After arriving in Astana, which has been the new capital for Kazakhstan for 20 years, I was filled with excitement and an adventurous spirit for having arrived in a new place. Tightening my jacket around my body, I walked outside to start the journey to my hotel. Along the way, I was struck by how well-designed and clean the road was, as well as how modern the city is. Never really knowing much about Kazakhstan, I was blown away by the sheer size and modernity that greeted me along the way. From far away, I could see Expo, the capsule-like structure that housed the 2017 International Exposition. The words “I love Astana” rotated along the movement of the capsule, as if to symbolise the nation’s pride for the newly minted capital city.
Astana was built according to a wellstructured master plan by Japanese architect Kisho Kurokawa, who seemed to have envisioned Astana as this far-off modern city that is reflected in the imagination of every futurist. Originally a plain steppe, it seems impossible to imagine Astana as a green country filled with lush vegetation, but even with the complex technology thus implemented, they have managed to grow trees along the road, completing this modern city’s look.
Astana Opera and The National Academy of Choreography
A tour around the city revealed many facets of Astana that will surprise visitors. A visit to its Opera and Academy of Choreography showed the artistic side of the city, with a creative spirit that can be seen through the décor. The grandeur of Astana Opera rivals that of the Russian opera theatres, with its own orchestra, ballet, and opera troupe, ready to entertain art and music lovers. The National Academy of Choreography, meanwhile, represents the art of movement in Kazakhstan, with grand halls and practice rooms for ballerinas and ballerinos from all ages moving along with the sway of classical music.
The Expo 2017 site is not only a display of modern and fantastic structures in Astana, it is also a building that represents future energy. From levels one to nine, you will be able to learn about all forms of future energy from wind to solar to gas. With so many exhibitions, you could never learn everything in one day, so prepare a couple of days to really immerse yourself in the educational atmosphere.
The next day boarded the plane to the Turkestan province, where I was stunned by the myriad cultures presented there. I felt like I finally got to understand the true spirit of Kazakhstan with its unique yurts, cuisines, and performing arts. After a while, you get this feeling that you will never want to leave Turkestan until you fully experience the range of cultures it has to offer.
With its national cuisines of horse meat, camel’s milk, and horse’s milk, I put my taste buds to the test and found that all of them are special for a reason. Beshbarmak, a dish of boiled horse, is really popular, and I can sort of understand why. Traditionally, with their nomadic lifestyles, Kazakhs relied on horses for transportation and food. That’s why they have various horse dishes, such as kazy (horse meat sausage) and kumys (fermented mare’s milk) on top of other national dishes like kebabs and palau.
We also got the chance to visit the Golden Camel factory, a camel’s milk plant that is a Kazakhstan and Chinese joint venture, where we got to try various forms of camel’s milk. An eye-opening experience that made me aware of the many varieties of milk and the health benefits of camel’s milk.
We were so warmly welcomed by the locals in Turkestan that even when we visited a cotton farm, they had prepared a feast again for us, with main dishes such as tandyr’s nan and camel’s milk to fill our tummies before dinnertime.
City of Otrar
Everywhere we went, we were treated to beautiful music coming from the traditional dombra and the vibrating voices of their top performers, making our lunches and dinners that much more memorable and entertaining. We also got the chance to roam the ancient city of Otrar, as well enjoy a tour tour around the Mausoleum of Arystanbab that is built with burnt bricks and which houses a double chamber-table tomb and commemorative mosque combined with a big vaulted corridor.
The city of Turkestan attracts thousands of pilgrims, and, according to a regional tradition, three pilgrimages to Turkistan are equivalent to one hajj to Mecca. To be in places that are important parts of Muslim history made me feel really proud, especially being an Indonesian with a rich Muslim history.
We also got the chance to meet Mr Zhanseit Tuimebayev, who is the current governor of Turkestan province. He invited us to his office to talk about the development plans for Turkestan and his wish to see more tourists coming to appreciate the beauty and history of the area. Turkestan proved to be an exhilarating journey through Kazakh culture, from past to present, leaving me with wonderful memories and a treasure trove of knowledge and meaningful connections with the locals, who showered me with unrestrained hospitality.
Our next stop after Shymkent and Turkestan was Almaty, a city that has a strong European feel, but with its own distinct Kazakhstan uniqueness that is both charming and refreshing. We got the chance to ride a cable car to the top of Koktobe Hill, a charming destination where you get endless wafts of fresh air and completely unrestricted views of Almaty, along with a steaming cup of hot chocolate at one of the many choices of cafés up in the hill.
After such relaxing moments and with tummies full of delicious snacks, walk around the hill and you will find many adorable animals such as ostriches and deer, which you can feed with the cups of raw veggies that are sold by many vendors around the hill. You can also tap into your inner child and play with the swings and playhouses to free your mind from the daily grind of life.
The Museum of Arts
The Museum of Arts named after A. Kasteyev proved to be a worthwhile visit, with so much of the history of Kazakhstan in every corner. Hundreds of artworks are hung, leaving me in a state of awe at the amount of history that Kazakhstan has born witness to.
As a country that borders countries like China and Russia, Kazakhstan has maintained good diplomacy between Russia, China, and the West, with positive ties with all major global and regional power. Visiting this historically rich country, with its nomadic past, should be on your travel bucket list as you will not only leave with a fresh attitude, but also with an open mind.