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Friday 18 Aug 2017 | 15:10 | SYDNEY
Friday 18 Aug 2017 | 15:10 | SYDNEY

Kazakh-China Diary: Never stay at the Ili on a wedding night

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10 October 2011 17:17

Anthony Bubalo and Konrad Muller are undertaking fieldwork for a new project examining Kazakh-China relations. Earlier posts in this series here, here, here and here.

Last Friday we left Almaty for Urumqi. The plan was to drive down to Zharkent, near the Chinese border, overnight there and then enter China via the Khorgos border-crossing early next morning. We wanted to see for ourselves the physical connections that link Kazakhstan and China. Konrad will be writing a separate post on the trip and the crossing, but before he does I wanted to offer a piece of traveling advice.

I now understand why the Lonely Planet guide to Kazakhstan does not provide details for accommodation in Zharkent. But this did make it difficult to book a hotel before departing Almaty. Even the friendly staff at the Almaty Holiday Inn could only find a few references to hotels in Zharkent on the internet and none of these seemed to have phone numbers. 

'Never mind' the hotel receptionist said, 'I am sure you will be able to find accommodation when you get there'. He also provided an address of sorts for the Hotel Ili, which he assured us looked the most 'normal' of the Zharkent accommodation he had found on the web.

So after a three-and-a-half hour drive to Zharkent we found our way to the Ili. Both Konrad and I were slightly unnerved by the proprietress, who smiled and did a little shimmying dance as she eyed us across the courtyard.  Nevertheless, it looked OK. 'A little rough, but hospitable', I thought — the hotel, that is.

A couple of hours after arriving, however, we came to regret our choice.

It turns out that the Ili is also a wedding hall. The fireworks out the front of the hotel were the first give away, followed by the tooting car horns. Any further doubt was removed by the music that shook the floor of my room, the bed, the mattress, my pillow and all of the teeth in my head.

Unable to sleep, I accompanied Konrad downstairs to investigate. We did not linger, although we did discover that the Ili is something of a deluxe wedding hall, able to host two weddings simultaneously. As we walked back to our rooms Konrad turned to me and asked, 'Do you think they will be finished by 10?'.

Don't get me wrong.  I do not think ill of the Ili. In fact, if you are planning to overnight at Zarkhent in the near future, do stay there — just not on a wedding night.

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