Earlier this month, I spent a week in Almaty, a city located in the northern foothills of the Zailiyskiy Alatauin mountain range in Southern Kazakhstan. Here is a visual diary of my time there.
Exploring the city
Almaty itself is a fairly small city, but there is a lot to see and do, with vast malls, cultural exhibits and a vibrant night life. I spent a couple of afternoons exploring and found the city to be modern and the people welcoming. There is only one metro line, and public transport ceases fairly early at around 9pm, so the best way to get around is by taxi or on foot.
On our first day in the city, we were taken to a bustling market in the centre, where we sampled fresh produce and Kazakh delicacies such as Kumis and Shubat (mares’ and camel’s milk, not something I will be hurrying to try again) and Kurt (a cheese made from dehydrated sour cream that can be salted or sweetened – the savoury version was rather sour but the sweet one tasted like a surprisingly not unpleasant mix of mild cheese and caramel). We later ate in a pan-Asian fusion restaurant, trying the most traditional meals we could order: Plov (the most delicious rice dish with spices and meat) and Shashlik (grilled kebab meat popular across Russia, the Caucasus and Central Asia).
I visited both the Central State Museum of the Republic of Kazakhstan (catchy name) and the Kasteev Museum of Arts. Whilst the former was unfortunately a little dull and uninspiring, the latter was really impressive, and I enjoyed spending a couple of hours walking around the gallery, which held a vast collection of classical and modern Kazakh art and a range of styles and mediums, from paintings to textiles.
A walk around the First President’s Park
Located in the Southern part of the city, not far from our hostel, we found an expansive park created in honour to the first president of the Republic of Kazakhstan post-USSR, Nursultan Nazarbayev. I imagine that the park would be beautiful in the spring and summer months, with fountains, winding pathways and flower beds that were unfortunately not showing much signs of life in early January. There are various seating areas and viewing platforms, from which you can see incredible views of the mountains and over the city.
Medeo and Shymbulak
My highlight of the trip was undoubtedly an afternoon spent up in the mountains. We took a funicular from the base resort Medeo, which is easy to get to by bus from the city centre, up through the clouds to the ski resort Shymbulak, where I went for a hike up the snowy mountains and then revived with a picnic and a hot drink by the slopes. I have never before experienced such complete and serene silence, an impression that will stay with me forever.
Almaty was a great city to visit, but most of all for the surrounding nature. The city itself feels rather small, but that adds to its warm and friendly atmosphere. I would very much like to revisit Kazakhstan in the summertime, to explore the beautiful canyons, lakes and mountains that this country has to offer.