Thursday, 22 September 2011

Kazakhstan - The first trip up the Bayterek

September 2

Hello everyone!

As you will have seen from some of the pictures, Astana is a city on the move and the home of some spectacular architectural feats. One of the main sights in this wonderful city is called the Bayterek, also known as the ‘Tree of Life’. It was about time we entered it.

The Bayterek is a 105m tall monument that epitomises the elevation of the status of this city. It was built at a similar time to the decision to move the capital city here from Almaty. The structure consists of a narrow cylindrical shaft surrounded by white lattice girders which widen toward the top. The top itself contains a golden sphere, which contains an observation deck. The lattice is illuminated in a variety of colours at night, making it seem even more spectacular.

The legend behind this monument is very intriguing. A mythical bird, Samruk, lays a golden egg containing the secrets of human desires and happiness in a tall poplar tree, beyond the reach of the humans. This legend, however, is shattered by the lift that takes you 97m into the sky, and into the egg, to the observation deck of what we have dubbed the ‘World Cup’. Find me another building that looks more like the Jules Rimet trophy and I’ll give you a house point.

Kazakhstan fun fact: A handprint of President Nazarbayev’s hand is in the observation deck, and the Kazakh national anthem plays when you place your palm within his. (Well, it’s supposed to – obviously the speakers weren’t working when we tried…)

Rising into the golden egg at night renders photography of the remarkable buildings below rather difficult due to the reflective element within the orb. Still, the views are incredible. On one side there is Ak Orba, the residence of the President. In the opposite direction, following the Nurzhol Bulvar, is the Khan Shatyr. Most of the other wonderful creations are visible from the centrepiece of the Left Bank, and the symbol of Astana’s meteoric rise.

Before going up the Bayterek we had fuelled ourselves with some local cuisine from a cheap food chain called Arman. We have sampled a few of the local delights. There is a dish called laghman, which is a relatively spicy soup with thick noodles and some random meat. Very cheap, filling and tasty. Another Kazakh food we have tried recently is manti –a tremendously satisfying large dumpling filled with meat and pumpkin.

Both of these meals seem more acquitted to the winter season than the golden sunshine we are living through. Temperatures are often in excess of 30’C: something I really didn’t expect to witness in Kazakhstan. It makes walking around school in a suit that much more fun.

Aah yes, school. First impressions? The kids seem great. Some struggle with English: others are fantastic. They all seem very well-behaved and eager to learn. It is all a bit chaotic in the school, but that is to be expected in the opening days and weeks. The school seems on the rise, just like the golden ball from the imperious Bayterek.

Love you all


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