Tourism Attractions

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Kazakhstan has enormous potential for all types of tourism, from sports to business, and of course, eco-tourism. The country’s rich and complex history has left fascinating archaeological and historical sites; its unique geographical position provides an amazing diversity of landscapes, flora and fauna, many of which are still completely unspoilt and remote.

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The increasingly sophisticated cities – not to mention the capital Astana – offer a cosmopolitan experience for visitors:

- Cultural tourism
- Ecotourism
- Sports tourism
- Health tourism
- Religious Tourism
- Business tourism

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Kazakhstan, as a whole, could be described as open air museum. Tourists can visit ancient cities along the Great Silk Road, see the Bronze Age Tamgaly petroglyphs and the famous necropolis of Mangystau. There are burial sites and tombs of many cultural icons, from the ancient Khans to the legendary (but real-life) lovers Kozy-Korpesh and Bayan-Sulu, buried together in a tomb near the village of Tansikin in East Kazakhstan. Then there is the music, the folklore, the art, the museums and theatres.
Visitors can explore Kazakhstan’s modern life in the cities of Astana, Almaty, Shymkent, Ust-Kamenogorsk (Oskemen) and Aktau where there are tourism services for every taste and budget.

The number and diversity of natural environments make Kazakhstan an incredibly attractive place for the eco-tourist. We have 12 national parks and 10 nature reserves, and given Kazakhstan’s size and location, the country has a diversity of climate and topography that tourists would normally have to find in a number of different countries around the world.
There is the Great Steppe and the lakes of Central Kazakhstan, listed among the UNESCO World Heritage Sites. There are the foothills and mountains of the east and southeast, which can easily compare with the Alps for their variety of landscapes, flora and fauna, but unspoilt, less well trodden. There is the coast of the Caspian Sea, the largest landlocked body of water in the world. There are the dry deserts of southwest Kazakhstan, amazingly photogenic and home to extraordinary wildlife; there are the forests around Lake Borovoye in the north of the country… and much more.
Kazakhstan’s tourist agencies have developed thousands of different routes for visitors keen to explore the natural environment and experience the ancient life of Kazakh nomads.

Kazakhstan offers perfect conditions for sports tourism, with mountain skiing, alpinism, water activities, horse riding, cycling, and many more.
Kazakhstan offers stunning routes and excellent conditions for a wide variety of sports, from gentle to extreme, and the country’s authorities make every effort to provide good infrastructure. For example, the Shymbulak ski centre pistes are among the best in the world.

Kazakhstan is a wonderful venue for a health-promoting holiday, with a choice of natural therapeutic resources such as hot springs and mineral waters and mud, with the country’s salubrious climate and beautiful scenery. Kazakhstan also practices and uses ancient healing benefits of kumys-therapy, and Pantotheraphy. Well-equipped sanatoria next to the natural therapy sites give visitors somewhere comfortable to stay during treatment.
Many of Kazakhstan’s holiday centres are great for visitors who want to give a boost to their health or simply get a bit of relaxation and de-stress in the beautiful and ecologically clean surroundings, from the coast of Alakol lake or the Borovoye and Bayanaul resort areas, to the coast of the Caspian Sea or the foothills of the Alatau Mountains. Truly something for everyone.

Although the majority of visitors who come to Kazakhstan to see religious sites are mostly coming for Islamic history, there is plenty for those interested in other religions, too. Muslim faithful can visit mosques, mausoleums, tombs and shrines of well-known religious figures such as Khoja Ahmed Yassawi and Arystan Baba, Shakpak-Ata and Beket-Ata. Kazakhstan’s contemporary mosques will touch the feelings of pilgrims: the Hazrat Sultan mosque in Astana is a pearl of Kazakhstan.
Beyond Islam, there are a number of beautiful Christian Orthodox churches, such as the St. Ascension Cathedral in Almaty, the St. Assumption Cathedral in Astana, Holy Trinity Church in Ust-Kamenogorsk, the St. Ascension Cathedral in Semey, and others.
In the south-east of the country and in the Altai mountains there are a number of sites that reflect the history of the presence of Buddhism in Kazakhstan.

Business is bringing an increasing number of visitors to our major cities – principally Astana, Almaty and Atyrau. Trade fairs and exhibitions, regional and international conferences, summits and workshops are attracting an impressive number of foreign business travellers. As Kazakhstan’s economy grows and prospers, so does the list of reasons for business and professional people to visit the country.
Business hotels, from famous luxury hotels to cosy inns, already offer a good choice of accommodation, but more hotels and serviced accommodation is being built every year, along with world-class restaurants, retail and recreation.
One of the greatest events coming to Kazakhstan, which will bring large numbers of visitors, is Expo 2017 in Astana, which will draw a huge number of first-time visitors to the country.

