This is a country I never really expected to visit, and only really did because of its geography; basically it was in the right place at the time. Although having said that, I’m so glad I did. This was the first “Stan” I had visited, but would defiantly not be my last. This diverse country sparked a new fascination, interest and curiosity in this part of the world that I did not posses before my visit.
I flew into Kazakhstan’s capital Astana from Russia, as I had previously read it was relatively easy to get a Mongolian Visa from here. Have a look at my ‘Getting a Mongolian Visa in Astana, Kazakhstan’ post from details on this.
Astana is a large city, as such many of its attraction are rather spaced out, I’d recommend taking advantage of the public transport. Even without speaking the country’s native tongue catching the local buses are relatively easy and super cheap, the standard fare converting to less than 0.30c. There is also the classic ‘Hop on Hop off’ Bus. If you’re tight on time these are a great option, allowing you to view the best parts of the city and its attractions as well as hear about its history all in a matter of hours.
I was eager to get a real feel of the country and escape the mundane of a city, after a few hours of searching Kazakh tours I found myself communicating with a local guide I found through ‘Indy Guide’. Convincing me to take the 12-hour train south to Chimkent was easy after a quick Google image search. The south region of Kazakhstan has absolutely breathtaking natural landscapes that I was eager to get amongst, and boarded a train the next day.
I shared a cabin with a young woman and her two cheeky kids, an hour latter I found my self baby-sitting the 2 and 5-year-old boys while she had took disserved nap. None of us understood each other, however they soon came to refer to me as ‘Apa’, meaning sister. After a bumpy nights sleep I found my self swapping phone numbers and Facebook’s with my cabin buddies and saying good bye, as I jumped off the train and into the dusty hot air of the south.
I spent the day exploring the city and the night in a creepy looking hostel. The next morning the adventure began.
To be entirely honest my guide was rather annoying and never seemed to know when to shut up, but undeniably loved his country and knew where the best place to visit where. On top of that he knew almost every fact, story and spiritual meaning for everything from the many amazing Mausoleum we visited to Carpet, like seriously this guy spent a good part of the afternoon taking me around a caplet factory and explaining the origin of Kazak carpet, the guy could not get enough of it, and confessed that his home was covered in it, floor, walls and roof???? (True story). During my week with him I was taken everywhere from the steps of the desert, to the mouthman’s and even spent a few nights with a local family in a small village with their 7 children, and couple of horses, cows, chickens, sheep and donkeys. Here I was spontaneously brought to the local school of 160 students from 5-18 to teach a lesson of English, as even the English teachers could not speak it, there was also a whole school assembly to show me of as a westerner, with a Q and A season.
In this village I also tried Horses Milk a delicacy of the area and many Kazak sweets as the locals believed that western people loved sweets would offer them to me constantly. I trekked a mountain and had a picnic at its snowy peak, explored ancient ruins, rode a rather grumpy horse, picked fruit from wild apple trees and watched men squat with a baby camel on their back (apparently it’s a traditional sport)
After a crazy, weird and adventures week it was time to move on, and the city of Almaty seamed as good as any. I boarded yet another train and 13hours later I was wondering the streets in search for my hostel. After asking a handful of people if they spoke English, I found a woman with her mother in the park, that not only called the hostel for me, but helped me but walked me to it, and helped carrying my overly packed front-pack.
The city of Almaty has some unique and beautify sights; however just beyond its rim is untouched beauty that deserves to be on everyone’s bucket like. As I was to be spending my birthday in this city, I made a point make my time here memorable and found that to challenge. I organised a tour with some others in my hostel a few of Almaty’s best natural locations, including the famous Kolsi Lake, Charyn canyon and Kaindy Lake all of which are bewildering, exceptional and astonishing there own remarkable way. It took several hours in a craped car, on some of the bumpiest roads I’ve travelled on, with a guide that spoke next to no English, however he did spit out “Kangaroo”, when I told him I was from the land down under.
Before I know it I had spent over a week in Almaty and almost a month in Kazakhstan. And as my visa was due to expire I was to move on, next stop Mongolia. If you’re humming and Harring about visiting Central Asia, I’m hear to assure you. You will not regret exploring this antique part of the globe.