We could not calculate directions between Moscow, Russia and Beijing, China.
Or so says Google Maps. Sometimes I like to play around with driving directions on impossibly-long routes like last summer’s Albania to Estonia. The route from Moscow to Beijing seems impossible at first, until I start breaking it down into steps, which allow me to get as far as the excitingly-named Koktal (near the border of Kazakhstan and China… I’ll drink to that border crossing!) but not across the border into China. I can see the road but Google isn’t having anything to do with it.
Someone who is having something to do with the Kazakh-Chinese border is one of my favorite travel writers: Jeffrey Tayler. In Murders in Mausoleums: Riding the Back Roads of Empire Between Moscow and Beijing Tayler takes this overland trip, exploring Central Asia by train, bus and rented cars. The “murderer” link (Lenin, Genghis Khan and Mao) is tenuous; the real treasure here is the peek into daily life across the region. The stories of the shopping malls, cocktails (koktals?), snack foods, border crossings and discotheques are the stories of average people living their lives, sharing a moment of their time with Tayler as he travels nearly 4,000 miles.