EAST KAZAKHSTAN </div>

Eastern Kazakhstan is a remarkable region that has almost every kind of landscape typical to Central Asia: from mountains and sandy deserts to softwood forests and unbounded prairies. However, the main natural landscape in the country’s east are the mountains. The biggest mountain groups of the country are situated here, and they draw tourists from all around the world. There is the ski center Altai Alps, popular among the region’s residents and tourists from neighbouring Russia.

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The best way to get to the sights of Eastern Kazakhstan is through Ust-Kamenogorsk and Semey, both of which have airports and are easy to reach.

Zaisan, the ringing lake[^zaisan]
Lake Zaysan is the largest lake in the East Kazakhstan Oblast, and there are routes there from both Ust-Kamenogorsk and Semey.
Zaisan is a freshwater lake, around 100km long and 30km wide, with an average depth of around eight meters; it is fed by the Chernyi Irtysh (Black Irtysh) and others, and its only outlet is Belyi Irtysh (White Irtysh).
The lake holds 17 commercial fishery species, which is a serious attraction for enthusiastic fishermen.
Lake Zaisan is thought to be one of the oldest lakes in Kazakhstan, and its star feature is that under a clear starry sky you can hear melodic ringing above the lake.

Alakol
Lake Alakol (Motley lake) is one of the most beautiful lakes in Kazakhstan, on the northwest edge of the Dzhungar Alatau range, on the border between the Almaty and East Kazakhstan oblasts. There are two ways to reach the lake: there is a direct bus service from Semey to the northern lakeshore, and the southern lakeshore is connected to Almaty by a highway.
Alakol, a saltwater lake, is a real ‘sea in the steppe’, 104km long, 52km wide, and 45m maximum depth. There are three islands in the centre of the lake that form the Alakol State Sanctuary, created in 1998 to protect both flora and fauna.
One of the main resources of the lake is its therapeutic mud. The southern lakeshore already has a well-developed infrastructure for tourists, making for delightful holidays for people who expect high levels of comfort; the northern lakeshore is being developed to the same standards.

Rakhmanov Springs (Rakhmanovskiye Klyuchi)
Rakhmanovskiye Klyuchi is a thermal water recreation centre in the middle of the oldest Altai mountains – part of the Katon-Karagai State Sanctuary.
Close to the borders of both Russia and China, and less than 100km from Mongolia, Katon-Karagai is the biggest nature reserve in Kazakhstan and is on the UNESCO World Heritage list.
Rakhmanovskiye Klyuchi is 1,760m above sea level, between two picturesque lakes in a huge rock basin. Subterranean rivers of the region contain curative radon, the product of radioactive decay of elements found in very rare granite minerals. Thermal water is used to treat bone disorders such as arthritis, gout and complications from injuries, as well as skin problems and diseases of the nervous system.
According to a local legend, in 1763 a peasant named Rakhmanov discovered the hot springs while out elk hunting. A wounded elk wandered into the water and got out of it safe and sound.
Rakhmanovskiye Klyuchi is about 450km from Ust-Kamenogorsk, where there is a bus service to the recreation centre.

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ALMATY </div>

Almaty is Kazakhstan’s largest city and was its capital for almost 70 years. Today Almaty is called the southern capital, due to its intense business, social, and cultural life.
Almaty is in the foothills of the Zailiyskiy Alatau Mountains, which encircle the city to its south and can be seen from any point of the city, given good weather. Almaty stands on a slope, which is why locals use ‘up’ and ‘down’ when talking about navigating around the city.

History

The area around Almaty has been home to many tribes and nations since prehistory – such as the Saka tribes; archeologists found Saka tombs in the region, even in the city itself.
Almaty’s modern history began in 1854 when the Russian Empire decided to build military fortification named Vernyi.
In 1921, during Soviet times, the city of Vernyi was renamed Alma-Ata (the Kazakh word alma means apple and the word ata means father) after the name of the region, Almaty.
Eight years later, Alma-Ata became the capital of Kazakh ASSR, and after independence, in 1991, Alma-ata reverted to its historical name of Almaty.
Even though the capital has now moved to Astana, Almaty still is the key academic, cultural, manufacturing, and financial centre of the country and remains the must-see place for visitors.

