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Taldykorgan – city with rich history and bright future


ASTANA – Taldykorgan, the administrative capital of Almaty Region, is a city on the rise. Individuals representing nearly 70 different nationalities and ethnicities live in peace and harmony and its rich history and bright future make it an interesting location for residents and visitors.

Originally a hamlet inhabited by Russian and Ukrainian immigrants, Taldykorgan was officially established in 1868 as Gavrilovka. Its history, however, dates to the ninth century as evidenced by the remnants of settlements and burial grounds. Taldykorgan is Kazakh for “a willow hill” and their presence blocks extreme winds, alleviating its sharply continental climate and making the city a pleasant place to live. In addition to their practical function, the trees also have an aesthetic role, as the first thing tourists notice is the prevalence of green.

Culture

Some buildings in Taldykorgan are dating to early 20th century, including a regional literary museum named for Iliyas Zhansugurov, a famous Kazakh poet born in the region’s Aksu volost (district). Built in 1907, the wooden structure with a remarkable green colour is now an architectural monument and protected by the state as a historical heritage.

The city also has a drama theatre, regional library, the Almaty regional museum of local history, several parks and two cinemas.

Sports

There is a cult of healthy lifestyle among the locals with Zhastar Sports Complex, Zhetysu Stadium, five swimming pools and more than 30 gyms offering various choices for physical activities. The sports complex, known for its distinct architecture and functionality, holds national and international competitions. A comfortable hotel, numerous sports facilities, 14 gyms, martial arts practice halls and rooms for dancing and aerobics are at the athletes’ service.

музей им Джансугурова

Literary museum named for Iliyas Zhansugurov

Getting there

The most convenient and, consequently, the most popular road to Taldykorgan is through Almaty. One can take a taxi from the latter for approximately 2,000 tenge (US$5.80) and enjoy a two-hour ride observing the region’s picturesque nature.

The airport in Taldykorgan, built in 1946, was reconstructed in 2004. Though this is the fastest route, the options are limited to Scat, the only carrier in the territory, which operates flights to Astana and Almaty.

Taldykorgan also has a railway station, but train travel only runs between the city and Almaty. The station was built in the mid-19th century and is soon slated for renovation.

Several bus routes connecting Taldykorgan with other cities and smaller towns are also available.

Future

Taldykorgan experienced a rapid and continuing decrease in population during the difficult years of the 1990s. Factories were closing and unemployment was rampant, leaving locals with few options. Some immigrated abroad, while others moved to bigger cities like Almaty. The population of 124,500 dropped to 97,996 by the end of the decade.

The situation has changed dramatically as Taldykorgan is continuing to grow and develop. In just a few years, new micro-districts and residential complexes have been established, such as Zhastar district and Karatal micro-district along the river of the same name. Taldykorgan’s rise as an emerging regional centre is due to its convenient geographic location and transportation links and housing and market basket prices are low in contrast to those in  Almaty. The recent trend has resulted in an increase in the number of families moving to Taldykorgan not only from the regions, but also from larger cities like the southern capital, expanding its population this year to approximately 172,000.

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Improving guest services should entice more travellers from China


ASTANA – The Eurasian Tourism Association recently announced plans to launch Salem China, a unique international project to entice tourists from the nation and promote the friendliness and hospitality of locals, reported Kapital.kz. Kazakhstan has defined that country, India, Iran, and Russia as focal markets to attract visitors.

Photo credit: expo2017astana.com

“The project aims not only to adapt the tourist market to the needs of tourists, but also to instruct local tourism industry employees on how to behave with Chinese tourists, how to promote Kazakhstan’s tourist potential in China and attract tourists to the country,” said Eurasian Tourism Association President Rysty Karabayeva.

The plans include introducing Chinese menus in restaurants, Chinese cable TV channels and newspapers in hotels and informational signs in the language.

Kazakhstan and China signed an ADS memorandum in 2015 to simplify and facilitate delivering group tourism visas to the country. The document provides countries with the status of recommended destinations for Chinese tourists.

“This makes it possible to significantly increase the flow of tourists from China, but, of course, not immediately,” she added.

