Every year, we all carefully plan where we want to go on a vacation. Most of us want to enjoy the sun and sea so we choose one of the Mediterranean countries whereas those more fortunate get to visit exotic places (and brag about it on social media with the only aim in mind to piss us off 😉 ). My family always teases me – since my life resembles a permanent vacation, I don’t deserve any holidays. Well, they are kind of right. However, you’ve made your bed now lie in it, right? I always say that it is important to take a vacation from a vacation – especially when the monsoon season is coming to India… At that time, a trip to Kazakhstan seems like a really good idea.
To those of you who have been lucky enough not to have a first-hand experience of the monsoons in India, I sincerely congratulate. Imagine 3-4 months of never-ending downpours from which not even a combination of raincoat, umbrella, and rubber boots can protect you from getting drenched. Water comes from everywhere, gray color reigns the days and humidity in the air is stuck at 100%. Forget about opening the windows at home. It takes your laundry 3 days to dry. Have I mentioned that you need to take care of ubiquitous mold? Your mood plummets from 100 to 0 and that’s exactly the moment when I need a break.
Last year I dragged my finger on a map trying to find a country near India which would be intriguing enough for me to pack my bags and visit. I’m not really into all-inclusive stays at expensive hotels with swimming pools; I prefer to embark on an exciting adventure with nothing but a backpack and a map in my hands (or rather an app in my cell phone 😉 ). My finger stopped at Kazakhstan, the fourth biggest country in Asia. After some basic Googling, I found my destination…
Kazakhstan in brief
Since I am not a resident of one of the Central Asian countries, I needed a visa in order to get in the country. Kazakhstan is ridiculously cheap, safe, and so far untainted by tourists. Road infrastructure is very poor but fuel is so inexpensive you will tilt your head and laugh. That’s why the best way to discover the country is by a rented car. People seem to be cold but that’s just on the surface. They can be very welcoming. The biggest drawback, though, is that NO ONE and I mean NO ONE speaks English.
Red tape and other peculiarities that dominate Kazakhstan
What to say, each country has its pros and cons. The biggest cons for Kazakhstan are its bureaucracy, people’s colder characters, and ZERO tourist information. You definitely need to have your itinerary ready before your visit because once you’re there, you won’t find any indications.
Personally, I think that it’s just a matter of time before some enterprising minds set up specialized travel agencies in this area, build their name and become very successful in the oncoming years. Kazakhstan is full of potential and the beauty it offers is mesmerizing… On one hand it’s great that there aren’t crowds of people who go sightseeing, but on the other.. If you don’t know what you are looking for and where exactly it is, you’ll be lost. No one is really going to help you unless you speak their language.
Former capital city and currently the biggest town in Kazakhstan is one of the most probable gates how you will get in the country. It is a sweet city with heavy traffic which is mostly known for its winter sport centers. I’m not really into visiting cities much so it took me a day and a half to get through the main sights. You can visit cathedrals, parks, botanical garden, war memorial, national museum… Take a gondola to Kok-Tobe to visit a small zoo (with an albino peacock!) and a small fun park. Careful, the prices skyrocket there!
What I really loved about Almaty was that you can leave bustling downtown behind and in just 30 minutes you will find yourself in the middle of a bewitching natural park Ile-Alatau. If, however, you wish to go hiking around the Great Almaty lake or even further, you will need a permit. You don’t need any for a shorter hike, though. Most of the people visit the Medeu (stadium) and ski center Shymbulak so don’t go there on the weekend as it gets really crowded!
According to our well-planned itinerary, we continued eastwards. Our first stop was Lake Esik located approximately 40 miles from Almaty. We arrived with the sunset, found an ideal place to camp, got our sleeping bags ready, and fell asleep under the stars. I set my alarm clock for 5 am as I wanted to watch the sunrise and run around the place while taking pictures. It didn’t turn out to be a good idea; half asleep I couldn’t really coordinate myself well – tore my favorite pair of pants and ended up with one leg in the lake. Yes, I’m a klutz but the pictures were worth it. 😉 Later that day we moved on to Turgen Gorge where we (as well as many Kazakh families) had a pleasant walk toward its famous waterfall.
While the rest of the country froze somewhere in the 80’s, Astana boasts with wide avenues, skyscrapers, and light show held every evening downtown (just to name a few). I would recommend leaving the capital city for the end of your trip as you can really enjoy its luxuries after rough time on the road and exhausting hiking. Astana will one day become Central Asia’s Dubai, and it shouldn’t miss on your itinerary.
Is the country safe?
Just because people somehow think that Kazakhstan is close to war areas it doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re one of them. I can assure you that the country is safe and you will enjoy traveling it. Apart from bears living in high mountains and sly policemen who will try to get money out of you for a negligible thing such as crossing the line in a parking lot at the Medeu (they are there now as you read) you have nothing to worry about.
What to look forward in the next article?
In the next piece called Secrets of Kazakhstan – What only a Kazakh could tell you I’ll include information about national food, people’s character, and many other interesting things that can only be gathered through experience. You are in for a real treat so don’t miss it out! 🙂
Have you ever been to Kazakhstan? What do you think about the country?