Sightseeing

Kok-Tobe (Kazakh for Blue Top) is a 1,100m mountain within the city boundary; there is a 350m high TV tower at the base of the mountain – the highest TV tower in the world, measured from sea level.
Kok-Tobe is connected to the city by a rope walk, but you can also hike to the top or take a minibus up. The observation platform at the top of the mountain offers a wonderful view of the city and mountains around it, both day and night.
On Kok-Tobe there is the Fountain of Desire in the shape of an apple, a children’s playground, mini-zoo, an art gallery, and other attractions.

Park of Panfilov’s 28 Guardsmen, one of the oldest parks in the city, is in the lower part of the city, in the heart of the old town. The park was named after the guardsmen of 316th rifle division (commanded by Major-General Ivan Panfilov) who in 1941 died bravely defending Moscow.
The Memorial of Glory in the park – enclosing an eternal flame – captures the guardsmen who protected Moscow with their lives. There are also statues to General Panfilov, to the remarkable military leader and writer Bauyrzhan Momyshuly, and to soldiers of Kazakhstan who fought in the Afghan war.
The Museum of Folk Instruments and St. Ascension Cathedral are also in the park.

St Ascension Orthodox Cathedral is in the centre of the Park of Panfilov’s 28 Guardsmen. With six domes topped with iron crucifixes, the wooden cathedral is a 46m high building designed by Andrey Zenkov and built in 1907. During the Soviet times the paintings on the Cathedral were destroyed but they were restored by modern painters as part of a complete restoration after the Cathedral was given back to the Church in 1994.
It is one of the tallest wooden buildings in the world, and the tallest wooden Orthodox Cathedral. Its highest point at the top of the crucifix of the main dome is at 39.64m and the highest point of the top of the bell tower is at 46m. The cathedral holds 1,800 worshippers.
The unique point of the building is that, being famously built without a single nail, it is remarkably earthquake-proof. During the 1911 earthquake (7.7 magnitude), when the entire city was in ruins, the Cathedral only had one of its crucifixes bent. It survived every earthquake since with the equal success.

The Monument of Independence of Kazakhstan is in Republic Square (locals call it the ‘new square’) and was unveiled on 16 December 1996 by the decree of President Nazarbayev.
The monument is a 28m tall sculpture crowned with a 6m tall figure of the Golden Man, a replica of the Saka warrior prince found in the Issyk burial mound near Almaty. The figure of the warrior is shown riding a winged snow leopard. At the foot of the monument there are statues of allegorical figurines: Wise Sky, Mother Earth, and two children on colts. On either side of the monument there are semicircles of 10 bas-reliefs that show the history of Kazakhstan from ancient times to the modern day.

Other venues
Almaty has several good museums, of which the most interesting (besides the Museum of Folk Instruments in Panfilov Park) are the Central State Museum and the Kasteyev State Museum of Arts.
Almaty’s most popular theatres are:
- Abai Kazakh State Academic Opera and Ballet Theatre
- Auezov Kazakh State Academic Drama Theatre
- Lermontov State Academic Russian Drama Theatre
Around Almaty are many attractions to see, such as the Medeo skating rink, Shymbulak ski resort, the Big Almaty Lake, the Turgen gorge, the Issyk mound, and so on.

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ALMATY REGION

The southeast area of Kazakhstan, around Almaty, is a trove of tourist attractions. Fans of cultural tourism will find historical monuments more than two thousand years old, fans of eco-tourism will see virgin landscapes; sports fans can indulge in alpine skiing and mountain climbing, rafting, fishing, hiking, and cycling.
Tourist agencies in Almaty have designed trips for all budgets and interests; for independent travellers, it also makes sense to start their journey from the southern capital.

Medeo Skating Rink Medeo Skating Rink has for decades been one of the main attractions of Almaty, just a 15-minute drive from the city. Medeo is at an altitude of 1,691 metres above sea level; the ice surface of 10,500m2 makes it the world’s largest high-mountain complex for winter sports with the largest area of​ artificial ice field.
The altitude and pure mountain water for ice help to achieve high performance in speed skating –more than 200 world records in all distances have been set at Medeo, by men and women, which is why Almaty’s skating rink is nicknamed the ‘factory of records’.
There is an anti-mudflow dam next to the rink, built to protect the city from mudslides formed on the tops of the Western Tien-Shan. The dam has three levels, with 842 steps leading to the top of the dam.

