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TOURISM IN KAZAKHSTAN

Text by Vitaliy Shuptar

Kazakhstan has something for every kind of tourist. A rich history and diverse ethnic heritage have left scores of diverse sights of interest for the sightseer; the natural environment offers innumerable opportunities in eco- and sports tourism, the latter including trekking, mountaineering - Kazakhstan being particularly well provided for as far as mountains are concerned - fishing and hunting, the latter already popular with an established clientele who value the diversity of species available and the relatively low cost of such trips. The wealth of religious sites, mostly, but not all, connected with Islam, attract a steady and growing number of visitors.


SIGHTSEEING
Kazakhstan's long history could not but have left abundant material remains. Ancient history, the Middle Ages and modern times are all reflected in the Republic's material heritage.
Burial mounds in Central Kazakhstan (at Begazy, Tegiz-Zhol, Kent and many other locations) date back to the Stone and Bronze Ages. Of comparable vintage are the Sak barrows and petroglyphs in Semirechiye and the Valley of the Tsars in Berel (East Kazakhstan). There are many other fascinating remains from this ancient past.
There are also numerous places of interest associated with the Silk Road, mostly in the south, and especially in the valleys of the Chu, Talas and Syr-Darya rivers.
Remains in Kazakhstan dating from the Middle Ages are of significance not only for Kazakhstan but for the wider world, so many of the events and actors with which they are associated having achieved international recognition. These sights include the khanaka of Khodja Akhmed Yasavi, the Aisha-Bibi, Babaja-khatun and Karakhan mausoleums, the ancient settlement at Otrar, and the underground mosques at Shopan-Ata and Shakpak-Ata. All these places, dating from a time before the Kazakhs existed as a nation, can for that reason be understood as representative of the broader Turkic nation.
More recent times were marked by war with the Jungar conquerors and the union with Russia, events which have also left their material relicts. A wealth of legend has developed over the years to embellish the basic events, usually concerning Kazakh khans, batyrs and bis.
Technophiles will enjoy an expedition to Baikonur Cosmodrome to witness rocket launches; they will also be able to visit the remains of industrial and military installations inherited from the Soviet period, as well as functioning concerns including open-cast and other mines.

PLACES OF RELIGIOUS INTEREST
Many of the places listed above have some religious interest or importance, mainly of a Muslim character. However, there are also a number places of significance to Christians, both Orthodox and Catholic, to Buddhists, and to adherents of other religions.
The places of most interest to Muslims are likely to be the mausoleums of Khodja Akhmed Yasavi, Karakhan, and Aisha-Bibi in South Kazakhstan, Ulytau district in Central Kazakhstan, and the numerous underground mosques of Mangystau oblast.

ECOTOURISM
Each region of Kazakhstan has its own appeals for the ecotourist; for this reason, ecotourism has developed widly throughout the Republic. And although Kazakhstan is continuously increasing the pace of technological and industrial development, this has not been allowed to diminish her dazzling natural beauty. This is partly because the country is so huge that there are thousands of locations so inaccessible that they remain completely unspoiled. However, the government also plays a role, establishing protected areas such as nature reserves and natural parks. Three of the most popular of these are Aksu-Zhabagly nature reserve, Ile-Alatau National Park and Korgalzhyn nature reserve.
The main ecotourism locations in Central Kazakhstan are the natural oases at Karkaraly, Kent, Bugyly, Kyzylarai and Ulytau.
If your taste is for rather more active and goal-oriented communing with nature, you might like to join one of the specialised ecological tours that are growing in popularity. These tours can be devoted to bird watching and/or ringing, which is popular in Aksu-Zhabagly and Korgalzhyn nature reserves; or can be even narrower in scope, focussing possibly on a single animal such as the snow leopard (Uncia uncia; Katon-Karagai national park is a good place to see them) or the Semirechinsk salamander.

TREKKING
Mountainous areas, most of which are of course perfectly suited to ecotourism, are equally popular among trekkers. The Tien Shan, the Altai, the Kazakh Melkosopochnik and the Mangystau mountains all offer excellent trekking opportunities, but the most popular location is the northern Tien Shan, especially the Zailyiskii Alatau and the Kunghei Alatoo, where hikes are of various levels of difficulty from category I to V. There are more than 100 mountain passes in the area, varying in the degree of challenge they present from non-categorized to level 3B. These treks usually begin in Almaty.
In the Jungar Alatau there are hiking routes of categories I to IV. Passes vary in difficulty from class 1A to 2B.
Trekking is also popular in the western Tien Shan and the Talas range, the latter on the border with Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan. East Kazakhstan's Altai mountains are another popular trekking destination.
Trekking in Kazakhstan usually entails overnight stays in tents: hotels are not available in the mountains. Although pitching a tent does not usually attract a fee, there may be special restrictions in protected areas. Restrictions may also apply to fires for cooking.
Trekking usually takes place between May and September, but the best time for hiking in the mountains is in high summer, the second half of July and the first two weeks of August.


