Click for more information about Kazakhstan
2015 May by Roman Bruehwiler
Within three weeks I visited all 14 oblasts of Khazachstan mostly by rental car. It\'s true: many of the Kasachan roads are terrible, but I have seen many places where new roads are under construction. So in the future it will be more easy to explore the country by yourself.
I was surprised to find many places in the mountains looking like the Swiss alps. I found many very friendly and openminded people. |
2007 Jun by Peter Kuiper
Organized tours are not my thing, but to get to certain places they can simplify the trip a lot. My travel mate Christian wanted to go to Asia again, that was fine for me as well, as long as I would see something new. We agreed on Tibet. Not a real country, but it would at least feel like one.
Then I found this tour with \\\\\\\"Lernidee\\\\\\\". The trip to Lhasa would start in Almaty, if only for a day. At least I would get a real country-point on this trip.
Berlin is often seen as a gateway to the east. We are a city still firmly attached in the former \\\\\\\"Ostblock\\\\\\\". Strange enough we had to fly to Frankfurt first to get to Almaty.
Weird also, that we didn\\\\\\\'t meet the group before the flight. Everybody checked in for themselves we would not meet each other until we arrived at the airport in Almaty. As usual I slept most of the time, but Christian looked around in the plane and was quite sure that some of the passengers had to be members of our group.
After the passport control we were rounded up by Olga. That wasn\\\\\\\'t a problem here as we were standing out of the crowd. All the other people around were Kazakh or Russian.
Olga happened to live in Berlin as well. She had studied in Leningrad until she had met her German husband. Until now she had accompanied groups through Central Asia, mainly Uzbekistan. This was going to be her first trip to China.
We were herded into an old soviet style bus and without any further explanation brought to the hotel. It was pitch-dark outside, but still there might have been something to tell about the city.
The hotel, the Astana International, was truly soviet style, but ok. We were offered a soup after we had gotten our room keys. The tour would start at ten. A bit late I thought when you only have one day to spend in town.
I was pushing Christian for an early breakfast. It consisted out of the usual eastern fare of greasy sausage and salads with mayonnaise. We still had some time left for a short stroll. The hotel was a four story prefabricated building. Many buildings nearby looked similar. But it didn\\\\\\\'t look as bad as it sounds. Almaty does have a Russian feel. Especially on the street corners there were traditional Russian buildings around and the new ones stood back a bit. Trees along all the streets were hiding their ugliness. We made the first uncertain steps into this new world and walked through a soviet style shopping center. On the way back Christian said \\\\\\\"I saw a nice lady in the group, I think we should talk to her.\\\\\\\" Back in the hotel, she was waiting in the lobby for the tour to depart. We introduced ourselves, and from the first moment Guni and the two of us got along very well. Until now she is one of our best friends.
The day was quite a catastrophe. Perhaps it wasn\\\\\\\'t, perhaps I was the (unsocial) catastrophe. The others seemed quite satisfied. I wasn\\\\\\\'t and my complaints and subsequent itinerary changes saved the day at least a little bit.
From the hotel we were driven downtown where there were some historical buildings like an old orthodox church entirely made out of wood and surrounded by a beautiful park. Nearby there were some other historical buildings and an impressive soviet war memorial. So far, so good!
We drove around a bit and got to the National Museum. It was a new building and the artifacts on display weren’t all that interesting. I would rather see the InterContinental Hotel not too far from here. This was not possible Olga said. We would be leaving soon. But it took another 45min until everybody came back to the bus. I could have easily gone there during this time, annoying! In the distance there were some impressive government buildings, but we did not get close. Olga repeated that there was actually not much to see in Almaty.
Now we drove up into the beautiful mountains and we saw the first strange sight: at least for me it was strange, to drive up to an old ice scating stadium - MEDEO - and look around there for half an hour. The place must have been famous, because some GDR skating stars trained here. I am not very interested in sports so I might see things wrong. Annoying was the fact, that right behind the stadium, there was an enormous dam. After asking if we would drive up there I got the answer that the road wasn\\\\\\\'t save to drive. Curious as always I ran up the 800 steps to see that the reservoir was almost empty, but the mountains behind the lake were very nice. Christian stayed behind with the others. Later he told me that Olga had looked puzzled as she saw me running up. 35 minutes later I was back in the bus. They weren\\\\\\\'t waiting for me though, I wasn\\\\\\\'t the last one.