Shymbulak Ski Resort The famous ski resort Shymbulak is less than half an hour from the city, above the Medeo ice skating rink, on the ridge of Zailiyskiy Alatau, at 2,260m above the sea level.
The resort was founded in 1954; Shymbulak was a training base for Soviet skiers since the mid-1950s, and championships of the USSR and Kazakhstan have been held on its slopes. Now the resort has been through several large-scale refurbishments and gives visitors high-quality slopes and services.
Shymbulak’s business card is its variety of pistes, from gentle nursery slopes for beginners and long runs for advanced skiers, FIS-runs for downhill, a wild valley with pristine snow; a half-pipe for snowboarders, extreme bends for the pros, and a special track for mogul.
Shymbulak ski trails are certified by the International Ski Federation (FIS). Downhill and the right-hand giant slalom are among the top ten most difficult routes in the world.

Altyn-Emel: Singing Dune, Aktau Mountains, Tamgaly-Tas Tract
Altyn-Emel State National Park is 150km away from Almaty, which takes four to five hours.
The park is on the right bank of the Ili river and covers the northern part of the Kapshagai reservoir area, desertified mountains of the Major and Minor Kalkan, Aktau, and Katytau.
It is the largest nature reserve in Kazakhstan, with unique flora and fauna; some of the most famous attractions of Kazakhstan are located in the Altyn-Emel.

Singing Dune
The main attraction of the Altyn-Emel Park is the Singing Dune, on the right bank of the Ili River. This dune reaches a length of 3.2km with a height of about 120m and is famous for producing melodic sounds in dry weather.
This song can be heard several kilometres away. The sound is made when the tiny grains of sand rub against each other: a breeze makes an easily audible squeak, and strong gusts a more intense and expressive sound, like an organ.
The dune, despite the fragility of the sand, does not roam and has been in Altyn-Emel for several thousand years. Legends say that the great Genghis Khan and his loyal soldiers are buried under the sand dune, and the sand sings when the soul of the Khan tells future generations about his exploits.

Tamgaly-Tas
Not to be confused with the Bronze Age Tamgaly complex, Tamgaly-Tas is 170km away from Almaty on the Ili River, near the Kapshagai reservoir.
Tamgaly-Tas, which means ‘stones with images’, consists of huge cliffs, up to 60m high, on which many images have been preserved.
About a thousand rock drawings, including images of the Buddha and bodhisattvas, are among the petroglyphs. As well as Buddhist paintings and stone inscriptions there is a stone with 8th or 9th century runic inscriptions left by the Kipchaks.
Tamgaly-Tas is under the protection of the government of Kazakhstan as a cultural monument.

Aktau Mountains
The Aktau Mountains (White Mountains) are another gem of the Altyn-Emel Park. These mountains are called ‘lunar’ because of their unusual coloring. More than 400 million years old, and originally part of the ocean bed, the chalk mountains are mostly white, but there are also blue and pink, red and green slopes that give Aktau its unique alien beauty.

Turgen Gorge
The Turgen Gorge is 90km from Almaty. It is a beautiful natural wilderness blessed with hot springs, waterfalls, and lakes, coniferous and mixed forests, alpine meadows and mountains; the rocks hold fossilised prints of pre-Ice Age plants.
The gorge is famous for its seven waterfalls: the Bear Falls is a 30-meter high cascade, and Bozgul is a powerful force of water that has drilled a tunnel through the rock.
The most popular place in the valley is Botan station; here, at the confluence of three rivers, Turgen Gorge is at its deepest at 920 metres. At the trout farm in the Gorge you can catch your fish and cook it yourself over an open fire.

Issyk Mound
One of the most famous archaeological sites in Kazakhstan and Central Asia is the Issyk burial mound just 50km from Almaty. The mound was discovered in 1969 during excavations on the banks of the Issyk River.
Six metres high and 60 metres in diameter, the monument dates from the 4th century BC, and the young man that was buried there belongs to the Saka-Tigrahaud ruling family.
The Golden Warrior is dressed in armour that is heavily decorated with gold: a jacket of golden plates, his sword belt and sword are of pure gold, golden greaves around his lower legs, and on his head an arrow- or flame-shaped headpiece, 70 cm high – all of it decorated with 4,000 exquisite, delicate and masterful golden ornaments in the famous animal style, typical of Saka artisans.
Copies of the Golden Man can be found on display at the museums of Almaty and Astana, and it’s worth a trip to Kazakhstan purely to marvel at the extraordinary 2,400 year-old supreme artistry of goldsmithing and jewellery.

Charyn Canyon
The Charyn Canyon, the beauty of which is compared to the Grand Canyon in Colorado, is 195km east of Almaty in the Charyn National Park, close to the border of China. Patterns of erosion and weathering have created a dreamlike landscape.
The canyon was formed by the fracture of the earth’s crust about 30 million years ago, and stretches for 154 km north-east – south-west along the Charyn River. The height of vertical slopes, columns and arches is up to 300 metres.