Kazakhstan sponsored a number of events in China highlighting its tourism potential. Karabayeva noted the Journey through Kazakhstan’s Great Silk Road festival to be held in November in Almaty and Almaty region as well as Zhambyl and South Kazakhstan regions. The fair is aimed at attracting representatives from the Kazakh and Chinese tourist industries and reporters and business delegations from Azerbaijan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Uzbekistan and other Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) countries.

Photo credit expo2017astana.com

According to China’s National Tourism Administration, the number of citizens visiting other countries exceeded 135 million in 2016. The nation occupies first place in the number of outbound tourists and its travellers set a record $261 billion in global tourism spending.

“There’s been a positive trend of a gradual increase in the flow of tourists from China to our country for several years. It’s much better than the sharp rapid growth of the tourist flow, as we are now able to monitor the situation and offer the necessary comfort. A 72-hour visa-free regime during EXPO 2017 positively increased tourism activity,” said Karabayeva.

Several forums dedicated to tourism development involving government agencies and tourist industry representatives were sponsored in both countries.

“The Kazakhstan-China Tourism Forum was held with the participation of more than 300 people in Astana in 2016. The annual tourist forum was also held in Beijing this May. Chinese provinces presented the tourist potential of the regions at the expo. This year, Kazakhstan held several road shows in China. Such events are already becoming a good tradition and contribute to the development of relations between our countries in the field of tourism,” she added.



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Private investors to build glass suspension bridge in Burabai mountains


ASTANA – A glass suspension bridge is planned to be built in the mountains of the Shchuchinsk-Borovoye resort zone, Kazinform reported.

“This project was initiated on the Akmola region level, which will be implemented with the involvement of private investments, not from the state budget. The design and estimate documentation has not yet been developed, so I cannot say anything about the cost. … We will begin to discuss the details when a potential investor appears. We will also discuss the burden on the environment, and the environmental friendliness of the project. Everything will be taken into account,” Head of the Tourist Information Centre Zhanat Nugumanov said.

The suspension bridge will be stretched from Mount Bolektau to the Rock of Tufelka. The length will be about 230 metres, the tourism department reported.

“According to the experience of building such bridges in other countries, where they reach a length of 500-600 meters, this is quite feasible. There are similar bridges in China and Japan over cliffs, which attract many tourists from different countries,” Nugumanov added.

The project is planned for 2018. Applications are being received from potential investors.

Borovoye, a village built around a lake of the same name, is Astana’s closest getaway destination and probably its most visited. The area is a getaway both for those who like to relax and look at great views on their vacations and for people who need to burn off energy swimming, hiking or being otherwise actively engaged in their surroundings.

Lake Borovoye is only one of several lakes close to the village, but it is considered the most beautiful and distinguished by its size. Located 70 kilometres from the city of Kokshetau, the blue waters of the lake are extremely popular among locals and tourists.

Burabai National Park, the zone of mountains that surrounds Lake Borovoye, is perhaps Borovoye’s major destination. The mountains that ring the lakes offer fun for hikers and climbers.



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Ancient Botay culture to be explored and displayed in Borovoe


ASTANA – Akmola Region Akim (Governor) Malik Murzalin met with Viktor Zaibert, professor of archaeology and researcher behind one of the most sensational archaeological discoveries in Botay culture of the 20th century as well as the producer of the documentary film trilogy “EQUUS,” Nurbol Baimukhanov.

Photo credit: inform.kz

At the Sept. 24 meeting, issues of cooperation of the parties within the framework of the project “Spiritual Relics of Kazakhstan” were discussed. The Akmola region administration and the scientists plan to work together to reconstruct the Botay culture in Borovoe.

Zaibert noted that stormy historical events had occurred on the territory of Akmola, North Kazakhstan, Pavlodar and Kostanai regions, beginning in the sixth millennium BC. “It was here that the era of horse-transport communications began; then the steppe civilization. All this relates to the ancient Botay culture. And President Nursultan Nazarbayev in his programme article [Modernisation of Kazakhstan’s identity] paid special attention to this, because behind global economic processes we sometimes forget about the main spiritual values,” he said.