We continued driving upward to a yurt under a tin iron roof. I must say that the idea was not bad to show us a traditional tent. But I soon found out this happened to be our lunch stop. And this lunch almost took an hour and a half! Imagine sitting in a tent for an hour and a half without windows, surrounded by snow topped mountains!!! We drove back to town to a ropeway to enjoy the view on the city from the Kok Cube viewpoint. There were some very nice open air cafés, why hadn’t we enjoyed lunch here? Good that I didn\\\\\\\'t know what was happening next, otherwise I would have freaked out right away!
We came back down, not to see the sights, but to see the \\\\\\\"artwork\\\\\\\" of a local Russian artist. The \\\\\\\"art\\\\\\\" consisted of some painted old wood. The house was in the middle of nowhere and after five minutes we could have left. I think Olga planned to stay here until dinnertime. She was very proud that she had organized a visit to this famous artist for us. Now I started pressing for change. We hadn\\\\\\\'t seen the city yet! She answered again that there was not much to see in Almaty. I said that I would like to judge that for myself. At least we could go to see a shopping street? \\\\\\\"There is a street called Arbat, like the Arbat in Moscow, but there isn\\\\\\\'t really anything to see\\\\\\\" she said. So what?
This street turned out to be quite nice, the more as we finally came to see some locals. Many Kazakh are really good looking. Some look Russian, other slightly Oriental, but a lot more butch. A bunch of about 15 cows was dancing in the street. Not the real ones of course, but puppets about 40cm tall.
After walking around and seeing some historical architecture, we went to a restaurant again. The place was good, the food was nice. To show that we liked the food, everybody was eating a lot. Finally the table was cleared to bring the main dish. Olga hadn\\\\\\\'t told us that this food was just the appetizer. Everyone was filled up already. The main dish had to go back to the kitchen. What a waste!
Way too early we walked over to the train station. A whole coach had been reserved for the 27 of us. No need to put up with the locals. We were four in one compartment, it was quite comfortable. I slept like a log. At daybreak we travelled through a flat empty space and passed a few traditional wooden villages, in the distance we could see Lake Balkhash. Somewhere in the middle of nowhere we stopped at a station to tank water. It took a while, time to get off the train and make some pictures. All trains seem to stop here, there was a lot of action on the platform. A few babushkas tried to sell some local products like fruit and eggs. More apparent where the dozens of dogs. They could immediately spot the difference between locals and tourits as they were only bagging for food from us.
There was another stretch of quite boring scenery until a GDR style border came into view: fences, watchtowers, and a few military barracks. At the border station, the wheels had to be shifted to normal gauge. This process would take about two hours, we had to get off the train and used our time to have lunch in the village with the poetic name “Druzhba”. It was quite nice to walk through the village, it had a real Kazakh feel with its Soviet style architecture, mostly prefabricated, three story high buildings, some looking quite rundown and shabby. The restaurant was quite good, the staff very friendly.
It was already dark as the train started moving again. A soldier came in, sat down with us and asked for our passports. “Did you know that Kazakhstan is the 9th biggest country in the world?” he asked proudly, “we are just slightly smaller than Argentina, very few people know that”. I didn’t realize it was that big, reason enough to come here again.
I slept already as military music woke me up, we entered China! |
2007 May by Michael Novins
May 2007 -- I visited Almaty, where I stayed at the Best Eastern Otrar Hotel, centrally located on Panfilov Park and a short walk from Zenkov Cathedral, the second tallest wooden building in the world. The most interesting museum is the Central State Museum of Kazakhstan, which displays the most significant collection of Kazakh historical and archaeological artifacts, including a replica of the Golden Man suit (the original has been deemed too fragile to display and lies in the vaults of the National Bank of Kazakhstan). My favorite restaurant was Zheti Qazyna, which specializes in Central Asian cooking. |
2007 May by Alex Hearn
||Alex Hearn does not wish to be contacted by MTP members|
I'd like to say that Kazakhstan dispelled all those Borat gags, but they actually reinforced them, in a way. Our guide drove us around Almaty for hours, and during this time he:|
