Trans Eurasia travel

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Continuing northwards on the road towards Uralsk, you reach the district capital of Makhambet some 23km north of the Saraichik turning. The district and its capital take the name of Makhambet Utemisuly, a Kazakh poet and one of the leaders of the revolt of 1836 against Zhangir Khan of the Bukei Horde and his Tsarist allies. The main administrative buildings of the town are clustered around the large and rather empty main square, which is also flanked by a bust of Makhambet Utemisuly. In the corner of the square stands the Makhambet District Historical and Local Lore Museum. The displays downstairs run around a central circular wall, on which is painted a mural which starts out as a scene of 14th-century Saraichik but concludes as a vision of a futuristic cityscape fed by an oil pipeline, symbolising perhaps Makhambet District's role as one of the areas through which the Karachaganak pipeline passes before reaching the city of Atyrau. There are large ceramic vessels and fragments of glazed ceramic from the Saraichik site, ethnographic displays and descriptions of local literary figures and war heroes.

Climb the spiral staircase within the mural-covered wall to the second floor, which features displays on the life of Makhambet and on the 1836 uprising. These run around another mural, this one an abstract piece depicting the troubled history of the Kazakh people. The items on display include weaponry, copies of documents related to the uprising, and some decidedly romanticised paintings. One depicts an angry Makhambet pointing an accusing finger at a seated Zhangir Khan. Another shows Makhambet and fellow revolutionary Isatay Taymanuly riding their white chargers across a turquoise sky. A third focuses on Makhambet the poet and musician, portraying him playing his dombra to an appreciative audience. There appears to be little agreement among the various artists as to what Makhambet might have looked like.

There is a photograph of Makhambet's mausoleum in the northern part of Atyrau Region, where he was murdered in 1846. He has not been able to rest in peace. His body was originally buried minus head, this having been detached at the time of his death. His relatives were eventually able to negotiate the return of the head, and this was added to his grave. The location of the latter then lay forgotten until 1959, when one Kurak Bekturganov was able to identify it, based on oral histories. Makhambet's remains were disinterred in 1967 and taken to Almaty for study. A bust created from his study of the skull is on display, showing a slender-faced figure. Makhambet's remains were reburied in 1983.