Baimukhanov will be involved in the joint project on the reconstruction of Botay culture. He noted that people who see the documentary on the history of equestrian transport and communications will undoubtedly want to see related historical places, and the reconstruction of the Botay culture in Borovoe will help attract tourists.

“EQUUS” was filmed in Akmola region, and explains how horses were saddled for the first time in the world in the northern regions of Kazakhstan. The film is planned to be shown in 60 countries of the world and be seen by more than 1 billion people.

During the meeting, issues related to the implementation of joint projects to attract tourists to the Shchuchinsk-Borovoe resort zone were discussed. Murzalin noted that tourism is necessary to realise the area’s full potential. “The Shchuchinsk-Borovoe resort zone not only has beautiful nature: there are remarkable pages of our country’s history that we should be proud of,” the governor summed up.



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Astana hosts national tourism meeting, addresses acute issues


ASTANA – The capital was the site for the national tourism meeting organised by the Ministry for Culture and Sports Sept. 27 that brought together representatives of the ministry, companies and NGOs working in the field to review the acute issues currently facing the industry. The session was part of the Astana Leisure 2017 exhibition that provided an opportunity for more than 100 companies from 11 countries around the world to present their tourism products.

Photo credit: leisure.kz

Celebrating their professional holiday, marked worldwide as the World Tourism Day, industry representatives engaged in a heated discussion addressing the current challenges and putting forward potential solutions. The participants also drew attention to developing competitive tourism products in Kazakhstan capable of boosting an industry that currently accounts for only one percent of the nation’s GDP.

The government recently adopted a new concept on expanding tourism that set the task of increasing the industry’s share of the GDP to 8 percent by 2025 and achieving a 100-percent increase in inbound tourism which so far is poorly developed in the nation.

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Atameken National Chamber of Entrepreneurs Deputy Chairperson Yuliya Yakupbayeva noted the thorough work of the entire industry in the past 12 months.

“Thanks to joint efforts and the support of the President, tourism was included in the list of new priorities [for the nation]. The attitude towards tourism has changed tremendously since last year. Today domestic tourism has become prestigious, which is also due to EXPO 2017, the establishment of the tourism industry committee [within the ministry] and, most importantly, the year-long intensive efforts of the entire industry,” she said.

The work produced positive results.

“The changed attitude of the local administration towards tourism allowed allocating more funds to the industry. For instance, the East Kazakhstan region allocated nearly 500 million tenge (US$1.47 million) to the development of Alakol Resort [one of the most popular holiday destinations in Kazakhstan]. The Zhambyl region allotted more than 500 million tenge (US$1.47 million) to renovate roads near the Tau Samaly zone,” she added.

Yakupbayeva raised three issues that require attention.

“First is the development of a tourist sites rating system similar to that in China that prioritises tourist’s needs and uses the rating methodology, including the presence of highway, railroad, airport, infrastructure, safety measures and economic stability among the indicators. Second, it is important to build multimodality between railroads and airports, which allows addressing the airport load,” she noted, adding qualified personnel is equally important.

Developing infrastructure, setting up efficient and trust-based interaction between the government and private individuals working in the industry, allocating more funds and establishing the ministry for tourism were among the salient issues raised by the participants that, if addressed, can facilitate industry development.

Enhancing tourism products pertinent to Kazakhstan is of particular importance, they added.

Medical tourism, including treatment with pantocrinum-based products made from the antlers of marals (a Siberian subspecies of red deer) inhabiting the East Kazakhstan region carries a real, yet untapped potential and is one of the ways to boost the industry. Regional tourism department head Zhasulan Sersebayev spoke about plans to establish a Kazakh alternative medicine centre together with Chinese colleagues that, among other services, will offer such treatment.

Medical tourism is a “very peculiar product” which is rapidly gaining ground and surpassing the demand in beach tourism, said Kazakh Tourism Association head Rashida Shaikenova.

“We plan to invite foreign clinics and work with local ones and most importantly, we will teach them how to sell this product,” she added.

Yet prior to developing the industry, Kazakhs need to develop a tourism philosophy.