Great Almaty Lake
This mountain lake is in the valley of the Great Almatinka River at 2,511 meters above sea level, 28 kilometres south of Almaty. Great Almaty Lake, created by an earthquake, is 1,600m long and up to 1,000m wide; the lake’s circumference is 3km long and its maximum depth is 38m.
All around the lake are the mountains, including the Peak of Councils (4,317m altitude), Ozernyi Peak (4,110m), and Tourist Peak (3,954m).
The lake shore is steep, and the water quite cold, even in summer. Depending on the time of year, the water turns various shades from yellow-green in summer to turquoise blue in autumn.
The Tien-Shan Astronomical Observatory is in the valley 2km above the lake, at an altitude of 2,700m.

Kolsai Lakes
The Kolsai Lakes System is about 300km east of Almaty and are known as the Pearl of the Northern Tien Shan. Three mountain lakes bordered by steep, pine-covered slopes are in the spurs of the Kungei Alatau ridge.
Lower Kolsai Lake is 1km long with a maximum depth of 80m, and is at an altitude of 1,818m; you can reach it by road, and there are guest houses and camping sites. Middle Kolsai Lake, at 2,252m and 50m deep, is the largest and most beautiful, 5km away from the first lake. Upper Kolsai is 4km further and 600m higher. The two lower lakes are ringed by blue spruce, alpine meadows and mountain pastures, while the top lake is surrounded by rocks.

Lake Kaindy
This is a popular place for visitors, in one of the gorges of Kungei Alatau. Despite the low temperature of the water, the tear-shaped Lake Kaindy – 21 metres at its deepest – attracts diving enthusiasts. The most distinctive feature of the lake is the sunken forest of spruces, rising straight out of the water: the lake was formed by an earthquake in 1910, when water flooded the lower slopes.

Khan-Tengri
The peak of Khan Tengri (Lord of the Skies, or Lord of the Spirits) is the highest point of Kazakhstan, at 7,015 metres above sea level (including its ice cap). In the eastern section of the Central Tien Shan, on the Tengri-Tag ridge, this is one of the world’s most beautiful peaks, the classic shape of a sharp-edged tetrahedral pyramid, one face of which is a wall of marble; at sunset the peak often turns a deep red, and the Kazakh name Kan Rau means Blood Mountain.
The northernmost ‘seventhousander’ in the world, Khan Tengri attracts a huge number of climbers with a desire for conquest.
Because of the nearness of the Chinese border it takes a special permit to get into this area, so it’s best to go through a specialist travel agency.

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SOUTH KAZAKHSTAN </div>

Southern Kazakhstan is full of historical and cultural landmarks: ancient townships, old mausoleums, and objects of worship. The famous Golden Ring of the seven rivers of Zhetysu is in Southern Kazakhstan, and the region’s optimum steppe conditions let ancient cities flourish for thousands of years. For many centuries traders’ caravans travelled along the Silk Way from China to Europe and the Middle East, right through the lands of the Golden Ring.
The roads to the points of interest in Southern Kazakhstan go through either Shymkent, the centre of Southern Kazakhstan Oblast, or Taraz, the centre of Zhambyl Oblast.

Mausoleum of Khoja Ahmed Yassawi
Khoja Ahmed Yassawi’s tomb, in Turkestan city, is an amazing complex of castles and temples; this architectural masterpiece was built between 1385 and 1405 and is one of Kazakhstan’s UNESCO World Heritage sites.

The Aisha Bibi
The Aisha Bibi mausoleum is an architectural landmark dating back to 10th – 12th centuries; the village is 18 km from Taraz. According to legend, Aisha Bibi was a lover of Kara Khan who built a mausoleum in her memory.
The base of the mausoleum is a cube; at its four corners rise massive columns. Images on the walls combine traditional tribal ornamental art including geometric, zoomorphic, and solar motifs that originated with the Andronian and Saka tribes.

Arystan Bab Mausoleum
The mausoleum is built over the grave of Arystan Bab, a famous religious mystic who lived in 12th century. The first mausoleum dates from to the 14th – 15th centuries and what survive are several wooden columns of the iwan (a vaulted Islamic building). In the 18th century the first mausoleum was destroyed by an earthquake, and was replaced by a double-domed building with an iwan supported by two wooden carved columns. That mausoleum was destroyed and reconstructed in 1909 (as stated on the cartouche of the frieze). In 1971 due to damage from high levels of ground water the mausoleum was rebuilt once more.
Today, the mausoleum is cherished by Muslims in Central Asia and is a place of pilgrimage.

