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Kazakhstan Popular Places to Visit

Ascension Cathedral

The eye catching golden domes and kaleidoscopic color scheme of the Ascension Cathedral in Almaty, Kazakhstan, draw visitors to the city’s Panfilov Park, but the building’s genius architecture and complex history demand just as much attention.

In addition to the church’s striking beauty, the architecture and engineering command respect; at a height of 56 meters, the Ascension Cathedral is one of the tallest wooden constructions in the world. It’s widely believed that the church was built entirely without metal. However, while the vast majority of the structure is made of Tien-Shan spruce, there are a small number of nails, bolts, and other metal pieces. The church’s interior came from artistic workshops in Moscow and Kiev, while the icons were painted by local artist and ethnographer, Nikolay Gavrilovich Khludov.

The cathedral is located in Panfilov Park in the center of Almaty, Kazakhstan, and is easily accessible by public transport.

Almaty, Kazakhstan

Khan Shatyr

An entertainment center in a huge transparent tent. In Astana Khan Shatyr is the crowning jewel with remarkable pieces of modern architecture. 

A huge transparent tent, 150 m high and covering 140,000 m², which has been purposefully built to give the population of Astana a relief from the harsh winter climate of Northern Kazakhstan. Khan Shatyr was designed by British architect Norman Foster, who is also responsible for the pyramidal Palace of Peace and Reconciliation – another one of Astana’s architectural marvels.

Inside the huge structure of Khan Shatyr are a number of entertainment options, such as a park, a boating river, a minigolf course, a shopping centre and even an indoor beach resort. Regardless of the outside temperature extremes, the internal temperature is moderate year-round, varying between 15 and 30° C, which is achieved by the use of the infiltrated sunlight, as well as air heating and cooling systems.

Astana, Kazakhstan

Cosmonaut Grove

Avenue of trees planted by cosmonauts before their space departures. The trees are located behind the Cosmonaut Hotel, which was designed for cosmonauts to rest before their space travels. The grove lines the Avenue of the Cosmonauts, as it’s called, and each is designated with a plaque with the crew member’s name and the year.

In a tradition that goes back to Yuri Gagarin and the Soviet space program, each cosmonaut crew member has planted a tree before their departure at the Baikonur Cosmodrome. Gagarin’s tree stands the tallest, while recent Soyuz crews have smaller saplings growing from the soil. A planting traditionally takes place the day before a voyage, although it can also be the week before, and it’s accompanied by a walk in the grove to remember the intrepid cosmonauts who came before through the trees that flourish in their absence.

Baikonur, Kazakhstan

Zharkent Mosque

This unique wooden mosque resembling a Chinese pagoda was said to be built without the use of nails. The Zharkent mosque dates to around 1886, not long after the town was officially settled as a far-flung outpost of Tsarist Russia. Zharkent was a small Uighur settlement prior to official Russian township status and the mosque was sponsored by a wealthy local Uighur merchant, Valiakhun Yuldashev.

The mihrab (prayer niche) and original main entrance to the mosque are similar in style to Central Asian Islamic architecture found throughout Central Asia. But the minaret, mosque exterior, and minbar (pulpit) are more like  Chinese pagodas in design and decoration. Many of those decorations feature plants and flowers, contravening Muslim rules that limit depictions of living things in religious buildings.

The museum is open most days from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. for guided tours, but hours posted on the door may reflect changes. While guided tours seem to be required, your guide may only speak Russian and/or Kazakh.The museum is open most days from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. for guided tours, but hours posted on the door may reflect changes. While guided tours seem to be required, your guide may only speak Russian and/or Kazakh.The entrance fee is there.

Zharkent, Kazakhstan

Wild Apple Forests

In the early 20th century, biologist Nikolai Vavilov first traced the apple genome back to a grove near Almaty, a small town whose wild apples are nearly indistinguishable from the Golden Deliciouses found at grocery stores today. Vavilov visited Almaty and was astounded to find apple trees growing wild, densely entangled and unevenly spaced, a phenomenon found nowhere else in the world.

The ancestor of the domestic apple is the Malus sieversii, which grows wild in the Tian Shan mountains of Kazakhstan.

Almaty’s former name, Alma-Ata,  means “father of apples,” and the town touts its heritage proudly. A fountain in the center of town is apple-shaped, and vendors come out each week to sell their many varieties of domesticated apples at market.