“In general, we need to develop an ideology of tourism. Why do we need that? First, so that our taxi drivers would not charge 60,000 tenge (US$176) to our tourists for a drive from an airport to a hotel. We also need it so that we talk less about our traditional Kazakh hospitality, but do more about developing hospitality services without referring to international standards, as there are none of them, but forming our own high-quality standard of services,” she said.

Shaikenova also mentioned the recent study conducted by the association which concluded the majority of museums in Almaty sell tickets to foreigners at a higher price. Such practices should also be eliminated.

“Development of tourism starts from these very small and simple things,” she added.

She also noted the financial side of creating a tourism product.

“If we talk about forming a national tourism product, it will be accomplished only after a regional product is developed. To do that, our ministry should consider proper financing of regional programmes on tourism development. Only then could we understand what every region offers and each of them is unique,” noted Shaikenova.



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Young entrepreneur combines guided hiking tours with culinary experience


ASTANA – Quality service and customer satisfaction are essential in all fields, especially tourism management. In starting her own business, Ainaline.me, Zhansaya Menlibayeva is devoted to following these principles.

Zhansaya Menlibayeva. Photo credit: Altynbek Kalmenov

“The main idea of developing our project is to meet the needs of visitors and local residents with a pleasant holiday and a pleasant time,” she said in an interview for this story.

The Almaty-based company offers more than 230 trips around the city and Almaty region by providing experienced instructors and the essentials for camping and hiking.

“The idea existed since my teacher Kairat Omarov gave an interview about the project to the local radio seven years ago. Then I decided to start the business, as I had a great desire to develop domestic tourism. This project was perfect to make my dreams come true,” said Menlibayeva.

Photo credit ainaline.kz 1

Photo credit: ainaline.me

She launched the endeavour with the support of the Damu Fund and the Almaty akimat (city administration). The team currently has four members, two of whom are professional guides.

“We’ve won a grant providing support for young entrepreneurs. We developed the hiking routes across Almaty and the Almaty region in cooperation with our main instructor Omarov. He has 25 years of experience as a mountain instructor and the certificates for the mountain trekking organisation. We widely promote our services through our website and in social networks,” she explained.

Photo credit ainaline.kz

Photo credit: ainaline.me

Menlibayeva graduated from Lithuanian University of Educational Sciences as part of the Erasmus programme. She also works as a teacher at the State College for Services and Technology.

In the first six months, 20 percent of the adventurers have been from France, Italy, Kyrgyzstan, Russia and Spain.

“The main advantage of our tours is the quality and individual approach to each client. The Almaty region is in the main focus for us now. Our team participated in the My Kazakhstan expedition this summer, and we opened new unexplored places and held the first negotiations for joint work,” she said.

This year, the company started talks with a French travel agency to attract tourists from France to Kazakhstan.

Photo credit ainaline.kz 2

“The lack of infrastructure and illegal tourism groups are the main difficulties we face during our work. Our country is unique and beautiful. There are many interesting places in each region and they are visited mostly in summer. There is a need to develop tourism and tourist sites all year round. We intend to organise tourism events in the near future. We also have opportunities to develop mountain tourism, mountaineering and winter activities. I think that we need to start working on this idea,” she said.

The group tour package costs approximately US$40 and individual trips start from US$100.

“I cannot single out only one place; each time I discover something new in the same places,” said Menlibayeva about her favourite destinations. “I advise everyone to visit Yessik Lake, the Turgen waterfall, the Assy Plateau, Kolsai Lake, Kayindy Lake in the Almaty region on the weekend and Borovoe and Zerendy in Astana,” she added.

Preparing authentic Kazakh food is also a part of the adventure tour.

“We aim to contribute to the development of domestic tourism and to attract more tourists. Also, the participants of the trip are given an opportunity to make unique national dishes. For example, tourists can cook a Karyn Birtpe unique dish in Bakanas village after a safari tour. Tourists get accustomed to the preparation of national dishes during the tour at each stage. They can also see the Saksaul plant – the black Saksaul and the white Saksaul which grows only in these places,” she said.

