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Discovery Kazakhstan #1

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Text by Vitaliy Shuptar

Now, play... Astana is very possibly the fastest-changing city in the world, and it’s changing for the better. I say that despite a generally sceptical view of life and patriotism and that sort of thing. It’s just a fact: if you leave Astana for a month, on your return you see changes that would have taken years in other cities. Everything is new: streets and houses, statues and squares, quays and bridges.
I have no doubt that as I write these lines, Astana’s next great structure is being commissioned or designed. Like all the others, it will astound with its magnificence, its size, its uniqueness. Time just goes faster in Astana than anywhere else in Kazakhstan. It sprints, it dashes, like a video on fast forward, when clouds, instead of floating serenely across the sky, zip or flash past; when cars move so fast you only see a smudge of colour, which itself disappears in an instant; and even the sun’s daytime transit from horizon to horizon is almost pointedly brisk.
The sun rises and sets quickest of all on the left bank of the Ishim, where the most immense construction projects are currently under way, the architects obviously competing with one another in the originality and scale of their erections. And the speed: the buildings, of the weirdest variety of shapes, just appear overnight. It’s like mushrooms.
I remember a few years ago I was in the square now named Kruglaya (which means circular: which gives you Circular Square...) in front of the Kuzmunaigaz building. It was an astonishing sight: the unreality of the shapes, the reflections of the sun in mirror-like windows blazing through the arch; and the unsettling absence of people. It was like a computer game. A virtual reality.









Despite its monumental dimensions, Kruglaya Square is tiddly by comparison with another square on the left bank, Glavnaya (or ’Main’ in English) Square, which is framed on one side by the semi-cicular House of Ministries. According to a friend of mine, the latter was designed in Stalin’s Empire style, whose purpose was to impress upon the onlooker the magnifence of the state. The square’s focal point is undoubtedly Akorda, the presidential residence, whose windows look upon the House of Ministries, the Senate, the Mazhilis and the Supreme Court, in a reminder that not even the highest-ranking servants of the people can avert or elude presidential scrutiny.

The Baiterek tower, set to become the most visible symbol of Kazakhstan symbol, has not yet achieved the popularity expected of it as Kazakhstan’s Eiffel Tower. It’ll be a few years before the holes and skeletons in the panorama from the tower  - foundation pits and steel frames -  are replaced by multi-storey buildings, and the brown of the local clay covered over by grass, trees and asphalt. But still, it’ll be quick: the pace has been set.
A good place for an overview of Kazakhstan is the Atameken Ethnopark, a huge relief map featuring models of the most important sights around the country. Although recent additions to the exhibit have been a little disproportionate, a criticism acknowledged by all, it is still useful and interesting to be able to see the whole country in miniature and to travel around it along paths that lead you from one region to another.

Right next to Atameken is the Duman Oceanarium. This kind of attraction always claims some kind of superlative for itself, often in defiance of the facts. But the Duman management have decided to play safe and have opted for ’most distant from the ocean’; which, although it is true, seems to lack a certain something, a certain significance. Still, it is true; and likely to remain so until they put one in space. I can’t help mentioning one of those few places where life is comparatively calm (if this word is applicable to Astana at all), which is the Ishim Quay stretching from the yellow many-storied building Astana-Tower to the foot-bridge across the river which leads to the central park. Both residents of the city and those who came to the city for a short while like to stroll slowly along the river or sit in one of the white fretted arbors. Once, some 8-9 years ago, a now deceased traveler Yuriy Senkevich sat in one of the arbors talking about Astana whose construction had just begun. Then it seemed that a sufficient number of buildings had been erected in the city to stop and rejoice at the success, but as it turned out later, everything was just beginning at that time, and real masterpieces will be constructed.

It won’t be long now before Astana boasts another engineering miracle: an enormous lid which will allow the part of the city it covers to enjoy its own warm and windless microclimate independent of the real weather outside. I can’t describe it yet: it doesn’t exist. But it will; someone will. And you could say much the same about the whole city. It belongs to the future; what’s happening now is really only it’s history. People will describe that too; they’ll embellish things here and there, as we all do. But they’ll tell the story.

Discovery Kazakhstan
Travel guide#1/2008

Discovery Kyrgyzstan Travel guide #10/2008


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