Almaty Region, Kazakhstan

Mount Sherkala & The Valley Of Balls

There are 2 very special natural wonders close to the town of Shetpe in West Kazakhstan. The first one is Sherkala, also called Lion Rock, a 200-meter high mountain in the middle of a flat desert. Another thing that makes this mountain so special is that looks different when you look at it from different points of view. On one side it resembles a yurt, from the other side a lion’s head.

There are many legends told about this mountain and old local people won’t recommend you to climb this mountain or go inside its caves as they believe that spirits dwell there.

Another natural phenomenon close to the town of Shetpe is the Valley of Balls. This Valley earned its name thanks to the numerous ball-like rocks that are spread across the valley. The balls range in size from tiny marbles to huge boulders the size of a car.

You can only reach these places by car. Mount Sherkala is about 22km North West of Shetpe while the Valley of Balls should also be near. 

Shetpe, Kazakhstan

The Lost City Of Sauran

Sauran, also known as Sawran or Sawran, an ancient city about 45 km north from Turkistan city along the road to Kyzylorda. The original walls surrounding the old town are still in excellent conditions, almost intact, and in some places, it is even possible to climb to the top and enjoy the view.

The first historical reference of Sauran dates from the tenth century, but the ruins we see today were established between the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries.

It gained fame to be one of the most magnificent castles of Kazakhstan, having escaped the Mongol destruction and having even served as capital to the Horde of the White Mongol. Later, Sauran became a fortress of Timur. It was from Sauram that the building materials of the famous Yasavi Mausoleum came. It was abandoned gradually, and consequently entirely desertified by the year 1515.

You can get to Sauran from Turkestan by taxi. 

Turkestan, Kazakhstan

Turkestan

Turkestan was one of the most important commercial centers of the Silk Road. The city was founded over 15 centuries ago and is now the historical center of Kazakhstan’s culture.

Turkestan is now known for the Mausoleum of Khoja Ahmed Yasawi, a Turkic Sufi saint who was the first man to introduce the Islam religion in Central Asia. His mausoleum attracts yearly thousands of pilgrims. It was designed by Amir Timur, who also has other spectacular architectural creations in Uzbekistan.

Turkestan is about two hours away by mashrutka (minibus) from Shymkent. Here’s a detailed description on how to get from Shymkent to Turkestan by public transport.

Turkestan, Kazakhstan

Arystan Bab Mausoleum

Legends tell that the mystic Arystan Bab was the mentor of Khoja Ahmed Yasawi and by tradition, a pilgrimage to Yasawi’s mausoleum in Turkestan should be preceded by a visit to the mausoleum of Arystan Bab.

It’s an impressive building, originating from the 14th-century. It’s framed by two domed minarets and the carpet-draped tomb of Arystan Bab is in a small room to the left of the entrance. The room is constantly filled with praying believers and pilgrims.

The mausoleum is surrounded by hundreds of tombs of devout Muslims who wished to be close to Arystan Bab. It’s important that when you visit the site, you stay quiet and respectful and you should dress modestly (no shorts or tops).

The Mausoleum is close to the village of Kogam but you can only get there by car. If you don’t have your own vehicle, you could take a taxi from Shymkent or Turkestan or try to hitchhike.

Shymkent, Kazakhstan

The Aisha Bibi Mausoleum

The Aisha Bibi is a beautiful 11th or 12th-century mausoleum in the village of Aisha Bibi. It is the only monument in Central Asia that is fully covered with carved terracotta tilework and is admired for its unique construction and decorative art.

Aisha Bibi is the subject of a popular legend in Kazakhstan. An ancient ruler constructed the monument for a young woman named Aisha with whom he fell in love. She was killed by a snake while attempting to go against her parents wishes to be with him. It’s basically a ‘Romeo & Juliette’ story.

This mausoleum became the local monument for faith and eternal love and is seen as a sacred talisman. Many young couples come here on their wedding day to attract good luck and eternal love in their lives. If you visit the mausoleum, you’ll see many wedding couples being photographed here.

Aisha Bibi is located at 8km from Taraz, on the main road to Shymkent. You can take the minibus from Taraz to Shymkent and tell the driver that you want to stop in Aisha Bibi or you could take a taxi.

Taraz, Kazakhstan