Tours can be booked online at ainaline.me/ or by phone at +7 747 546 66 69.

 



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St. Regis opens hotel in Astana


ASTANA – Astana is becoming an attractive tourist destination, as the young and vibrant city has been recently hosting numerous international events and the Aug. 21 opening of the St. Regis in Astana makes the city an even more appealing destination for sophisticated travellers.

With the first flagship St. Regis opening in New York in 1904, the St. Regis now has 61 hotels worldwide that extend the brand’s timeless elegance and impeccable service, including a new one in Astana.

Introducing an exceptional hospitality and comfort, the St. Regis Astana is nestled beside the Yessil River, one of the most prestigious areas of Astana, offering a spectacular view to the riverside.

“The St. Regis Astana reflects the country’s rich history and culture and the design, services and cuisine offerings of the St. Regis,” said St. Regis Hotels & Resorts Global Brand Leader Lisa Holloday.

“Astana is a rapidly developing city with the rising popularity. We would be happy to offer our services to business people and tourists visiting Astana,” added Holloday.

The St. Regis serves as an ideal stay for tourists and business persons, as they can take advantage of the hotel’s close distance to the city’s popular sights and governmental and commercial buildings.

The hotel includes 120 guest rooms, including 14 Ambassador Suites, six St. Regis Suites, two Royal Suites and a Presidential Suite with private terraces, and a ballroom, five meeting rooms and a business centre for meetings and events.

The guests are also welcome to immerse themselves in a distinguished dining experience with La Rivière restaurant, the Grill and the St. Regis Bar offering an extensive menu of vintage wines and champagnes.



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Russia celebrates National Day at EXPO 2017 with cultural programme


ASTANA – Russia celebrated its National Day at EXPO 2017 Sept. 8 with Kazakh First Deputy Prime Minister Askar Mamin and Russian Vice Prime Minister Arkady Dvorkovich leading Russia’s delegation and ambassadors and exhibition visitors joining the official ceremony.

“The Russian pavilion demonstrates the powerful energy potential and technological capabilities of the country. Russia is an important trade and economic partner for Kazakhstan in the world. For the third consecutive year, Russia is Kazakhstan’s largest trading partner. According to the results of the first half of this year, the trade turnover increased to $7.4 billion, which is 34 percent more than in the same period last year,” said Mamin.

He noted Kazakh-Russian relations have become a model not only for the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) countries, but also an example of how bilateral relations between nations should develop in the 21st century.

“It is important that the first expo in the CIS region is hosted by Kazakhstan, with which we enjoy a friendship and strategic partnership. It is always nice to visit Astana, the city that was at the origin of the Eurasian integration project,” he added.

Dvorkovich thanked Kazakhstan for creating comfortable conditions at the exhibition, indicating Russia submitted a bid to host EXPO 2025. He hoped his colleagues, partners and friends would support his country’s candidacy.

“There are plans for EXPO 2025 to take place in Yekaterinburg between May 2-Nov. 2, 2025. The core theme of the upcoming exhibition is ‘Changing the World: Innovations and Better Life for Future Generations,’” he said.

Following the introduction, visitors were treated to a number of Russian cultural events, participated in a national parade accompanied by the sounds of the Omsk Philharmonic brass orchestra and enjoyed traditional songs, dances and snacks.

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Talented artists from the world’s largest country created a festive atmosphere. Visitors welcomed the dancers, singers and musicians, applauding and singing with them.

The celebration featured performances by groups including the State Academic Russian Folk Ensemble, trumpeter Vadim Eilenkrig, Buranovskiye Babushki Ensemble, Slavyane Folk Band and Altai State Youth Song and Dance Ensemble. The Coffeetime Band performed the expo anthem in Kazakh, triggering joy and pride among local citizens. Guests also enjoyed an interactive programme, gifts and surprises.

“I took part in many celebrations of the national days at the expo. All of them impressed me greatly. Today, I really enjoyed Russia’s day with fascinating traditional songs and dances. Everyone was delighted to hear the expo’s anthem in the Kazakh language performed by the Russian band. I feel sad the expo is coming to an end,” said visitor Irina Nazarova.

