For the second time I return from Kazakhstan full of thoughts, which are hardly transferable to a text. The country is definitely unusual. Huge. Different. I haven’t seen too much, but on the other hand, how many of you have been to Kazakhstan at all? So I will share my ideas, and who knows – maybe you’ll get inspired for a visit!
The first thing I can say is that the guests here are treated with big respect. I live in Georgia, I can compare! The Kazakhs try to show all the best they have and to treat you with local delicacies, most of which usually contain horsemeat, lamb or milk. If you know my little nutrition issue, you will understand why I will talk about milky treats only.
Let’s say, I can drink buckets of ayran with great pleasure, but won’t manage a normal sip of kumys (horse milk) or shubat (camel milk). Don’t want to discourage you, just to inform: if you are sensitive to smells, you won’t enjoy it too. At the same time I definitely advise you to taste kurt (balls made of salty whey, dried in a special way) and irimshik – delicate sweet milky mass, which is considered to be a local delicacy.
All these things I have tried on the Green Bazaar, one of my most favorite places in Almaty. You can taste Korea-style pickles, Uzbek-style dried fruits, nuts and above mentioned dairy products; you can negotiate and experience local culture as it is, without any extra gloss.
Talking about gloss I must admit that natural treasures and Asian craving for splendid decorations is reflected in Kazakhs’ attempts to underline their coolness by skyscrapers, boutiques, shields with “VIP, unique, exclusive”… Well, you know what I mean.
Though I am blessed, because I have a very close local friend Zhazira, who showed me really nice corners of Almaty, and I should confess that green areas and parks made me a bit jealous – I wish we had so many trees and flowers in Tbilisi… The orientation system in the city is also kind of peculiar. You don’t tell to a person the street and house number, you make an appointment at the crossroad. Cars also move up or down; taxi price may depend on it. And yes, everyone is making some money with giving people a lift! Well, almost everyone. It feels like you are inside Taxify app: you won’t see the official taxi services, but almost everyone will stop a car for you as you lift your hand. There is also subway, the new beautiful subway launched only in 2011. People are still not used to it, so the rush hours look like the country itself: pretty, but quite deserted. From the touristic point of view, some things are confusing or expensive. For example, you can go up to Shymbulak resort or mountain lake (Big Almaty Lake) only with a taxi – there is no public transport going that way. My advice is to bargain mercilessly: a traveler is usually charged much more than a local!Shymbulak made a strange impression on me. The mountains around are very nice, but in April there was no snow, hence the resort was empty. However, the air there is incomparably better than in Almaty! Even the President of Kazakhstan came to ski there this winter. He was admiring the local beauty for a week (while the other guests were not allowed to go outside during his stay), and then ordered to demolish the cottages nearby: he meant that they were polluting the environment. However, later he was informed that almost all of them belonged to his relatives, so he suddenly changed his mind… Instead he forbade going up to the resort by car for air’s sake. Now, considering that the ski lifts don’t work anymore, relaxing at Shymbulak became really questionable… Unfortunately I don’t have an answer, as I didn’t go up this year – but in 2015 it was a pleasant trip.There was one magical place that captivated me totally, and its name is Charyn Canyon. 154 kilometers of grandiosity on the border to China, crazy red rocks, lonesome wild beauty! To get there from Almaty you will need… well, a car. There are organized tours, there are taxis. I read in the Internet that one could get to a certain village on the minibus, and then hitchhike – there are a lot of cars moving towards the canyon, they said. Well, I didn’t see any during the whole journey. Was lucky to travel with local acquaintances.
Now words are not necessary. Just look. A return to the city fells like a return from another planet. However, don’t be sad! Go check out some nice bars – I especially liked “Bar Kvartira” which looks like a flat, “Café Nedelka” and the terrace of «ComeIn» (beware: on the ground floor there is a real hookah kingdom). As for prices level: the local currency, tenge, has dropped by half during the last year (from 180 to 340 tenge to the dollar), so now prices were quite affordable. An average bill (food and a glass of wine or a long) amounted from 2000 to 3000 tenge. I also liked the bizarre recipes of longs and soft drinks in the bar «Sunset», so if you will be around Al-Farabi avenue, inside of the business-fed concrete-and-glass jungle, go there for a glass of ginger-tangerine lemonade or a sip of currant gin, for example.I want to settle a logical conclusion to this story, so maybe I will sketch a list of things you could do in Almaty within a day. So in the morning go up to the Big Almaty Lake (take a coat or a jacket, it can be chilly there), have a lunch in “Bar Kvartira”, go to the Green Bazaar and stroll through the oldest part of the city – Tole Bi, Panfilov, Abylai Khan, Zhibek Zholy streets (the buildings are Soviet, but the parks in the area are really wonderful). In the evening, if the weather is fine, go up to the TV tower on Koktobe mount and enjoy the panorama of Almaty at night.
But if you have more time, PLEASE head to Charyn Canyon or the region of seven rivers! I guarantee that the first place will impress you a lot, and the second place seems so appealing to me that I am already considering the next trip to Kazakhstan!