by Urs Unkauf
As the ninth largest country in the world, but with a population of around 18 million, roughly the same as that of the Netherlands, Kazakhstan has special conditions for the development of tourism potential. Undiscovered by mass tourism so far, the country in the heart of Eurasia provides the necessary infrastructure and the government has done a lot in recent years to adequately present Kazakhstan’s regional characteristics for international tourism.
The three largest cities and their surrounding regions illustrate the diversity of the republic between the Caspian Sea and the Altai Mountains, which attracts more and more tourists from all over the world through traditions and historical elements as well as modern infrastructure and diverse offers.
Almaty : largest city and center of cultural life
Located at vast foothills of the Tian Shan Mountains, Almaty with its numerous parks and gardens is rightly called the greenest city in Kazakhstan. With a view to its architecture, the city combines the Soviet past with a modernity that also stands for the country’s ethnic diversity. This peaceful coexistence of different cultures is complemented by the proximity to nature, which can be found just a few kilometers outside the city. Almaty is also the region of origin for the cultivation of the apple tree, which conquered the whole world from here.
A visit to the Green Bazaar with its many possibilities for tasting and regional products is highly recommended. In addition, many restaurants offer the opportunity to enjoy national dishes such as Beshbarmak (cooked horse meat on dough, potatoes and onions) or Plov (Central Asian rice dish, mostly prepared with lamb) in an authentic atmosphere. The 28 Panfilov Guardsmen Park in the center is one of the city’s most popular green areas, where the monuments from the Soviet era in honor of the Red Army’s victory over fascism can be seen. This park also houses the representative Voznesensky Cathedral. Art lovers should visit the Kasteev State Art Museum, the largest in the country. The collections show the artistic traditions of Kazakhstan and its international influences through authentic objects.
The surroundings of Almaty are also waiting to be explored with numerous natural attractions. The Great Lake of Almaty and the three-kilometre-long canyon in the middle of the Sharyn National Park are ideal for day trips. The nearby ski resort of Shymbulak also attracts a large number of winter sports enthusiasts from near and far. A visit to the Arba vineyard in the Assa valley near Almaty is also an excellent opportunity for an excursion.
Shymkent and Turkestan: Centers of the South
Those who travel to Shymkent, which has a small but well-functioning airport, will experience a different Kazakhstan than in the two biggest cities. Shymkent is not far from the border to the neighboring country Uzbekistan and the transition between the cultures can be experienced there fluently. Situated in a desert region, the city, whose symbol is the tulip, looks like a large oasis in the middle of this landscape. The way of life of the population here is more tradition-bound and the spiritual faith of the Sunni-Hanafite Islam is more strongly lived here than in the northern parts of the country.
The surrounding Turkestan region is marked by the nomadic traditions of the great Kazakh steppe. Located 160 kilometers north-west of Shymkent, Turkestan was the seat of the Khanate, a prelude to modern statehood, according to tenth-century written sources, making it one of Kazakhstan’s oldest cities. The ruins of the fortified city of Otrar, which has been archaeologically restored and reconstructed, now offer a glimpse of the region’s heyday in medieval and early modern times. Turkestan is a historically and culturally highly significant place for all Turkic-speaking peoples.
There are also spiritual sites of supra-regional importance in Turkestan. The mausoleums of the Islamic teachers and mystics Arystan-Bab and Khoja Ahmed Yasawi attract pilgrims and people interested in religion from all over Central Asia and far beyond. The Mausoleum of the latter, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, was built between 1385 and 1405 and represents one of Kazakhstan’s most impressive historical monuments.
Nur-Sultan, an impressive capital in the steppe
As the capital since 1997, which until a few months ago was still called Astana, Nur-Sultan has developed into a world-class metropolis. The 97 meter high Baiterek became the symbol of the city and at the same time stands for the strength of modern and independent Kazakhstan. A visit to the Nur-Alem Pavilion of the world exhibition “Expo” in 2017, which took place here under the motto “Energies of the Future”, is not only recommended for technology enthusiasts.
As the largest religious complex in Central Asia, the Hazret Sultan Mosque offers an insight into the practice of Islam, which can be reconciled in a special way with the achievements of a modern state. People of Christian and Jewish faith will also find the spiritual sites of their religions in Kazakhstan. Freedom of religion is guaranteed here in practice, whereby extremism in every form is taken away from the ground by the state and also by civil society.
Visitors to the National Museum of the Republic of Kazakhstan can get an overview of the country from antiquity to today’s modern statehood. The country presents its history to the present day in an impressive setting, with numerous finds and documents on display. Although Russian language skills are always an advantage, international tourists will find their way around all the major sights of the big cities in English as well.
As a whole, Kazakhstan has considerable potential to further increase the interest of a wide range of visitors from all over the world. The international reputation of Kazakhstan, based on domestic political stability and the avoidance of foreign conflicts, contributes significantly to the fact that these possibilities will continue to be realized step by step in the future.
(Picture: the city of Nur-Sultan in Khazakhstan. Source: Hollywood Reporter)