The Russian pavilion is one of the biggest at the expo, occupying more than 1,000 square metres. It has welcomed nearly 800,000 visitors. The exhibition space, focusing on the Arctic, nuclear power and renewable energy sources, features a piece of a real iceberg from the Arctic.



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Time to create platform for international cooperation, one common, multi-lateral tourist product: Tourist Silk Road


Kazakhstan has recently been in the news because of the prestigious international event, the Future Energy-themed Astana EXPO 2017.

Photo credit: dziennik.pl.

“It will become a model for future sustainable living,” notes Margulan Baimukhan, Kazakh ambassador to Poland. “It will certainly play an important role in raising awareness of international audiences about the culture and heritage of Kazakhstan.”

This is a great opportunity to showcase a new look of the 25-year-old independent nation, which, thanks to positive changes and achievements, wants to join the group of 30 most developed ones by 2050. They call it the Central Asian snow leopard, and its rapidly growing capital city of Astana, which has grown from scratch in the steppes, with its stunning architecture, is often compared to the Dubai region.

Great hopes of a great country

Kazakhstan, the world’s ninth largest country, which is still not very well known, intends to enter a new phase of economic development. One of the key catalysts is going to be tourism or rather the tourism industry. It is auspicious that a newly formed committee within the Ministry of Culture and Sports is called so, is and led by an experienced diplomat, Mainyura Murzamadiyeva.

“We have a unique potential that has not been used until now,” says Shokan, a journalist specialising in economic issues, “Now the government decided to develop tourism using foreign and domestic investments on a partnership basis between private and state sectors while emphasising support for private initiatives. It wants to develop almost all forms of tourism. From sightseeing, related to the visiting of various cultural-historical and leisure facilities, through adventure, ecological or agritourism, extreme expeditions, incentive tourism, business tourism, and spa activities. There is also an interest in hunting and fishing.”

To expand this neglected branch of the economy and create good conditions for tourists, the government wants to restore historic buildings, build infrastructure, train specialists, develop craft (to preserve rich folk traditions) and marketing, and form a tourist image of Kazakhstan.

“Today we are facing new challenges in the global economy, so it’s a good time to start an ambitious project,” Deputy Foreign Minister Roman Vassilenko told me in Astana. “I believe in success, since we have many tools to use for that. Our country is good for sightseeing, strong cultural diversity, and the climate is attractive at any time of the year. We have recently made a fundamental step in abolishing the visa requirement, which has led to the increased presence of foreign guests.”

Traditions draw special attention in Kazakhstan. Since ancient times, the contemporary Kazakh lands were part of the world’s largest nomadic domain of the tribes of Turkish and Mongolian origin. Interaction between the nomadic civilisations with the agrarian ones ensured the strength and prosperity of the Silk Road. Thanks to the nomads, ideas and resources wandered, and thanks to the communities that settled in cities – civilisation and culture developed. The nomadic heritage and spirituality of migrant peoples shaped the identity for many generations of the Kazakh people. Tradition is strongly cultivated here; local people often talk about their roots and love everything that reactivates their past.

Pearls of the landscape of Kazakhstan

The largest landscaping attraction of Kazakhstan – the Sharyn Canyon – is compared to the Grand Canyon in the United States. Not far from it is the village of Saty, a mountain base, for example, to Lake Kayindy, which was created only a hundred years ago because of an earthquake. It stuns you with an extraordinary picture of the forest rising from the water. According to government estimates, in 2020, around one million tourists are expected to visit the Burabai National Park in the north of the country, commonly referred by the locals as the Kazakh equivalent of the natural beauties of Switzerland, with a picturesque mountain landscape, forests, and clear lakes and air.

Internationally, Kazakhstan is viewed as an exceptionally stable state, where there are no conflicts with neighbours or domestically, along either ethnic or religious lines. Experts emphasise that a newcomer in this country can count on traditional Kazakh hospitality, which commands treating newcomers with respect and friendship.

