ten minutes before we had to stop again.

Upon summiting the last hill the driver pulled over, removed a bottle of vodka from the glove box and called for a celebration. My Australian sensitivities about sharing straight spirits with a driver were roughly squashed and I am sure that if we had refused to drink then we’d have been kicked out of the car. After much yelling and singing they finally got us to the lake and called for another bottle of vodka. After even more yelling and singing our hosts hugged us, promised to be friends for ever and drove away into the dust. It was a very emotional experience.

Which brings me back to my original question of why the Lada. Yes, the engines are woefully underpowered but if they were any stronger everyone would speed too much and crash. Yes, the seats are hard and uncomfortable but there needs to be room for boxes, jerry cans, grandmothers and chickens, not comfy padding. Yes, the steering is outrageously loose but how else could the driver perform the necessary tasks of smoking, drinking, spitting, gesticulating and shouting at cows. Yes, the suspension is rock hard and you feel every jolt but if it was any softer the car would bounce like a basketball on the ripped roads. Yes, there are overheating problems because of the tiny radiators but at least there is less to freeze in winter - I have heard stories of people warming their engines in winter by building a small fire under the motor. Really when it comes down to it, for a struggling post-Soviet nation like Kyrgyzstan, the Lada is culturally appropriate.

Tags: lada, planes trains & automobiles



Keep up the good work.
Will look forward to seeing ya in d'bul.
You can relax after such a harrowing journey.
I am afraid that the cars here seem remarkablely similar.
Take it easy
Stay safe

  Al - usishus Aug 28, 2006 9:08 PM


Ode to the Lada (in the style of Pull My Daisy)

Pull My Lada,
fill my cup
all the doors are open
Cut my vodka
with coconut
all the drivers have spoken.

  Christabella Aug 29, 2006 2:39 PM


Gotta love the Lada's.
I've been driving mine all over Australia for 17 years
Still going strong

  stowaway May 8, 2007 4:28 PM

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