Aksu-Zhabagly
The oldest nature reserve in Kazakhstan and the first in Central Asia to have the status of UNESCO biosphere reserve, Aksu-Zhabagly is on the spurs of the western Tian Shan mountains between 1,000m and 4,280m above sea level.
There are many endangered and endemic species of flora and fauna in Aksu-Zhabagly, and fossils of some of the planet’s oldest occupants: plants, fish, insects, and pangolins.
In an isolated pit, 3,000m above sea level, the reserve hides another remarkable site: a ‘picture gallery’ of many drawings carved into the dark sparkling rocks. Images describe domestic and wild animals, hunting scenes and the routine life of the ancient people who created these images.

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WEST KAZAKHSTAN </div>

Western Kazakhstan is the biggest region where tourists can both see amazing and unusual landscapes and visit ancient cultural landmarks.
The biggest lake in the world, Caspian Sea, and the Small Aral Sea (part of what was the sixth biggest lake in the world, the Aral Sea), are both here. The Great Silk Way went through Western Kazakhstan and left many extraordinary landmarks.

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The main cities of the region are Uralsk, Atyrau, Aktau, and Aktobe and they are the starting points to all the points of sightseeing interest.

Ustyurt Plateau
The Ustyurt Plateau, with the Ustyurt National Biosphere Reserve, is between the Mangystau (Mangyshlak) peninsula and the Aral Sea. The best way to get there is either by train or by car from Aktau.
Several million years ago this whole region was under water and only later became upland, which is one of the reasons why the Ustyurt landscapes are so uniquely gorgeous; in some places, the vertical cliff walls soar 400 metres high, and their colours range from white to an astonishing dark maroon – at sunset the plateau transforms as the white chalk cliffs turn crimson.
The Ustyurt Reserve’s area is 70,000 ha and is home to many rare species such as mouflon, cheetah, saiga, gazelle, jackal, fox, Brandt’s hedgehog, marbled polecat, and others.

Underground mosques Shopan-Ata and Beket-Ata
The Beket-Ata mosque is on the Ustyurt Plateau in Oglandy valley. Beket-Ata Myrzagul
is one of the most revered names in Western Kazakhstan. He was born in 1750 and at the age of 40 became sufi and started teaching children how to read and write; legend says that he had the gift of healing. Beket-Ata died in 1813 and is buried near the underground mosque that he’d built.
The mosque is carved into the middle of a high cliff that has stairs leading to a deep hollow full of bushes; the stairs end at a small platform in front of the mosque. The hall is lit by a drop hole in the centre of a dome-like ceiling; on the western side of the room there’s a prayer room with mihrab on the southern wall. From the southwest side of the hall there are two more rooms, in one of which Beket-Ata was buried.
The underground mosque Shopan-Ata is 60km to the northwest of Zhanaozen town in Mangistau Oblast. The mosque and an adjoining necropolis form the largest and oldest sites of its kind on the Mangyshlak peninsula.
In the southwestern part of the complex there is the underground mosque and the tomb of Shopan-Ata, who was thought to be an apprentice of Khoja Ahmed Yassawi. There are also tombstones that were possibly built by Oguz and Kypchak tribes who lived in the region in the 10th – 13th centuries.
The mosque and tomb of Shopan-Ata are carved into the cliff; in the centre is a rectangular hall, where a low-ceilinged stairway leads upstairs from the southwestern corner. The vaulted burial chamber, where Shopan-Ata himself is said to be buried, is much deeper inside the rock.

The town of Kyzyl-Kala
The ancient town of Kyzyl-Kala (Turkic for Red city) is in the foothills of Mount Sherkala, 170 km from Aktau. Archeologists say the town was founded during the second half of the 10th century; these days only fragments of the ramparts and the foundation of several buildings survive from the once-great Kyzyl-Kala. Set on an important trading route that connected Uzbekistan, Khorezm, and Povolzhye (Volga region), the city was a huge trading hub between Europe and Asia.
The population of Kyzyl-Kala made their living from trade and agriculture – the wealth of the town is shown by discoveries of Baltic amber, Chinese nephrite, Indian and Egyptian glass.

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NORTH KAZAKHSTAN

Northern Kazakhstan is, first and foremost, famous for its unique nature: woods, rivers, the cleanest lakes, rich flora and fauna. Every year the infrastructure of Northern Kazakhstan improves and even the most demanding tourists will love their visits here.
The points of interest can be reached through Astana, Kostanai, Pavlodar, and Karaganda.