The concept of tourism development in Kazakhstan to 2020 stipulates implementation of a number of regional cultural projects, such as Astana – The Heart of Eurasia, Almaty – the Cultural Domain of Kazakhstan, World of Nomads, Caspian Gate, or Revitalization of the Silk Road.

Bazaars, palaces, temples

“And it must be emphasised that this revived, legendary trading route is a topic in itself,” says Andrey Khasbulatov, general manager of the Kazakh Scientific Institute for Cultural Research. “It is a real treasure at your fingertips. More and more frequently tourists visit the route, for example, the historic battlefields of the army of Genghis Khan in Turkestan. We showed it in the popular science film ‘The Silk Road of Marco Polo,’ which was successfully demonstrated at a film festival in Milan, as well as received in New York.”

I grew up on the Silk Road myth, so I am delighted that in 2014 it has reached a distinction of an elite nature. Due to its unique cultural value for humanity, three sites have been listed in the UNESCO World Heritage List and are subject to special protection. These are the fourteenth century Mausoleum of Khoja Ahmed Yassawi, erected on the initiative of the ruthless conqueror Tamerlane, drawing pilgrims from all across the region, as well as petroglyphs depicting mysterious idols with sun-shaped heads in the Tamgaly archaeological reserve, which has traces of settlement from around 2,000 BC; and above all, the system of routes of the Chang’an-Tianshan corridor. The 5,000-km-long road, stretching through China, Kyrgyzstan, and Kazakhstan, features 33 unique tourist attractions: the palace complexes of various empires, ancient trading houses, fortifications, Buddhist temples, navigational towers, and fragments of the Great Wall.

One needs to note the magical ambiance of the bazaars. Just as the Silk Road once brought great profits, today trade remains an element of everyday life. I experienced the spirit of the old days in the bustling, lively markets of the sophisticated Almaty; in Turkestan, once an important shopping centre; or in Taraz or Shymkent. They are full of not only fabrics and carpets, but also clothing and electronics made in China, among which Kazakhs mix with the Uzbeks, the Kyrgyz with the Chinese or the Tajik.

The international expedition project New Silk Road 2017/2018 (www.silkroad-2017.com) is in the advanced stage. Its status is enhanced by the government patronage of countries on the route running from China to Poland and the highest form of support presented by UNESCO. We want to promote our countries and their achievements and refresh the spirit of the legendary route in reference to the Chinese initiative of Belt and Road.

The latter is an ambitious vision of the transport and communications network linking the Middle East and Central Asia with Europe. Astana has embraced this historical project and intends to actively participate in its implementation. Local analysts predict that this initiative will have a significant impact on the economy of their country in the near future.

The Silk Road, which has played an invaluable role in the development of civilisation and cultural integration in many countries in the past, is one of the world’s biggest brands. Today, after catching up on the creation of own statehood, when the process of maturing of societies that define the model of economic functioning goes on throughout Central Asia, the trail reveals many potential benefits for the tourism sector of individual states.

Time for cooperation

And here lies, potentially, a recipe for success. Starting from the assumption that travellers, easily crossing this part of Asia, usually do not limit themselves to visiting only one country, it would be important to find inspiration and mechanisms for integrating the great historical region. Restore and revive the Silk Road traditions, around which national narration and the process of restoring historical memory would be built.

It is time to create a platform for international cooperation, one common, multi-lateral tourist product: the Silk Road. The attractiveness of the entire region will then be greater than of just one country. Opportunities for cooperation in new fields will widen. This could be achieved through the mutual use of the rich resources of the region, the creation of a favourable investment climate and modern infrastructure, the closer links between cities in neighbouring countries, the removal of various shortcomings, primitive obstacles and archaic procedures at border crossings. It is also time for the promotional TravelPass for international use, entitling one to enter a number of tourist facilities or use of transport, including airplane flights, or family packages, etc. All this would contribute to popularising and developing the tourist image of the Silk Road; thus, increasing its potential.

