Central Asia is often a region that gets overlooked. Split between the massive Caucus mountain range and the even more massive Russia, this part of the world is way off the beaten track. But with a little digging, some hidden gems become instantly apparent. Kazakhstan is one of those gems. A country that was put on the map by the hit movie Borat, it instantly got a bad reputation. Poverty and ignorance were at the foreground of the picture that was painted of it, and yet there’s so much more to this special place. Kazakhstan, and its lovely people the Kazakhs have so much to offer, and the tourism rate is rising at quite a high rate as a result. The country has some great sites to check out as well.
For example, the capital city Astana houses the Palace of Peace and Reconciliation. Built between 2004 and 2006, the impressive pyramid-shaped design is only second to the pyramids of Egypt. The idea behind the building is that it houses all the world’s religious faiths in a national center for Kazakhstan’s array of geographical and ethnic groups. It also includes a 1,500 seat opera house. The building itself is a representation of diversity, with the lower portions of the pyramid triangles made of pale granite while the upper portions are covered in stained glass doves. The architecture of the building is especially unique because it had to be designed in order to withstand contraction and expansion brought on by temperatures varying between -40 and 40 degrees Celsius.
Kazakhstan is also home to some incredible nature, such as Kaindy Lake. Closest to the capital, this lake is home to the most idyllically turquoise water the world has ever seen. The lake itself was formed fairly recently, in 1911. There was a major earthquake that formed a natural dam that filled with water over time. The lake itself isn’t just famous for its beautiful waters but also for the spruce trees that grow straight out of it. The scenery is even more impressive underwater because the trees have not decomposed, so it ends up looking like a submerged forest.
If urban exploring is more your thing, make the field trip to Bayzhansay. It is now a ghost town, but was once bustling with miners and commerce. The town was subsidized by Moscow during Soviet times, so many people would come to purchase supplies. As a result, the population was far better off than in the surrounding areas. But once the Soviet Union collapsed, catastrophe struck. All mining stopped, and the town emptied. The infrastructure of the town was completely destroyed. An official building gets a fresh coat of paint once every few years, and a few families live in the surrounding area during the summer, but winter would leave anyone stranded.
Prefer a tamer activity? As it turns out, the humble apple actually originated in Kazakhstan. The first wild apples grew wild in the Tian Shan, where they still grow today. Scientists are sure that these apple seeds were transported by birds and bears across borders before they were ever cultivated by humans. By the time humans were trading and growing apples, the fruit was already growing wild in the Levantine regions. The Romans discovered it and dispersed the fruit even further around the world. Today, you can take pleasant hikes around wild apple orchards, but we recommend taking a guide as they can be hard to find.
Flying to Kazakhstan is a bit tricky because there aren’t too many direct flights. However, if layovers aren’t a problem for you, make the land of Borat your next travel destination!