At the receiving end of a huge unflattering publicity boost from the movie Borat, Kazakhstan is an enormous country in Central Asia with a fairly small population because much of the country is barely habitable.



The former capital but still largest and most cosmopolitan city of Kazakhstan. Almaty is the new name for the city that was formerly known as Alma-Ata in the Soviet Union – "the city of apples", once being famous for its big apples. The city may have changed its name and lost its status as political capital to Astana, but it still is the economic and cultural capital of Kazakhstan. It doesn't have the flashy new architecture of Astana (which is being pushed to outshine Almaty on that front with big government money), but its location is unbeatably more visually attractive: it is nestled in the foothills of the snow-capped Tian Shan mountains that rise to well over 4000 metres just beyond the edge of the city limits – providing a dramatic backdrop. However, it is also an earthquake-prone location, which explains why you don't see many old structures in the city. Since independence, Almaty has been undergoing an economic boom thanks to the riches from the country's huge oil and mineral resources. The spoils are everywhere, swanky cars, lot of brand new buildings & shopping malls being constructed, and a shiny metro system.


Big Almaty Lake

About an hour away from Almaty is the Big Lake, a mountain lake at 2600m. The road there is very photogenic. Beautiful views and fresh mountain air.



When my flight approached Astana, the glitzy capital city looked like a mirage. Little surrounds the city for 1,200 kilometres, only the world's largest steppe, a flat, empty expanse of grassland. Shooting up from this void is a mass of strangely futuristic structures making up a bulging science fiction-like skyline that will leave you goggling in amazement. Yet just 20 years ago the city used to be a lot more modest than what it is today. In 1997, Kazakhstan's president moved the capital from Almaty to the newly-named Astana (previously it was called Akmola), which was then mostly an empty patch of land best known as a former gulag prison camp for the wives of Soviet traitors.
In Kazakh, "Astana" means simply 'capital city'. Why was Astana made the new capital? Nobody seems to know for sure, but several factors have been suggested, including its central location away from earthquake prone regions. Another advantage over Almaty may be that it sits in the open steppe with no limitations on expansion, whereas Almaty is hemmed in by mountain ranges. Much of Astana remains a building site – as expansion continues and new ambitious architectural extravagancies are under construction. So the face of the city is bound to keep on changing. The core of the new government district is more or less finished, though.


Kaindy Lake

Kaindy Lake, also known as the "Sunken Forest" or "Kaindy Blue Lake," is a unique and picturesque lake located in the Tian Shan Mountains. The lake was formed as a result of an earthquake in 1911, which triggered a landslide that blocked the gorge and created a natural dam. Over time, rainwater filled the valley, submerging the existing spruce forest. The tops of the submerged trees, which have not decayed due to the cold water, still protrude above the surface, creating a surreal and mesmerizing landscape.


Kolsai Lakes

Kolsai Lakes a group of three mountain lakes located in the northern Tien Shan Mountains. The lakes are known for their stunning natural beauty, surrounded by forests and alpine meadows. Kolsai Lakes are a popular destination for trekking, horseback riding & boat rides.


Saty village

Saty is a picturesque village located in the Kungey Alatau mountain range . This village serves as a gateway for visitors exploring the beautiful natural attractions in the area. The village offers various accommodation options, including yurts, providing a chance to experience the nomadic lifestyle. I opted for a homestay with a Kazakh family which provided an opportunity to interact with the friendly villagers, learn about their traditional way of life, and experience Kazakh hospitality.


Charyn Canyon

Charyn Canyon is a canyon of the Charyn River, and is known for its impressive and diverse geological formations. The canyon stretches for over 80 kilometers and reaches depths of up to 300 meters. The unique rock formations have been shaped by erosion over millions of years. One of the most famous sections of Charyn Canyon is often referred to as the "Valley of Castles" or the "Red Canyon" due to the reddish color of the rocks. The formations resemble towering castle walls and create a surreal and picturesque landscape.


Black Canyon & Yellow (Moon) Canyon

Also known as the Uzunbulak Canyon, the Black Canyon & Yellow Canyon which are also known as the Moon Canyon. It is located near the Valley of Castles along the Charyn River. The canyon is characterized by its white walls, which are made of white clay. The canyon is often called the Moon Canyon because of its resemblance to the surface of the moon.



Many rural Kazakhs still live a semi-nomadic existence, moving with their herds into summer pastures every year. They eat and sleep in yurts, the ancient dwellings of the nomads. They also drink a lot of kumis {fermented horse milk}. I was offered some kumis on the way to Almaty, it was so bitter, it could have brought down a bull. Kumis is rumoured to be an aphrodisiac, I can confidently say I was in no frisky mood afterwards.



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