My first stop in Kazakhstan was Astana, aptly dubbed ‘The City of the Future’.
Astana was declared the new capital in 1997, with plans to make it a city of the future, a gleaming beacon proudly boasting of Kazakhstan’s success since breaking away from the former Soviet Union. Kazakhstan is arguably the most successful country from the soviet bloc and they want people to know, Astana is the medium to tell us.
The President has been lavishing huge chunks of the country’s GDP to create one of the most breathtaking cities I have ever seen, the city is full of high-tech buildings, wide motorways, fancy shopping malls and architecture to take your breath away.
A couple of days is enough to spend in the city, and although Astana is quite expensive, you’ll spend most of your time walking around which won’t cost you a penny. When you arrive, head down to the river (Bus 21 gets you there) and start walking, prime your camera and look out for these amazing structures:
It’ll be the first building to draw your glance as you head to the new city centre. The building looks like it was transported here direct from Roswell with it’s direct UFO styled appearance. The circus runs twice a week if you wanna visit, I wasn’t lucky enough to be there on the right day.
While normal cities may have normal office buildings, Astana likes to be different. The huge offices for the state power company resembles a casino more than an office block, it stretches around almost completing a circle. It’s dissected Nurzhol bulvar, the 2km stretch and centre point of the whole Capital.
Coolest mall in the whole world? Possibly. The huge tent structure has only been open 4 years, it’s material is such that when the temperatures in the city reach their bone-chilling winter lows of -30, the sun shining on the mall will heat the inside to a pleasant summer day. Pretty cool. Also, there’s free wifi here (as there is in pretty much all of the city!), a beach on the top floor, food court, theme park, movie theatre. I know walking around malls doesn’t sound like the most adventurous thing to do in a new city, but give this one a chance, please!
‘The giant world-cup’ is probably a more apt name with the Bayterek Monument posting a striking resemblance to the football trophy. The actual symbolism stems from a bird laying a golden egg within which lies the secret to human life and happiness but the egg is placed in a huge poplar tree, out of the reach of human hands.
The Bayterek is a 100m momunent right in the middle of Nurzhol bulvar, equi-distance from Khan Shatyr and the Palace of Peace and Harmony. You can take a life up the monument (500 Tenge/$3.50) for awesome views of the whole city, where you really grasp the huge project that’s being undertaken here.
Just off Nurzhol Bulvar is a really attractive mosque, complete with gold spires and minarets. Astana is a multi-faith city, and they promote all religions equally which, in a region famed for it’s extremism (albeit by western media sources), is real public progress.
The Palace of Peace and Harmony:
Kazakhstan host the triennial Congress of World and Traditional Religions in their brand spanking new glass and steel pyramid. You can organize tours inside but the real photo opps lie outside.
Astana is not a cheap city at all, with no tourist trail, no hostels and very little chance of meeting other backpackers, but I love that, it feels like the true essence of traveling again, a feeling that is hard to come by these days but it’s still available – you just have to go looking for it and I found it again in Kazakhstan.
I had an awesome time in Astana, it’s always great when a city or country can really surprise you and this place certainly did that. Knowing that you’re probably the only backpackers in the whole city gives you a special amount of traveling points too! Happy travels!