I’m close to the halfway point of the Blogging A-to-Z challenge and it feels like the month of April is just flying by, doesn’t it? Okay, today’s post is about a place I would like to go. I first became interested in Kazakhstan when I was living in Mongolia. The majority of Mongolia’s population is made up of ethnic Khalkhs, but there are some minor ethnic groups consisting of the Tsaatan, reindeer herders in the north; Buryads, living in northern Mongolia and up into Siberia; and the Kazakhs, displaced by advancing Russian troops in the 19th century who were allowed to settle in the western part of Mongolia. I never made my way out to Bayan-Ulgii province but many of my friends did. They all had a wonderful time in the high mountains eating Kazakh food, hearing the call to prayer, and marveling at hunters hunt wolves and foxes with golden eagles. Yes, hunting with eagles. Check out the awesome video below!
Having gotten a taste of the culture, I’ve become very interested in visiting the country. Here are some quick stats on Kazakhstan:
- World’s largest land-locked country
- Population of roughly 17.6 million people
- Kazakhstan is populated by 131 ethnicities:
- Kazakhs – 63%
- Russians – 23%
- Uzbeks – 3%
- Ukrainians, Germans, Tatars, and Uyghurs – 1%
- Other – 4.5%
- Religious identification:
- Islam – 70% of the population
- Christianity – 26%
- Kazakh is the state language
- Russian has equal official status for all levels of administrative and institutional purposes
- Astana is the capital
Honestly, I don’t know much about Kazakhstan but I want to know more. Before I visited Mongolia, my only reference point for Kazakhstan was from the movie Borat. Anyone else right there with me?? Fortunately, the Kazakh tourism board produced this gorgeous video showcasing their country. They’ve convinced me to go!
Disregarding Borat’s representation, I decided to do a bit of internet research and found some of the top rated things to do on Trip Advisor. Here are 3 things that caught my eye:
1. Visiting Religious Buildings
Large, enclosed spaces are rare and usually fall under a few categories: sports stadiums, government buildings, or houses of worship. Wherever I travel the religious spaces catch my eye. Kazakhstan has two main religions: Islam and Christianity. I would like to visit the Ascension Cathedral (Russian Orthodox) and the Nur-Astana Mosque. Fun fact: Kazakhstan is the northernmost Muslim nation in the world. Aren’t these two building gorgeous? The bright colors of the cathedral remind me of a gingerbread house!
2. Viewing Astana from Above
Exploring a city from the ground is far different than viewing it from above. In Astana, the Bayterek Monument and Observation Tower is a perfect way to see the layout of the Kazakh capital. After visiting the Compass Lounge here in Phoenix I would really like to visit other observation towers. The Bayterek Tower was built in 1997 the same year that Astana became the capital of Kazakhstan. It is 318 feet tall (97 m) which is roughly 19 stories high. The design of this building fascinates me. It reminds me of spun sugar!
3. Hiking Sharyn Canyon
Fair warning: this gorgeous scenery is located near the Chinese border and there are restrictions on foreigners traveling near Kazakhstan’s borders. I can’t quite figure out if tourists are allowed to explore Sharyn Canyon but I really hope they can because the place looks breathtaking! The red and yellow layers of rock remind me of my trip to the Grand Canyon (read my post HERE). City life is swell but sometimes you have to get out there and explore the great outdoors!I have to admit, writing this post was difficult. Information (in English) about visiting the country is scarce and anecdotal at best. I have a feeling that visiting Kazakhstan is a huge leap of faith – not because it is unsafe – because there is just little information available. As a last resort I read through the U.S. State Department’s write-up which was quite helpful, click HERE to read.
Luckily, I’m experienced traveling in countries with remote access and limited amenities, Plus, I can read the Cyrillic alphabet so maneuvering maps and picking up the language will be a piece of cake! For thousands of years the Kazakh and Mongolian histories have overlapped and intertwined. I’m fascinated to see how much the cultures of these two Central Asian countries share. Have you ever been to Kazakhstan? I would love to hear from you! What was your experience like?