The vast land of Kazakhstan is almost overwhelming taking on as a travel project. Spanning from the ultra modern Astana in the north to the Tian Shan in the south, the contrasts are as big as the distances. Go here with an open mind attitude and find out that there is more to the country than just a get-in point to the Silk Road of Central Asia.
1 Astana. Today known as Nur-Sultan, Astana belongs to the group of cities constructed to become a new capital. Designed by Japanese architect Kisho Kurokawa, the futuristic city proudly shows off where the country’s oil money went. Something noted in the grandiose Government District, the synthetic indoor beach at Khan Shatyr, and the gold decorated Baiterek Tower. Come here for a Las Vegas kind of experience on the contemporary side of Central Asia.
2 Alzhir. Situated west of Astana, the prison camp of Alzhir reveals a dark past of the former Soviet republic. Established by Stalin in the 1930s, the town of Akmol was transformed into a special “gulag”, built exclusively for women whose only crime was to be related to men betraying the state. The “Aqmola Labor Camp for the Wives of the Betrayers of the Homeland,” abbreviated Alzhir in Russian, is a rare example of Soviet Union war crimes turned museum and memorial site.
3 Almaty. If Astana represent the “new money” of Kazakhstan, Almaty is that old lady who takes you on a cultural journey, showing you the old rooted traditions. Go here to soak up post-Soviet culture mixed with an eccentric nightlife that never seems to take a day off. The city is also a suitable get-in point to the high-altitude Song-Kul Lake in Kyrgyzstan as well as Charyn Canyon, making it a double win.
4 Medeu. There is something special with old, half abandoned sports centres. Especially in the former Soviet Union. Planned by a special commission from Moscow and opened in 1951, Medeu is one of the most famous ice skating rinks in the world. This is where the Soviet sportsmen went for high altitude training at 1,691 metres, preparing for the Olympic Games. The complex is connected to the Ile-Alatau mountain with a cable car system, adding an additional 1,500 metres and a scenic view over the Almaty valley to your travel resume.
5 Charyn Canyon. The most intriguing sceneries of Kazakhstan is known as ”little Grand Canyon”. Something you understand if you drive the 200 kilometres east of Almaty and find yourself on a plateau overlooking the red coloured mountains of the Tian Shan. Make your way down the gorge and trek along strange rock formations and multicolored rock layers, formed during million of years. Stay the night in the wooden bungalows on the bank of Charyn River. It’s as real as it gets.
Written by Erik Ekberger. Photography: Erik Ekberger
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