I think that I manage to break the image of Kazakhstan as a country of “Borat” and that whole movie wrongly represents the whole country and nation. But on the other hand, Sacha Baron Cohen (the Borat character) did more for the marketing of Kazakhstan than any other foreigner. It is a shame that Kazakhs tourist boards didn’t use “Borat” in marketing purposes. 

To get an even better picture about Kazakhstan lets dig into some places in Nur-sultan that are worth visiting.

Bayterek Tower

Located on Nurzhol Boulevard, the tower is worth visiting. The tower is 105m tall and it is a great viewpoint over Nur-sultan. It is possible to access the “golden” sphere on the top. Entry fee is around 1.6 euro (600 tenge) and you can spend as much time as you want inside. Although, in summer it can be a little bit crowded and there is a line for getting up with the elevator, but groups come and go so in between groups there wouldn’t be many people at the top.

The view from the Bayterek tower to the presidential palace
The whole sphere is in glass which allows a look at all sides of the town

The tower represents the mythical Kazakh three, where a magical bird of happiness Samurk laid its egg. The observation deck on the top is a nice getaway from summer temperatures with a beautiful view over Nur-Sultan.

The Expo

The Expo complex is located just a little bit outside of the city centre. It is easily reachable by taxi, or by riding a bike. The complex was built for 2017 Expo exhibition and its theme is “Future Energy“. Sphere alike building is the main attraction where every floor represents one type of “energy” or a representation of the future. The best way to explore the Expo is to go to the last floor by elevator and work your way down to the first floor by stairs.

A video presentation about great Kazakh steppe with the tree with the Samurk’s egg.

Every floor has it’s one theme, and starting from the last floor (8th), the themes go as follow; future Nur-Sultan, Space energy, solar energy, wind energy, biomass energy, kinetic energy and water energy. On the first floor, there is a short exhibition about Kazakh history, culture and important people.

The whole place is huge, and you can easily spend there about 3-4 hours depending on how detail you will be in exploring, reading and watching the exhibitions.

For me, the best exhibition was about space energy and space travel. Kazakhstan has a long history with space travels since Baikonur Cosmodrome is located “near” Nur-sultan. The cosmodrome itself is a country inside of the country because Kazakhs are renting Baikonur territory to Russia so they can perform space flights. So if you want to visit Baikonur, you need to announce yourself at least 2 months before the visit, have a Russian visa and special approval from Russian police/military. 

If I’m not wrong, astronauts can be carried to ISS (International Space Station) only by Soyuz spacecraft which can be launched only from Baikonur. This is a big deal for Kazakhstan, and they are charging serious money to Russia for renting the land. I think I heard somewhere that Russia is building their cosmodrome, but they will be leasing Baikonur from Kazakhstan until 2050. 

As it is with everything else, the Expo was pretty much empty. I came there at around 11 a.m. and spent there for about 4 hours. In that time only a few people were there. It is kind of nice to walk through that big space all alone enjoying a peaceful exploration of the exhibits, but it is a shame that more people don’t come here to learn more about science and nature.

Just across the street, there is a huge mall called “Mega Silk-Way” (I don’t have a picture). As soon as I entered the mall, I realized where are all people, in the malls. The mall is huge, hundreds of stores and at least twenty restaurants. I think you can spend the whole weekend there, and you will not manage to visit every store.

Museum of the Republic of Kazakhstan

The next stop, if you like museums or if it is raining the whole day like crazy, is Museum of the Republic of Kazakhstan. It’s a brand new, huge museum exhibiting all kinds of themes including Kazakh history, culture, nuclear past, modern arts etc.

If you don’t know anything about Kazakhstan or Kazakh people, this would be your first stop. I was surprised by the richness of Kazakhs history, and it was an eyeopening visit for me. I would highly recommend visiting the museum, it will take you some time but it is worth it.

The most important guy in the Kazakhstan, Nursultan Nazarbayev the first (and only one, at that time) Kazakhstan president after the dissolution of the Soviet Union. He was the president for almost 30 years and in 2015., he was reelected (again) for president with 98% of the votes. Can you imagine how popular one president needs to be when virtually everybody loves him? How much do they love him, well, there is a public holiday in Kazakhstan in the name of First President. You can see pictures of him across the whole country and people like him. I spoke with a few locals about him, and all of them speaks very proudly about him. 

