Kazakhstan is home to approximately 16 million people. Astana, the capital, houses around 650,000 of these people, yet is not the biggest city in the country. The most populated city is in the south of the country and is the former capital of Kazakhstan – Almaty.
Many people who work in Haileybury Astana are either from or have at some point lived in Almaty. All of these people have been saying how different and wonderful the place is, so I figured it was time to see what the fuss was all about. A ninety-minute flight in the early morning from Astana drops you into the south of the country, and into a parallel universe.
Well, not quite, but it is very different. Astana has been built for the 21st century; Almaty is a relic of the Soviet era, highlighted by us seeing some disused weaponry in a park. Astana is very man-made; Almaty is very natural. It also seems a lot more crowded than its northern neighbour. Once we found the apartment we had rented we decided to drop our bags and explore the local neighbourhood.
Almaty is positioned at the foot of a large mountain range known as the Tien Shan. As a result, the whole city is on a slope. It is also on an earthquake fault line, which will at some point in the future lead to disaster. For now though, it makes walking north significantly more pleasurable than heading south. Luckily for us we were based in the south of the city, so ambled along past various statues and buildings – as well as the new metro which doesn’t look as if it has ever opened – before ending up at Panfilov Park.
This tranquil area of the city is the location of the Zenkov Cathedral – a small church that looks like it has been plucked straight from Alice in Wonderland or Willy Wonka’s brain. It is over a hundred years old, very colourful and, incredibly, built entirely of wood. The interior doesn’t do justice to the unique design and colour scheme of the outside, but it is still a very interesting piece of architecture. Not that they do normal buildings anywhere in Kazakhstan, it seems.
Also within the green confines of this park is a war memorial consisting of many angry soldiers bursting out of a large granite rock.
Kazakhstan fun fact: There are fifteen soldiers in this monument, with each one representing one of the fifteen Soviet republics. All of them are bursting out of a map of the USSR.
There are other commemorations in this area paying tribute to those who laid down their lives for the Soviet cause. Like I said before, Almaty has much more of a Soviet influence than Astana.
Before we had observed these monuments – as well as people consummating their marriages next to the nearby eternal flame – we had walked across to the Green Market, also known as the Zelyony Bazaar. I was hopeful shopping would be cheaper in Almaty than Astana, but should also know by now to check what days markets are closed. Diary fail.
We did go to the bazaar the following morning. It is situated next to a chocolate factory that possesses a formidably favourable odour. Wikitravel claims that tours of this place are available, but we couldn’t find them. In the meantime we ambled through the narrow strips of the bazaar selling various clothes and items of stationary (as well as a Frisbee which we had never been able to find in Astana) before heading into the main building which houses the food.
There seems to be a relatively strong Korean influence in Almaty, and this was highlighted by us finding kimbap and kimchi within seconds of entering the open space of the food market. It was nice to be given free samples of food that I have truly missed. We then chatted – well, as much as I can do in Russian – with a man who sold us a big bag of delectable dried apricots before seeing the normal stuff in a Kazakh market. Animal feet and brains and the like.
Almaty as a city seems a very nice place. We have another two days of exploring to do, but am so far very impressed with what I have seen thus far.
Love you all