For people that live in the beginning of the third millennium, it’s hard to believe that a hundred years ago trips to Borovoe were not so easy and challenging for our ancestors. Now, almost everyone has his own car, there are intercity bus and train services all over Kazakhstan, and finally there are flights that allow you to fly thousands of kilometres in a couple of hours. So it is no longer a problem to get the resort Borovoe. For example, it would take three hours to get there from Petropavlovsk and even less from Astana. Today it seems impossible to think that the trip from Petropavlovsk to Borovoe in 1913 took from two to five days depending on the weather, different circumstances and kinds of carriages.

There wasn’t a highway at that time and cars were not common. Development of aircraft had just begun and the building of the Trans Siberian had just finished, but the closest stations of this railway were in Petropavlovsk and Omsk. That’s why visitors of Borovoe were mostly from these cities.

Hardly anyone from the southern part of the Steppe visited Borovoe. At that time Akmolinsk and Atbassar were some of the biggest cities and its citizens were Cossacks, philistines, merchants, relocated peasants, settled Kazakh people and supervised exiles. They were not ones who could afford to go to a resort. Almost all of them were on duty, engaged in farming and worked to live. However, steppe Kazakhs had known about healing properties of salt and the curative mud from the Borovoe lakes much earlier. Then the Russians came and regularly visited mainly for healing rheumatism and skin diseases.

The main flow of tourists (they were called summer residents) was from big and rich Siberian cities like Chelyabinsk, Petropavlovsk, Kurgan, Omsk, Tomsk, Novo-Nikolaevsk (Novosibirsk). People from different social classes – merchants, philistines, the intelligentsia, civil servants, and skilled workers – had enough money to pay for this trip for themselves and their family.

Let’s imagine the journey of such a “summer resident”, a teacher from Omsk for example, who had heard about the resort where extraordinary fresh air and koumiss could improve health. A teacher’s salary in the Russian Empire was good but he did not have his own carriage. He had a choice to rent a horse-drawn carriage from Omsk directly to Borovoe or go by newly built Siberian railway to Petropavlovsk station and then go to the resort. The second option was more preferable because the distance was shorter.

Financially it was more profitable to find a fellow passenger on the train or before the trip by placing an advertisement in any newspaper, like “Siberian Life” that was popular all over the whole of Siberia. Another way to find a fellow traveller was to place an advertisement on the post station in Petropavlovsk and wait for a few hours. The total cost of the trip from Petropavlovsk to Borovoe resort was twenty rubles for a couple of horses or about thirty rubles for three horses.

When the teacher arrived at the railway station in Petropavlovsk he would need to hire a carriage driver (50 pennies) and go to the post station where he could rent a post horse that were provided by state postal service, or hire horse-drivers like taxi drivers nowadays. Unfortunately, both options had their disadvantages.

What was the trip by post horses like? If you imagine that the post carriage is like an intercity bus and post stations are additional stops, then you can get an approximate picture of this kind of traffic management. The cost of these post carriages was 3 pence for one horse per one verst plus 10 pence state fee for a horse for the whole road. Additionally, the cost of the carriage was 12 pence plus the usual tips.
At that time, there were only two villages on the post road to Borovoe – Bogodukhovskoe (90 versts from Petropavlovsk) and Azat (80 versts from Borovoe). Azat was the last post station and people needed to hire horse-drivers to go further. The whole way from Petropavlovsk to Azat people had to make pickets among the boundless steppe. Pickets were post stations with 2 or 3 buildings. It was possible to overcome all the distance to Borovoe for 1.5 or 2 days depending on the post services and mood of the head of the station. Usually he used his authority and sometimes could postpone the carriage departure at his discretion, or could wait for another carriage and transfer all post packages and passengers there. The road to Borovoe was pretty easy in good weather. The steppe path was well-rolled and was as good as asphalt. Wet weather conditions made this road much harder because there was a lot of dirt that stuck to the carriage wheels and horse’s hooves. So, drivers tried to ride on bumpy ruts. That was a really hard road to handle even for a healthy man.

The next way to get there was to hire a horse driver. There were lots of free horse drivers in Petropavlovsk who could offer their service or suggest another driver. The cost for horse drivers was 10 pence for each pair of horses per one verste. This way could guarantee a calmer journey on the road as you had to deal with only one driver and didn’t worry about rearranging baggage. The big disadvantage of this trip was its slow pace. The trip could last from 2 to 5 days depending on the weather, horse’s stamina and resistance of carriages with stops at Inns.

There was another unusual way to get to Borovoe, by bicycle. Before the trip people needed to train for a month. A cyclist could ride this distance over 16-20 hours (not counting stops to rest) in good weather. People who chose to get to Borovoe by bicycle rode usually along the main railway track till the first crossing and then along telegraph poles to the Azat village. From there it was possible to see the mountain top of Kokshe, which was a visual landmark. There were plenty of people who wanted to cover this distance by bicycle and a lot of information about this route has survived. Papers contain information on how much water and food you need to have with you on the trip, what clothes you should wear, and also medical advice was included. It’s not surprising that medical experts of the time considered bicycle riding as a great healing, preventive and strengthening remedy for many diseases.

But in 1913, the suffering of travellers came to an end when car traffic to Borovoe was established in Petropavlovsk. Three kinds of cars started to operate: light passenger, passenger and cargo. The same year the New Railways Commission decided to build a railway from Petropavlovsk to Kokshetau. But the first World War and then Civil war delayed realisation of this project for some time.

by Pavel Kossovich