One of the evidence how much Kazakhstan was mistreated in the Soviet Union lays in a fact about nuclear testings on Kazakhstan territory. During Soviet times, the Russian military has conducted almost 460 nuclear tests at the Semipalatinsk test site also called “The polygon” from 1949 until 1989. The whole thing was kept in secret and only after closing the polygon the truth came out. A lot of irradiated material was left at the site underground or above ground, and in 2010. the public was informed about the cleaning process that is going on the polygon. There was a big concern about the irradiated material which was unguarded and could easily get in the wrong hands. There is a great health concern about the whole place, scientists gathered some disturbing data, and they are still not sure what was or is the total threat to human health.

This is one of the places in Kazakhstan which I would like to visit but I’m not sure should I. There is a great interest in foreigner tourist to visit “The polygon” but since there is a lack of information I wouldn’t recommend this. Maybe if you have Geiger counter with you. 

Kazakhs were a nomadic nation in the past. They were living in the Yurts, moving around with their cattle. When Soviets took over the land they pushed them to abandon a nomadic way of living and forced them into city working in the factories. You can see Yurts almost everywhere as a tourist attraction but I’m pretty sure that in secluded parts of Kazakhstan there are still some people that are living in the old way.

Maybe the best way the get a glimpse of that time would be to visit “Nomad games” where all nomadic nation for Central Asia gather to worship old customs and games. Unfortunately, I didn’t have a chance to visit.

Again, the museum was empty, there were only a few people and most of them were tourists. It is forbidden to take photos in the museum, but I asked the girl on the reception is it ok if I take a few photos, and she said “yes yes yes”, so I did. It seems like nobody cares if you photograph in the museum. Most of the guards were completely uninterested with everything that is going on around them. One even falls asleep.

Ishim river

Ishim river is one of the largest rivers in Kazakhstan and part of it is flowing through Nur-Sultan. Although most of its flow is going through Kazakh steppe and Russians wilderness, part of the river that is going through Nur-Sultan is very nicely landscaped.

Along both banks of the river, there are promenades and it is the first place in the open where I saw a considerable amount of people both in winter and summer. I get the impression that the river is the heart of the Nur-Sultan. In summer people are fishing, riding small boats and playing water sports. It’s very nice to sit on the bench next to the river and enjoy summer sunsets above the river. I think that river connects Kazakhs with nature and that’s why the like to come there.

Nur-Sultan is the coldest capital in the world, where temperatures in winter can get lover than -40°C with a lot of wind. Because of the harsh winter, the river is frozen almost for 6 months and I was surprised that river banks and the river itself were full of people during winter and very cold days. Evermore when I saw them skating, riding snowmobiles, sledging and fishing. I was covered with multiple layers of clothing freezing my ass but locals were goofing around like it is nothing.

The funniest thing on the Ishim river were drift races on the ice. You can hear cars roaring from all over the town. Maybe fifteen cars were driving the whole day and long into the night. This was interesting for me because I grow up next to the race track in my home town, but for sure this race track doesn’t belong in the city centre. The whole story about relaxing walk on river promenade falls into the water (or under the ice) as soon as you hear the cars rampage on the ice.

There is an interesting pedestrian bridge across the river which roof represents a fish shells. The bridge is very popular for cyclists since it is connecting left and right promenade on which are bike paths.

Some other places

In Nur-Sultan there are two big mosques, one is Hazrat Sultan Mosque mentioned in the first blog and the other one is Nur Astana Mosque. The mosque is a few minutes from the Bayterek tower so don’t hesitate to stretch your legs.

This place is located at the end of the Nurzhol Bulevar in between Bayterek tower and Khan Shatyr shopping mall. It is surrounded by high buildings in which are located banks, exclusive apartments, hotels and restaurants.

Khan Shatyr is definitely the strangest shopping mall that I have ever visited and it is the biggest tent in the world. You can find a lot of stores there but also a sandy beach with the swimming pool if you would like to experience the Maldives in the centre of Siberian winter.

That was some of the places that I manage to visit during my visits to Nur-Sultan that amazed me. For sure there are many more, but I left those for you to explore.

In the last part about Kazakhstan story, I will write a little bit about “ugly” part of Kazakhstan and about AMAZING cuisine that I had a chance to try. Stay tuned!

HERE ARE MY OTHER POST FROM KAZAKHSTAN


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