Today’s post is a guest post from Marysia. She is a traveler by heart, jet setter, nomad. Dedicated to exploring the world in search of unique places, amazing people and immersing adventure stories, wait till you read some of them. You can read more on her blog, find her on facebook or connect with her on twitter.
Inexplicably Kazakhstan was always on my ‘bucket list’. For many years I wanted to go, travel and explore. I wasn’t even sure what was more alluring to me. Richness of multicultural influences, endless rugged steps or simply an idea of feeling like a pioneer. For the whole trip I didn’t meet any other foreign globetrotter. I felt like a traveler instead of being a tourist.
I focused on the South part for many reasons. It’s where you can find the oldest and greatest marvels of the country. It has a real Kazakh feel, and I had only three weeks to spare (before heading off to Turkey) and transportation was a challenge.
Almaty used to be a capital of the country, but nowadays it’s a culture and arts hub of the country. No visit to Almaty is complete without admiring famous Zenkov Cathedral in beautiful Panfilov Park – A wooden construction built without even one nail!
Other worthwhile attractions include making it up to Chimbulak and Koktobe Hill, shopping for fresh and dry fruits on ‘Zielony Bazar’ (Green Bazaar), taking a rest in Arasan Baths after hours spend in Central State Museum, or just strolling from cafe to cafe and stopping to admire monumental buildings like Opera House, University Complex and some spectacular fountains. Not sure why but they do love fountains here! Also there is no Almaty without heavy partying, but that is a completely other story….
Getting here is a real dare. My friends from Almaty were explaining that it is easier to get back to Europe then travel there, but when I get my head around something there is no stopping me. In all it took seven hours of brambly riding across endless steppe and then mountains without roads and signs ( roads were actually being build while we were passing next to them ).
It was all so worthwhile when we arrived in picturesque Kazakh village where we were staying overnight, and took off to trek around Kolsai Lakes. The views were breathtaking, but unfortunately after two and half hours, we were caught by heavy rains and we had to return to the house. Our hosts were amazing people; a husband who was in the Soviet Army ( who wasn’t in this country!) and stationed in Poland! Wow! He even knew few Polish words and it made my day.
After Kolsaai Lakes our next stop was Charyn Canyon. Canyon is 154km long but the best part of it is called Valley of Castles. It was outstanding, awe-inspiring, and hot – a more accurate word – burning. A swim in the Charyn River after a long trek was a relief!
I flew here from Almaty in an effort to save time. However do not be mistaken, flying here doesn’t mean a fast luggage pick up or finding a taxi driver who will take you straight to the city. ( For the drivers convenience, they are trying to get at least 3 people in before making a move.)
Shymkent is a bustling city, and it was very easy to sink into life here – strolling between bazaars, great restaurants and flourishing parks. I was expecting it to be a base for the region but it happened to be so much more. I spent a few days doing nothing but observing Kazakh life and people while wandering around.
After I became saturated with Shymkent I started my travels in the region. I traveled on ‘marshrutka’, a mini bus – a very common form of transportation in Kazakhstan – to Turkestan to admire Kozha Akhmed Yasaui Mausoleum, one of the holiest places in the Muslim world built in Timur’s times. Another day I went to Shauildir from which one can visit Otyrar – Tobe, the ruins of an ancient city Otrar, and a Silk Road city which brought Genghis Khan to Europe. Another sight to explore here is a Aristan Bab Mausoleum and a great central mosque near by. Aristan Bab was a teacher of Yasaui.