Borovoye
National park Burabai, or Borovoye, is less than three hours from Astana by a new road. Travel companies offer various options, from one-day tours to seasonal packages for health resorts and holiday centres.
The attraction of Borovoye lies in its amazing diversity that stands in stark contrast with the surrounding empty steppe – Borovoye looks like a true oasis with its mountains, pure lakes, and pine-woods rising from the endless windswept plains. The best-known landmark is Mount Kokshetau, 947m above sea level. Mount Burabai, 690m high, is in the southern part of the park.
Borovoye has 14 large lakes including Schuchye, Kotyrkol, Borovoye itself, and many smaller lakes. Within the Blue Arm of Lake Borovoye is a cliff, Zhumbaktas (Kazakh for Puzzle-rock); depending on where you stand, the cliff looks like either a young girl with flying hair, a middle-aged woman, or an old woman. The top of another famous hill, Okzhetpes, looks like an elephant.
Along the lake shores are hotels, holiday centres, health resorts, and camp sites, with levels of service varying from five-star hotel to minimalist, so you’re sure to find a place to suit you.

Bayanaul
Bayanaul National Park is another of the most beautiful places in Kazakhstan, and the best way to get there is from Karaganda or Pavlodar through Ekibastuz, which is 100 km from Bayanaul.
Like Borovoye, the 450-square-kilometer Bayanaul is famous for its marvellous lakes. The shores of Sabyndykol, Toraigyr, and Zhasybai lakes have vacation centers, health resorts, bungalows, and camp sites, which make a good base for seeing Bayanaul’s strange cliffs (The Old Witch, Pigeon, Horse Head, Rock Bed, and others), caves, grottos, and steep narrow gorges.
This region is also famous with fishermen so Bayanaul also caters for angling enthusiasts.

Zerenda
Lake Zerenda is most easily accessible from Kokshetau; it takes three to four hours to get to Zerenda from Astana by car or bus.
Like Borovoye, Zerenda’s bald peaks and hills rise from the steppe; Zerenda is a lake of tectonic origin, 370m above sea level. The smooth lakeshore has gorgeous beaches and a few trees, mostly pines, and the lake’s fish stocks (pike, cisco, carp, crucian, perch, and roach) attract fishermen from all over the region.

Karkaraly
From Karaganda, it is about 220km to the Karkaraly National Park, which is rich in mountains, lakes, and woods. There are the lakes Shaitankol, Bassein, Pashennoye, and Ulkenkol; there are the Rock Gates, the enormous Tent Grotto, tors Shankoz, Koktube, Karkaraly, Tursun, and Syntas; a cave once inhabited by primitive man in Maliksay valley, and other natural and historical landmarks. The base for your visit to Karkaraly is the town of Karkaralinsk with dozens of holiday centres.

UNESCO WORLD HERITAGE SITES

Four places in Kazakhstan are listed as UNESCO world heritage sites: the mausoleum of Khoja Ahmed Yassawi, the petroglyphs of Tamgaly, the Saryarka steppes and lakes of Northern Kazakhstan, and a string of sites on the Silk Road in the Chang’an-Tian-Shan corridor.

The mausoleum of Khoja Ahmed Yassawi (listed in 2003)
In Turkestan (South Kazakhstan) is the mausoleum of Khoja Akhmet Yassawi, built between 1389 and 1405 during the reign of Timur (Tamerlane). Today, the blue-domed mausoleum is one of the most significant and well-preserved buildings from that era; the Central Asian architects used some innovative design and construction techniques which were also used in the construction of Samarkand (Uzbekistan), capital of the Timurid Empire.
This amazing building was created in honour of a famous Turkic poet and Sufi mystic, Khoja Ahmed Yassawi. The word “Yassawi” means ‘man from Yassy’ (now Turkestan); the city was a spiritual and political centre of the Turkic-speaking people of the vast Kipchak steppe and for more than two centuries served as the capital of the Kazakh khans.
Alongside the Mausoleum of Khoja Akhmet Yassawi, there are medieval bath houses and the tiny mosque four metres below ground, where the great saint lived for the last years of his life; there is also the mausoleum of a great-granddaughter of Emir Timur, Rabiya Sultan Begim.