This idea also has room for Poland. One should recall that at various times our land also served as a crossroad for the transit routes of long-distance trade of bigger or smaller significance. In the pre-Piast times, from the North to the South, the Amber Road, an equivalent of the Silk Road, was created at roughly the same time. This land-water artery, a pearl of the European cultural heritage, led from the Baltic Sea, through Żuławy, the largest centre for the processing of the amber (the “Baltic’s gold”), up the Vistula, then Warta, Prosna, Upper Odra, to Kłodzko Valley and from there to the Moravian Gate and beyond, through the Alpine and Carpathian Passes to Italy and Greece.

From East towards Western Europe, the Road from the Volga Region, where the Silk Road, frequented by many caravans during Genghis Khan’s conquests who did not dare to go from Bukhara to Persia and beyond, but bounced northwest to reach the Volga, it intersected between the 10th and the 13th centuries with another trade route know as From the Vikings to the Greeks and earlier with the Volga Trail, linking Scandinavia and the Finnish Gulf with the Caspian Sea and the Persian Gulf through the network of rivers. The latter route led from the mouth of the Volga River, through Kyiv, Krakow, and Wroclaw, to Magdeburg and further. Goods were also transported from Krakow to Prague and southern Germany.

Recently, the air link between Warsaw and Astana has brought Kazakhstan closer to Poland. My compatriot, Franciscan friar Benedict of Poland (Benedykt Polak), who reached Kazakhstan long before the Marco Polo expedition, had to travel there for many months. For today’s traveler, it is a matter of fewer than five hours. Although it will not bring mass tourism yet, it will surely move Kazakhstan up in the coming years in the world ranking for travellers.

The author is Italy-based Polish journalist, traveller, explorer, and propagator of survival skills.



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Reviving and reliving nomadic past at Huns ethno village near Almaty


The Huns ethno village is an ideal place for those willing to relive the nomadic past of ethnic Kazakhs. The village, about 35 kilometres from Almaty in the Talgar district, is also a great way to escape to the mountains for a breath of fresh air, horseback riding and adventure.

Built from the outside as a tiny fort, the Huns offers vast views of the mountains and a mix of traditional Kazakh yurts and Soviet-looking hubs.

“They recommend pre-arranging a local show with the administrators of the village, as local actors and staff will happily demonstrate all the traditions and customs of the Kazakhs along the given scenario,” Khalid Jamal, a guest from Jordan who recently visited the Huns with his friends, told The Astana Times.20023753_1718831661758829_2903330670816419131_o

“My friends arrived for EXPO 2017. I am from Astana and I wanted to show them the rest of Kazakhstan and we wanted to travel the country and ended up in the mountains of Almaty,” he explained.

“They welcomed guests atop horses in the traditional armour of nomads and spears and showed us around the village. They started with the tradition called shashu – showering guests with candy like Kazakhs do at weddings. Then the candy is picked up and kept for good luck. Kazakhs believe these sweets then bring luck,” he added.20863279_1733048063670522_9021959772378251250_o

As the guests proceed, they witness other traditions such as tusau kesu, which is meant to bless the child, barely starting to walk, and progressing into the next stage of life. The youngster’s feet are tied with a black and white silk rope – the symbol of inconsistency and challenges in life – and the honoured guest of the event must cut and burn it.

Visitors are also shown felt craftsmanship and get the chance to closely study the yurts. They witness horse games like kyz kuu – chasing a girl to kiss her on horseback and, if the man fails to, she whips him, and atpen audaryspak – wrestling horseback.20024067_1719092438399418_5803294340660813606_o

The tours are followed by dances, traditional music and a meal. Prices range from $15-20 per person.

Those willing to spend some time with nature can request special horseback riding tours into the mountains with or without guides, depending on experience and the wish of the guests. Such walks take about an hour and a-half and cost approximately $3 per person.

The Huns can simultaneously accommodate up to 60 guests with overnight stays or up to 600 per day, according to the administrators. The cost per night at the cottages starts from $40-$55 and the large felt yurt costs $75-$80 for up to 10 people.

“We were offered the option to stay in cottages for up to four persons. They looked like yurts,” said Jamal.

The Huns have a Facebook page, www.facebook.com/bazaotdyhagunny, and a website, hunny.kz, or can be reached at +7 (707) 044 3737.



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