MOUNTAINEERING
Many of the world's most accomlpished mountaineers are from Kazakhstan, no surprise in view of the superb training-grounds, in particular the Tien Shan and Altai, on their doorstep.
There are several base-camps, and expeditions to Khan-Tengri, at 6995 meters the highest point in Kazakhstan and one of the highest of the Tien Shan, are frequent. Other popular peaks include Talgar (4973 meters), Sovetov (4317 meters), Ozernyi (4110 meters),  Tourist (3954 meters), Kumbel (3200 meters), and Tuyuk-Su (4200 meters). Popular climbs in the western Tien Shan include Kyzyl-bash (4200 meters), Druzhba (4100 meters) and Sairamskii (4238 meters).
The Jungar Alatau is the least visited of the Republic's mountainous areas. Located on the border with China, it is distinguished by its numerous glaciers, from which arise a number of spectacular peaks including Semyonov-Tienshanskii (4662 meters), Abai (4490 meters), Shumskii (4442 meters) and Panfilov, also known as Ormekshy (4359 meters).
The best-known mountain in the Altai is the mysteriously twin-peaked Belukha (4506 meters). Because ascent is relatively easy  - category 5B -  Belukha attracts not only mountaineers but trekkers as well.

HUNTING
Kazakhstan has been a popular hunting destination for quite some time. Licences are moderately priced by western standards, and the range of fauna unique.
Hunting trips can be organised to more or less any part of the Republic. The most popular places are central Kazakhstan, the Ustyurt Plateau, Semirechiye and the flood-lands of the River Syr-Darya.
In autumn and winter wolf-hunting takes place all over the steppe. Such a trip will typically cost about $3,000, this price - and all given in this paragraph -  being an approximate figure for the tour as a whole. The most expensive hunting trips, at between $11,000 and $20,000, are those for Alpine ibex (Capra ibex), argalis (Ovis ammon) and Transcaspian urials (Ovis vignei arkal). These hunting expeditions take place between July and December. Hunting for Karaganda argalis (Ovis ammon collium), limited to the months between September and December, are about the same price. Hunting for waterfowl and other game such as duck and pheasant is far less ex-pensive, at between $1,500 and $2,500. The best seasons are autumn and spring.
Foreigners must pay a fee for every specimen shot. These fees, which exclude all other hunting expedition costs, range from $7,300 per argalis and $4,060 per moufflon (Ovis ammon musimon), through $500 to $1,600 per maral (Cervus elaphus), $310 per goitered gazelle (Gazella subgutturosa) and $250 to $537 per elk (Alces palmata), to between $162 and $325 per wild boar (Sus scrofa) and $122 per wolf. Bird prices vary from $2.50 to $187. The most expensive birds, hunted in spring, are black grouse (Tetrao) and wood grouse (Tetrao urogallus), which cost $120 and $187 per bird respectively. But this list only give a few examples: far more species are on offer.
Hunting infrastructure is well developed, and all kinds of associated services are available. Accommodation may be in huts, tents or yurtas; food may vary from the simple to the epicurean; and various entertainment programmes can also be arranged. An essential service that most operators in this sector offer is help with the various documentary procedures necessary for hunting and then exporting trophies. Most such operators deal very largely with foreigners and accordingly have a good idea of what their customers want.

FISHING
No such administrative hurdles confront the foreigner visiting Kazakhstan to fish in the Republic's great variety of rivers and lakes: the sport is more or less unregulated.
The sazan (Cyprinus carpio), the zander (Stizostedion) and the cat-fish (Silurus glanis) are caught almost everywhere and can be very big  -  some fish weighing up to 300 kg. In the south the barbel (Barbas vulgaris), the grass carp (Ctenopharyngodon idella), the marinka (Schizothorax) and the silver carp (Hypophthalmichthys molitrix) can all be found. In Semirechiye trout (Salmo faria) is abundant, and the west is famous for its sturgeon (Acipenser). One of the most fascinating fish in Kazakhstan is the relic snakehead (Channa), which can weigh up to 17 kg. The fish is famous for its revolting appearance - a huge head out of all proportion to its body, with jaws that open up to an angle of 90 degrees -  and its hardiness: it can survive the winter in the silt of frozen reservoirs and can also crawl from one lake to another.

There is no restriction on type or size of rod or hook used, and the only restriction on underwater harpoon guns is their prohibition at holiday resorts.

 

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