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Discovery Kazakhstan #1

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Text by Vitaliy Shuptar












The Caspian Sea blithely defies standard categories and terminology. For a start, its surface is not at sea level, but some 28 meters lower than that of the world’s major oceans. Moreover, although - like other seas - it is big and salty, it is in fact a lake, completely isolated as it is from any other body of water. But it appears it was called a sea by the ancient peoples living on its shores, who variously named it the South Sea, the Girkanks Sea, the Khvalinsk Sea or the Khazar Sea. Its current name comes from the Kaspii tribe, which lived alongside it on what is now its Azeri shore some centuries before Christ.
The Caspian boasts a unique fauna, with over 60 endemic marine species. Unusual inhabitants include seals otherwise restricted to arctic seas, suggesting that once, many millennia ago, the Caspian was part of the Arctic Ocean.













Another weird fact: mullet originally relocated in the Caspian from the Black Sea - or rather, their descendents - are now strikingly bigger and fatter than those relatives of theirs who stayed in the Black Sea. There are also ruff, perch, bullhead, salmon, conny, grass carp, black-backed shad herring, sazan, pike-perch and zherekh in the Caspian; but the richest and best-known source of the Caspian’s piscine wealth are the fish belonging to the sturgeon family: the beluga, stellate and barbel sturgeons. In short, fish-fanciers will thrill to the wide variety of fish on offer here.
But the Caspian also has a lot to offer the human beach-dweller, especially the stretch of shore hundreds of kilometers long between Aktau and the south. This part of the shore offers a wide choice of resorts, the most popular being Kenderly, the site of a major modern hotel development. The area also offers unblemished sandy beaches and a longish season: about five months, from May to the beginning of October.
What else sets a Caspian beach holiday apart from such holidays in other climes? Very possibly the presence in the immediate
environment of so much of cultural and historical interest: the fact that you can combine lolling on the beach with a modicum of genuine self-improvement -  so good for the conscience. In Mangystau, more than 500 sites of archeological interest have been revealed in recent years. To these can be added the late Stone-Age settlement at Koskuduk; the venerable Kizil-Kala, which straddles the Silk Road; the underground mosques at Beket-Ata, Shakpak-Ata and Shopan-Ata; and the many-domed necropolis at Seysem-Ata, which is already a major draw.










It is therefore not too far-fetched to imagine the shores of the Caspian becoming a genuine tourist paradise, a major international attraction; and Mangystau is already moving in this direction, with the inauguration in August 2007 of the Aktau City project. The project is for the construction of a new Aktau city near the old one, its main focus being the development of the region’s tourism infrastructure. This process, of developing tourist infrastructure, has already begun, with new cruise lines already plying routes between Russian, Azeri and Kazakh sectors of the Caspian shore.

Discovery Kazakhstan
Travel guide#1/2008

Discovery Kyrgyzstan Travel guide #10/2008


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