1. Mocked women in general, "ugly cows" "when they're 25 in Kazakhstan they look 45" etc.
2. Mentioned in passing that "We don't much like jews here"
3. Joked about pushing the disabled off cliffs.
4. Explained in detail the winter method used by Nomads (like himself in younger days) of keeping livestock indoors.
5. Explained the fuel substitute used on the treeless steppe- cow manure. "All the food gets to taste like it"
6. Explained the Kazakh art of training eagles to hunt foxes and wolves. "We use stray dogs to train. The best methods in training are... extreme cruelty"
7. Derided the British, Chechens, Chinese, Americans, Africans, African-Americans and of course "those dirty Uzbeks"
8. Spoke farcical and derogatory English. "We Kazakhs always copyright the Russians, but we give it away with our chinky-eyes"
9. Was named Morat.
2006 Aug by Veikko Huhtala*
We obtained our Kazakstan visas from Kazakstan Consulate in St. Petersburg. We travelled by train from Helsinki to Kazakstan’s capital city Astana. Our destination was however Almaty. more than 1000 km south from Astana. Almaty was the capital of the country until 1997. Because all trains which we asked were full booked, we had to take taxi. It cost us 200 Euros. Until 1992 Almaty was called Alma Ata. After dissolution of Soviet Union Kazakstan got independence 1991, and now it is ninth biggest country in the world with more than 2,7 million sq. km. In Almaty we stayd couple days and during this period we obtained our Kyrgyzstan visas from their embassy. |
1995 Sep by Jorge Sanchez
I have crossed many times Kazakhstan by train, from Novosibirsk to Tashkent and viceversa, only stopping each time for a few minutes in Alma Ata.But then, in 1995, I was in Urumuchi, Sinkiang, and, without visa, decided to go to Alma Ata by train, thinking that I could get the visa on the border.I was wrong and was sent back to China after making me sign a protocol of deportation (Akt o Deportatsii), which I keep at home as a trophy (I have many such “trophies” at home!).I took another train back to Urumuchi (which ticket they made me pay!), and next day I flew and got one month visa without problem in Alma Ata airport.In Alma Ata there are two trains’ stations, so be careful and ask first, because they are separated by a long distance.The cheapest place to sleep in Alma Ata is inside the bus stations. They have dormitories for less than the equivalence of 10 US Dollars for a bed in a large room, usually bus drivers sleep there.From Alma Ata you can get very easily to neighboured countries such as Kyrgyzstan or Uzbekistan.
THE TURKSIB TRAIN JOURNEY FROM ALMATY TO NOVOSIBIRSK: During the Soviet Union times I had boarded the Turkestan- Siberia Railway (Turksib) from Novosibirsk to Tashkent in two occasions. It takes about two and a half days. Some of the stops are very interesting, like Barnaul (in Russia), and Semepalatinsk and Almaty in Kazakhstan. In those days you only needed the Soviet Union visa, in a separate document, with the names in it of the cities that you wanted to visit Then, after the decomposition of the Soviet Union, I made the journey starting in Almaty, until Novosibirsk. It took me about 40 hours. The Kazakhs cities where the train stopped after Almaty, where: Saryozek – Koksu – Matay – Aktogay – Ayaguz – Zharma – Charskaya – Semipalatinsk. The train made a long stop in Semipalatinsk (today is called Semey), near the border with Russia, giving me time to visit around the city where I had been in previous journeys but never stopped to overnight. Semey was a relatively large city for Kazakhstan with about 300.000 inhabitants. In the train I was the only foreigner, or at least no Soviet citizen. The rest of the passengers were mainly Russians, even if they were born in Kazakhstan. In Kazakhstan, in those times (I made that journey in the year 1996), over fifty per cent of the population was from Russia, but presently Russians represent about a 25 per cent of the population in Kazakhstan owing to many Russians having migrated to Russia. One of my neighbors in my Platskartni wagon (open communal carriage) was a woman. She told me that she was heading to Barnaul to visit his son, who was in the Russian Army. He was born in Kazakhstan, but felt that his real country was Russia, therefore he moved to Barnaul to accomplish his duty as a soldier in the country that he felt like his own. The curious thing about that train journey was that in the stop at the border of Semey, the Police came to our wagon but did not ask me the passport, supposing that I was Russian. Then my neighbor told me that between Russians and Kazakhs there is an agreement and visas are not required to cross those two countries. The same happened to me in the Russian border. Russian Immigration agents did not request my passport. |