South Kazakhstan is a focus of Central Asian
history and culture and there are many famous monuments in the region.
It is a scenically diverse region in which all four seasons
can be experienced in the space of a day, as the snow-capped peaks,
lakes and glaciers of the Tien Shan range give way to steppe
and desert land which stretches for thousands of kilometres. The
mountains serve as a centre for mountaineering and skiing
and there are resorts offering a wide variety of winter
sports. The desert is home to the Singing Barkhan - a sand dune
80m (260ft) high and 3km (2 miles) long, which, as it crumbles and
shifts, produces a peculiar sound reminiscent of loud singing.
Almaty (formerly Alma Ata) enjoys a beautiful setting between
mountains and plains. It is a city of modern architecture, wide
streets, cool fountains, parks and squares and spectacular mountain
views and, particularly in spring and autumn, is an attractive place
despite the inevitable legacy of Soviet architecture. Attractions in
the city include the Panfilov Park, which is dominated by one
of the world’s tallest wooden buildings, built at the turn of the 20th
century without using a single nail and the Zenkov Cathedral.
This served in Soviet times as a concert and exhibition hall, but is
currently standing empty, whilst the Christians of Almaty worship at
St Nicholas Cathedral. Other sights include New Square,
which is usually the location for national ceremonies and parades and
is overlooked by the City Hall (the President’s official
residence) and the Obelisk of Independence. Almaty boasts
several fine museums including the Museum of Kazakh National
Instruments, the Central State Museum and the State Art
Museum which has among its exhibits traditional Kazakh rugs,
jewellery and clothing. The Arasan Baths, in the western area
of Panfilov Park, have Eastern, Finnish and Russian saunas.
THE MOUNTAINS :
The 4000m-high (1310ft)
Zaili Alatau Mountains near Almaty offer numerous opportunities
all year round for sports and recreation. The Medeu ice rink is
situated 15km (9 miles) outside the city in a stunning gorge (see
Sports and Activities section). There are large areas of unspoilt
nature among the mountains which attract many walkers and climbers to
the region in summer and skiers in the winter.
The Tien Shan Mountains in the southeast of Kazakhstan stretch
for more than 1500km (932 miles). The highest peaks are Pobeda Peak
(7439m/24,406ft) and Khan-Tengri Peak (7010m/23,000ft), a
snow-white, marble-like pyramid. The huge Inylchek Glacier,
reaching almost 60km (37 miles) in length, splits the summits and at
its centre lies the beautiful Mertzbakher Lake. The Kolsai
Lakes are three blue mountain lakes, known as the ‘pearls of the
northern Tien-Shan’, that lie within the ridges of the Kungei
Alatau range at heights of up to 2700m (8858ft) above sea level.
The Khan-Tengri International Mountaineering Camp provides
experienced mountain guides to take visitors on organised climbing and
trekking programmes. Other facilities include horseriding,
a souvenir shop and bar.
The city of Chimkent is an industrial
city, producing the largest amount of lead in the CIS. 160km (100
miles) away (travel time - 2 hours 30 minutes) is the 14th-century
Kodja Ahmed Yasavi Mausoleum in Turkestan; built under
Tamerlane, this mausoleum has the largest dome in Central Asia.
Dzhambul, too, is an industrial city in the region with some
reproductions of ancient remains from when it was known as Taraz
- these are housed in the Karakhan and the Daudbek
Shahmansur Mausoleums. The nearby village of Golovachovka,
18km (11 miles) to the west, has authentic remains from Taraz,
including the 11th-century Babadzi-Khatun Mausoleum and the
12th-century Mausoleum Aisha Bibi. Another ancient historical
centre is Taldikorgan. Much of this region was crossed by the
Great Silk Road.