Central Asia - Kazakhstan Part 1

View of Almaty - located at the foothills of the Trans-Ili Alatau mountains 

It is exciting to land in new countries, especially when I know so little about them. The first Stan in my adventure through Central Asia is Kazakhstan. I arrived in Almaty - their largest city, where all the roads are well made and tree lined with parks around, making it a pretty city and a pleasure to wander around. Buildings a mix of old and new. Cars are modern - I saw petrol is just 70c/l - wouldn’t we all wish for that at home!

Kazakhstan is the 9th largest country in the world, the largest landlocked country too. With the collapse of the USSR it was the last Soviet republic to declare independence in 1991. Borat^ made it famous with his satirical films - banned in Kazakhstan, until recently. Since covid things have changed - Borat's latest movie is promoting tourism with his byline Kazakhstan - it’s nice!

The USSR set up nuclear testing in remote parts of the country, as well as establishing the Baikonur Space Station. In fact, the first person in space, Yuri Gagarin, launched from there in 1961. For decades, the Soviets sent all their crews, space stations and even a Russian space shuttle from Baikonur. Today Russia leases the land and it’s considered Russian territory - to visit you need a Russian visa.

The name Kazakh translates to wanderer - relating to the nation’s ancient history as nomads. Today there’s around 120 ethnic groups with Kazakhs making up the largest followed by Russians, Ukrainians and Uzbeks. They are known for their hospitality; it’s an unwritten law to offer food and shelter to travellers in the countryside and even in the city; if you’re short of change at the bus stop, they’ll help you out. It's safe, if there are no taxis around, most cars will act as a taxi for a small payment.

Kazakhstan is a wealthy country, rich with oil and gas - 6 petrochemical plants are located in the South West - joint ventures with the US or UK.

The nation is the most powerful economically in Central Asia and Almaty where I spent a few days, the key financial centre. Although no longer the capital, the stock exchange is located here.

The symbol of Almaty

I loved my days in Almaty (Alma-Ata means Father of apple trees in Kazakh) - it’s an attractive city with tree lined streets, located at the foothills of the Trans-Ili Alatau mountains part of the Tien Shan chain which stretches from China and Kyrgyzstan.

The people are well dressed and friendly - most speak very little English but they smile and try to help.

With a few spare hours before meeting the tour group I decided to try out the metro, which only opened in 2011 - it’s just one line with 11 stations, all adorned with murals representing important Kazakh events or traditions. Look out for a separate post on the Almaty Metro.

A great way to enjoy a local experience. It was easy to navigate, clean with signage in English and payment is by token - I’m not sure why we have to over complicate public transport at home!

I used the metro to visit one of the main parks, where the Ascension Cathedral is located - a Russian Orthodox Church - said to be built without any nails, although later I learned they did use metal rods - I guess it’s semantics!

The following day we visited the same area with the group, along with St Nicholas Church - also Russian Orthodox - in both cases the churches were restored after independence.

Although the country is mainly Muslim, it is very liberal - these important orthodox churches were restored after Kazakhstan gained independence.

Ascension Cathedral - inside and out, St Nicholas Church, no time to visit the Museum of Musical Instruments, colourful plates adorn a restaurant wall. Photos: Jane

^ Borat is a satirical fictional character created and performed by Sacha Baron Cohen. He is supposedly a Kazakhstani television journalist and is the main protagonist of the mockumentary Borat! Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan (2006), its sequel Borat Subsequent Moviefilm: Delivery of Prodigious Bribe to American Regime for Make Benefit Once Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan (2020). 1

If you would like to know about him or his films use the Wikipedia bookmark below.

Borat Sagdiyev - Wikipedia

1 Wikipedia