Silk Road Tours offer private tailor made journeys to China
Roughly the size of Western Europe, Kazakhstan emerged from the post-Soviet period as the ninth largest country in the world. It is a country of incredible geographical contrasts, bounded to the east by the Tien Shan mountains and encompassing the world’s largest expanse of steppe. Its beautiful landscapes can be explored in the Aksu Zhabagly and Altyn Emel National Parks, as well as in the impressive Charyn Canyon which cuts through the sandstone of the Tien Shan.
The northern route of the Silk Road passed through Kazakhstan, and Turkestan remains its most impressive monument from this period, while the city of Otrar incurred the wrath of Genghis Khan and sparked the Mongol invasion of Central Asia. Modern Kazakhstan’s economy is fuelled by its vast mineral wealth, and the gleaming new capital of Astana is adorned with the work of world renowned architects such as Norman Foster.
The old capital, Almaty, remains at the heart of Kazakh culture and trade, and the people remain close to their nomadic roots, with the yurt still a potent symbol in spite of the country’s rush to modernity. The local cuisine reflects this too, with horse meat considered a great delicacy and fermented mare’s milk being the national drink. Beshbarmak, the national dish, is steeped in the traditions of Kazakh herders, and at its finest consists of boiled mutton or horse meat served with layers of pasta and onion on a large platter, topped off with garlic and parsley. Holidays to Kazakhstan leave a lasting impression.
Tours that visit Kazakhstan
Set in the lush Tamgaly gorge some 170kms northwest of Almaty lie some 5,000 petroglyphs mostly dating back to the 2nd millennium BC. The images at this fascinating UNESCO World Heritage site depict animals, hunting scenes as well as religious rituals. Wandering around this large site of nearly 900ha the skill of the artists who created them jumps out to the visitor with their fine detail and the sheer size particularly of the earliest drawings.
Stunning Charyn Canyon sits some 200kms east of Almaty and while at 90kms in length it is smaller in size than the Grand Canyon it is equally impressive. The canyon is actually made up of five different ones with the Charyn river winding through them at depths of up to 300 metres. Over millennia the red sandstone rocks have been weathered into stunning and colourful sculptures with the canyon known as the Valley of The Castles containing particularly unusual formations. Charyn Canyon makes for a vivid and beautiful day trip from Almaty.
Astana could very well be one of the most bizarre capital cities in the world. The city only became the Kazakh capital in 1997 and since then has been transformed into a gleaming city rising out of the seemingly endless steppe. World renowned architects such as Norman Foster have competed for prestige projects such as the Presidential Palace which has been described as looking like a Disney version of the White House. Despite all the development pockets of its past remain with elegant Tsarist mansions and Soviet apartment blocks – then suddenly at the edge of this gleaming, high rise city the endless steppe begins again.