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Kazakhstan - Land of wonders
November 16, 2017, 1:05 pm
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Contrary to popular belief, the world’s ninth-biggest country of Kazakhstan with its abundant oil reserves and most other valuable minerals is not limited to just that. In fact, this increasingly popular Central Asian country is attracting a wide number of tourists who have begun exploring the ample experiences this region has to offer – from modern cities reminiscent of Europe with their leafy avenues, glossy shopping centers, hedonistic nightlife and bold futuristic architecture to western deserts, underground mosques, wildlife along the lakes and home spun hospitality – promising an enticing and welcoming adventure in humble Kazakhstan.

Astana

The country's new capital has risen fast from the northern steppe and is already a showpiece for 21st-century Kazakhstan. Its skyline grows more fantastical by the year as landmark buildings, many of them by leading international architects, sprout along the wide boulevards in a variety of Asian, Western, Soviet and trendy futuristic styles. Several spectacular structures are open to visitors and it is hard not be impressed by the very concept of this 'Singapore of the steppe'.

Though characterized by its bitter, windy winters and hot, dusty summers, Astana is a pleasant city with a young and modern vibe, drawing in tourists keen on exploring the increasingly popular cities of Central Asia. Astana's most extraordinary building is the Khan Shatyr, a 150 meter-high, translucent, tent-like structure made of ethylene tetrafluoroethylene (ETFE), a heat-absorbing material that produces summer temperatures inside even when it is minus 30°C outside. Touted as a 'lifestyle centre with world-class shopping', the Khan Shatyr from outside resembles a leaning circus tent, while the multilevel interior contains a high-end shopping mall, food court, and various attractions.

Turkestan

For visitors to Kazakhstan, traipsing out to Turkestan offers a unique opportunity to see centuries-old Islamic architecture, for here stands the country’s greatest monument and most important pilgrimage site: the mausoleum of the first great Turkic Muslim holy man, Kozha Akhmed Yasaui. It was built by the 14th century regional ruler Amir Timur on a grand scale comparable with his similar magnificent creations in Samarkand, and has no rivals in Kazakhstan for man-made beauty.

Almaty

This leafy city with a backdrop of the snowcapped Zailiysky Alatau has always been among the more appealing former Soviet Union creations in Central Asia. Almaty offers its visitors the best of both worlds — from glitzy shopping malls, Western-style coffee lounges, fancy restaurants and pulsing nightclubs, to mountain climbing, hiking, skiing, local markets and heritage museums — all of which come together and offer a glimpse into the sophisticated and lively personality of the region. Located in Almaty is the Arasan Baths, which was built in the 1980s in a modernistic Soviet style and is perhaps the finest bathhouse in Central Asia. A popular tourist stop for those visiting the city, the bathhouse offers a traditional bathing experience like no other.

Kazhakstan is also home to some of the finest national parks, and Ile-Alatau is a prime example of this. The 2000 sq km park comprises dense spruce forest, Alpine meadows, glaciers and the northern slopes of the Zailiysky Alatau Mountains. It is largely pristine wilderness, home to elusive animals such as the snow leopard, the Tian Shan brown bear, lynx, mountain goat and more than 200 species of birds.

Medeo and Chimbulak

Medeo and Chimbulak are Almaty’s winter-sports playgrounds in the Malaya Almatinka valley. The facilities were comprehensively upgraded for Almaty’s hosting of the 2011 Asian Winter Games. Medeo, about 15km southeast of central Almaty at an altitude of 1700m, is a scattering of buildings around the huge Medeo ice rink. Chimbulak, further up the valley at 2200m, is Central Asia’s top skiing centre. The two are connected by road and a cable car. Medeo is always several degrees cooler than Almaty, and Chimbulak is cooler still, both of which are promising destinations for those keen on engaging in winter sport and activities.

Kolsai Lakes

Kolsai is a succession of three Alpine lakes between altitudes of 1700 – 2650m. The three lakes are exceptionally clear and lie in an idyllic location, surrounded by massive cliffs and mountains with snowy caps and wooded slopes. The Kolsai lakes are supremely suited to hiking and horse riding. A trip to the Kolsai lakes combines beautifully with Charyn Canyon. Cracked open and enlarged by a river of the same name, Charyn Canyon is Kazakhstan’s supreme rift, and is Central Asia’s replica of the famous Grand Canyon in the United States. For a million years, wind and water sculpted Charyn’s red sandstone to form today’s fantastical shapes and shadows. Besides sightseeing and photography, the Charyn area offers opportunities for walking, and rafting, as well as off-road jeep touring, and simply enjoying the breathtaking natural wonders in the region.

Shymkent

Southern Kazakhstan’s most vibrant city, with bustling bazaars and a lively downtown, Shymkent has more of a Central Asian buzz on its leafy streets than anywhere else in the country. The Mongols razed a minor Silk Road stop here; the Kokand khanate built a frontier fort in the 19th century; Russia took it in 1864; and the whole place was rebuilt in Soviet times. Little more than 100km from Uzbekistan's capital Tashkent, today Shymkent is a thriving trade centre with a population of about 65% Kazakh and 14% Uzbek. It is mostly modern and brash, but located on the southeast of the main part of the city, across the small Koshkar-Ata canal, are a few remaining streets of pre-Russian Shymkent – a quiet, village-like area of wooden houses that provide a glimpse into the history of the region. 

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