Kazakhstan is a place of fascinating contrasts between old and new, from modern cities to nomadic traditions, all set against a backdrop of beautiful unspoilt nature. While the northern part of Kazakhstan is flat and dominated by enormous rivers, the southern part is mountainous with beautiful landscapes and scenery. The western modernity of the southern capital, Almaty, and all its cosmopolitan sparkle complements the majestic mountains, lakes and canyons which flank its southern borders, and the endless steppes which lie beyond, in part what makes this such an ideal place to visit. Almaty is probably one of the few cities in the world to boast such proximity to so many geographical features of this nature.
Set on a major junction of the ancient Great Silk Road and also on the air and land routes to and from China, India, the Middle East and Europe, Kazakhstan is a land of great variety. It is home to many different ethnic groups and faiths, all united by the common history inherited from the Soviet period. The people of Kazakhstan are proud of their diversity and the friendship and tolerance among its people is a remarkable national feature. Currently around 130 ethnic groups live in Kazakhstan, the majorities being Kazakhs and Russians. Islam is the predominant religion, yet there is an abundance of cathedrals and churches across the whole country.
Leisure Time in Kazakhstan
The outskirts of the city are full of wonder. Shangri-La, the legendary wonder city of Eternal Youth made famous in the novel and movie, Lost Horizon, was located in the Tien Shan mountain range, very close to this area and visitors can search for Shangri-La while enjoying a day skating, skiing and snowboarding in the resorts of Medeu and Shymbulak. They may also choose cycling, hiking, paraplanerism, mountaineering and fishing, or in winter, heli-skiing, the choices are endless. With its astonishing forests and lakes, its endless expanses of rolling steppes and magnificent, towering mountains and its gleaming futuristic cities, modern Kazakhstan is filled with wonders that refresh and inspire the souls of its visitors.
The major cities in Kazakhstan are a hive of activity, centres of business and recreation, accommodating exclusive shops and modern shopping and entertainment centres. The Khan Shatyr Shopping Centre is the largest complex of its kind in Kazakhstan. Far more than just a retail outlet, the world’s biggest tent, as it is, is a landmark construction in Astana which dominates the city’s horizon and represents the emergence of a contemporary and prosperous city. And yet, for those inclined to a little shopping adventure, there are more basic choices.
Why not brave the chaos of Barraholka, a huge and busy bazaar on the outskirts of Almaty, home to many a great bargain, be it household appliances, shoes or souvenirs? Eating out will not disappoint, with many restaurants of international standard to be found in the major cities, most especially the two capitals, Almaty and Astana. There is a very eclectic mix of cuisine to choose from, namely Russian, Ukrainian, Uzbek, Korean, Chinese and European and Indian, as well that of the Kazakh people. Sushi is very popular, and there are a number of American style diners often to be found in the major shopping centres.
Few other places so powerfully combine the allure of our past and future. Kazakhstan is home to the Baikonur Space Centre which remains the main centre for manned human space flight and the only launching point for travel to the International Space Station. Yet in its very environs are primeval rock paintings which date back to the Neolithic era. They are among the oldest in existence.
Archaeologists have been very busy in Kazakhstan, not only observing ancient petroglyphs such as those in Baikonur and Tanbaly, near Almaty, but also unearthing evidence that the ancient tales which placed Central Asian civilisation at the dawn of history were correct, and that the long held beliefs that the steppes and Tien Shan mountains played host to the birth of civilisation were not mere tales from folklore.
Scientists too have contributed, and it is now known that the original wild apple, fabled in legend as the fruit of health, long life and even immortality in the garden of paradise came from the forests around modern Almaty, still known as the City of Apples.
So here we have it, Kazakhstan, a land of great change, prosperity and progress, yet still a place keen not to consign its past to the annals of history. Across its considerable territory are wonders simply waiting to amaze, people waiting to impress and cities waiting to charm those who arrive. The many who have been have left with memories to last a lifetime, and Kazakhstan is eager to share its surprises with countless more.