Petroglyphs of Tamgaly (listed in 2004)
Tamgaly is in a gorge of the Anyrakai mountain range, 170 km north-west of Almaty, in the south-east of the Chu-Ili Mountains.
The complex site, discovered in 1957, includes about 5,000 petroglyphs (rock carvings) from around 1,500 BC to the beginning of the 20th century.
A large number of ancient tombs was found in Tamgaly, including stone enclosures with boxes and cists (middle and late Bronze Age), and mounds (kurgans) of stone and earth (early Iron Age to the present).
The central canyon contains the densest concentration of engravings and what are believed to be altars, suggesting that these places were used for sacrificial offerings.

Saryarka steppe and lakes of Northern Kazakhstan (listed in 2008)
There are two protected areas in Saryarka: Naurzum State Nature Reserve and Korgalzhyn State Nature Reserve, totaling 450,344 hectares.
Saryarka features wetlands of outstanding importance for migratory water birds, including globally threatened species such as the extremely rare Siberian white crane, the Dalmatian pelican, Pallas’s fish eagle.
The Korgalzhyn lakes are the world’s northernmost breeding colony of pink flamingos, and birdwatchers can see 50-60,000 birds flocking on the lakes, which is one of the great birding spectacles of the world. There are 32 species of birds only in the Korgalzhyn reserve listed on the pages of Kazakhstan’s Red Book of endangered species.
The 200,000 ha steppe areas included in the reserves provide a priceless habitat for over half the species of the region’s steppe flora, a number of threatened bird species and the critically endangered Saiga antelope, formerly an abundant species much reduced by poaching and mass epidemic.
The reserves have two groups of fresh and salt water lakes on a watershed between rivers flowing north to the Arctic and south into the Aral-Irtysh basin.

Silk Route: the Chang’an-Tian-Shan corridor (listed in 2014)
In 2014, eight Kazakhstan sites were included in the UNESCO World Heritage list as an integral part of the Great Silk Road. The entire route, including China and Kyrgyzstan, amounted to 33 sites: from Chinese Loulan, (ancient name Chang’an) to the region of Zhetysu (Semirechye) in Central Asia.
Among Kazakhstan sites are the small towns of Kayalyk, Karamergen and Talgar in Almaty oblast, and the towns of Aktobe, Stepninskoe, Akyrtas, Kulan, Kostobe and Ornek in Zhambyl region.

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BAIKONUR

Visitors to Kazakhstan can see not only traces of early human evolution, but the very latest in space exploration, still working today at the forefront of science. Baikonur Cosmodrome, founded on 2 June 1955, was the world’s first and still the largest space launch facility and saw the launch of Sputnik in 1957, the first man in space Yuri Gagarin in 1961, and the first woman in space Valentina Tereshkova in 1963.

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It is now the only launch pad in the world for astronauts and cargo destined for the International Space Station (ISS), in orbit around the Earth.
Visitors come every year from all over the world to see this iconic and unique site – and a few very lucky people can witness the launch of a space flight. Baikonur is on the desert steppe about 200 km east of the Aral Sea, by the river Syr Darya, in the Kyzylorda oblast. Originally built when Kazakhstan was part of the USSR, Baikonur is leased by the Russian Federal Space Agency till 2050, and the cosmodrome is at the centre of an area 90 km by 85 km. The site was chosen for several reasons, the main one being its distance from populated areas and its convenient location for delivering spacecraft to the orbit.
The Baikonur Railway is the largest industrial railway on the planet, with a 1520mm gauge rail network to take spacecraft to the launch pads; this railway is linked to Kazakhstan’s public rail network and outwards to the rest of the world. There are two airports on site for passengers and cargo, which have been accepting international flights since October 2014.
The city of Baikonur is on the right bank of the Syr Darya river; the city was named Leninsk in 1966, and renamed Baikonur in 1995. Built as a service city for the Cosmodrome, it has over 35,000 residents.
At the cosmodrome is a small museum, next to the cottages where cosmonauts Yuri Gagarin and German Titov and spacecraft designer Sergei Korolev (the ‘father of practical astronautics’) lived – now preserved as memorials. Visitors can also see the Proton-K launch site, the Soyuz operations complex, the launch pad known as Gagarin’s Start, monuments to icons of space flight, and several items related to Gagarin including his space suit from the Vostok-1 flight, the ground control panel, and soil from his landing site.
Visitors who are passionate about space travel of the past and present can book tours to include Baikonur, but special permits from Russian authorities are needed which can take about six weeks to arrange, and cannot be guaranteed even then – for obvious reasons, security and safety at Baikonur are paramount. The government of Kazakhstan is committed to developing tourism around Baikonur, as the site holds such a key place in the 20th century’s scientific history, and still plays such an important role today.

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