The first question I am sure you are asking is, ‘why were you visiting Kazakhstan?’
Well the answer is simple, I was lucky enough to be invited, alongside travel professionals from around the world, to visit some of Kazakhstan’s most incredible sights. Over the course of eight incredible, enlightening, days, we travelled from east to west and back again, through the breath-taking south of Kazakhstan.
The tour took in Almaty, Aktau, Kyzylorda, Shymkent and Turkestan, among many other fascinating locations; historical, spiritual and cultural. As a bit of a geek, I had expected my highlight to be a trip to Baikonur Cosmodrome, the launch site of the first manned space flight by Yuri Gagarin, and of many of Russia’s space adventures since but, spoiler alert, I found somewhere even better!
Valiantly, I attempted to write a daily blog while I was there, so you could share in my experience. As you may have guessed, I failed. The tour was so full of incredible moments I just did not have time to even think about typing my experiences up! And I have been so busy since it has taken a few weeks to get my thoughts into a coherent order! I did manage to take notes, so instead of a daily blog, I shall be sharing my experiences and, more importantly, my photos, with you over the next few weeks … if I am able to read my notes anyway; my handwriting isn’t great at the best of times, but while travelling along some of the bumpy roads of Kazakhstan it hit a new low! I attempt to share with you what I saw each day, where I went and how it felt. Warts and all.
Many of you have already started to travel through Kazakhstan, Central Asia in general, and along the Silk Route. I am sure there are many more of you considering it, so hopefully this blog series may give you an insight into what to expect. For those of you who have never considered, and possibly never even contemplated the idea of considering, visiting Kazakhstan, maybe, just maybe, I can inspire you to add this incredible country to your bucket list.
So, what expectations did I pack before leaving for, literally, the most unique trip I had ever taken? To be honest, I did not really know enough about the country to form expectations! Like many of you, I had never really expected to ever visit Kazakhstan, and it certainly wasn’t in my top 15 ‘countries to visit’. Shamefully, my primary exposure to the country was the Sacha Baron Cohen movie, Borat.
It may be better to ask, ‘what did I know?’ I knew it was a country that only found independence following the fall of the Soviet Union. I knew that it was an enormous country, bordered by Russia to the north, China to the east, the ‘stans’ to the south and the Caspian Sea to the west. And I knew that, historically, the Kazakhs were a nomadic people.
Based on this limited knowledge, if I really had to offer an expectation, it would be this – I thought that I would find quite a dry and arid country, with little of the greenery I am accustomed to at home in the UK. What you will come to see, through my blogs and photos, is that my expectation was entirely wrong. Yes, there are arid areas of the country, but many parts of the country are incredibly green and full of life. Colourful too. I came across wild tulips growing in conditions you would not expect, as well as fields of poppies growing as far as the eye can see across the steppe.
What had I expected to gain from this trip? A deeper, and more thorough, understanding of Kazakhstan and what it has to offer to travellers, as well as the opportunity to share my experiences with you. I also hoped to expand my horizons in regards to culture, history and religion by visiting a country and a culture that has grown and developed in an entirely different way to anything I have experienced before.
Did I gain these things? I shall let you decide over the weeks to come.
Oh, and one last thing, if you were wondering where the ‘stan’ comes from in many of the place names of Central Asia, like I did, this video may give you an idea …
FULL DISCLOSURE: I originally posted this on www.realrussia.co.uk/blog under the title ‘Real Russia’s 2015 Visit to Kazakhstan’. Words and images are all my own, video belongs to ‘Roots and Routes’.