Here is the presidential palace and the Bayterek tower, the national symbol of Kazakhstan. I didn’t make it up myself, but there is an observation deck on the tower if you take the long elevator ride up. Astana is the capital of Kazakhstan and a bran new city in the middle of an economic and construction boom.
Kazakhstan is a Muslim nation, with about 80% of the population practicing. When I rented a car here, it actually had an Islamic prayer hanging off the rear-view mirror. I saw plenty of Russians in the country though with Christian crosses around their neck or hanging from their rear-view mirror. Part of the economic boom in the country means that Central Asia is now home to the largest mosque in the subcontinent. On the left is the Hazrat Sultan mosque, another one of those times where I planned to return later for a better photo but never made it. I also regret not going inside as some images I later saw on the internet make it look really beautiful. On the right is the Al Nur Mosque closer to the city center.
For those of you who may have watched Borat and have a distorted image of what a Kazakhstan person looks like, here are two photos for you above. The Kazakh race is an Asian race with Turkic culture. These two women above are from the actual Kazakh ethnic group, although many use the word Kazakh to describe anyone who is a citizen. For example, Russians, Uzbeks, Uighurs etc who are born and raised here would refer to themselves Kazakh. Most Kazakh women do not cover their hair, but the few who do usually are stylish about it like the woman on the right. While most women dressed up in either western or Islamic clothing, the guys wore everything from shorts and t-shirts to suits. I think these two photos below summarize the people of Astana.
When I visited Astana, the downtown areas were mostly finished in regards to construction. Along some of the southern suburbs they were building dozens of buildings. I was in Dubai during their construction boom but I didn’t see close to the number of projects there. In Astana, I rented a car and drove by block after block of high-rise buildings being built. There was so much construction going on I seriously wonder if they would be able to fill all this commercial and residential space with tenants. It seemed to me Astana was being expanded on the philosophy, if we build they will come.
This large building on the left is owned by the Kaz Munai gas group. This powerful company is the one responsible for developing Kazakhstan’s natural resources and bringing about the economic boom. Because of all the money they’ve been bringing into the country, Astana was able to grow and along with all their eccentric buildings, like this giant UFO on the right. The company also brings in lots of foreigners to work in the country. Usually when I have a conversation with a local they assume I’m here for business and are surprised once I saw I’m simply traveling.
Above are some of Astana’s new and finished buildings near the city center. I’m not sure what they’re all used for, but I know for sure the one’s in the center are apartments since that’s where I stayed. I booked my room online before arriving and for some reason thought I was in a normal hotel, but when I got to Astana I couldn’t find it anywhere. I met some Kazakh kids who told me they were members of a local band and made it a mission to get me to my place. They walked around asking people until finally we found that that someone was renting a room out of their apartment up on the 22nd floor.
The views from my apartment were pretty amazing. I took these two photos around 10pm after the sun had finally settled. I had meant to go take some great nice shots of the presidential palace, the national mosque, and some other famous places but with some bad jet lag I wasn’t able to drag myself out of my room after 10pm. I did wake up at 4am and even started driving to those places, but because I was so far north the sun had already started rising and all the lights were turned off!
This giant pyramid is known as the Palace of Peace and Reconciliation. I tried to go to the national museum in Astana but it was closed, so I came here next thinking this was another museum. It’s more of a exhibition center that offers tours than a museum, but definitely worth the visit. There are several floors here with a few things on display, such as photos of the Kazakh president along with other leaders who have visited. On the right is a photo that shows some traditional clothing of the different ethnic groups in the country. I was surprised to see that while Germans only represented two percent of the country, they were one of the largest groups after Kazakhs and Russians.
One of the floor has a large opera hall and theater. Higher up the pyramid opens into a large room where you can look straight up to the very top. There was some type of traditional dancing going on here that I was able to watch. During a break the dancers were happy to let me take their photo. Above this room are some stairs that follow the edge of the pyramid to the final room. From here looking down I could still see them continue their dancing.
These last two photos of the Palace of Peace show the lower part of the pyramid on the left and the final room at the very top on the right. There are some great views of the presidential palace from here and the rest of Astana The doves you see on the window represent all the people in the country. There are 131 doves along the windows, one for each ethnic group.
A famous building in Astana is the Khan Shatyr. The Khan Shatyr is essentially the world’s biggest yurt tent, built hundreds of feet high. The two photos below show the inside, where it’s essentially a multiple floor shopping mall complex. The lower left photo shows the center of the mall, but there are more hallways going around the outer perimeter that have additional shopping. A local told me Astana can see temperatures of 40 degrees below zero in the winter time, so the Khan Shatyr would be a great place to go and avoid the brutal winter weather.
Khan Shatyr’s lower floors mostly had clothing stores like these photographed. You could find lots of western clothes and there was even a traditional clothing store as well. There is also a mix of restaurants here, from fancy to several American fast food chains.
A place I would definitely not miss out on is the Duman Entertainment Complex. This is another large building that is like a small indoor amusement park. The place I wanted to visit was the aquarium. Supposedly this is the only aquarium in Central Asia, and on top of that, it’s the farther aquarium in the world from any ocean. The furthest point in the world from the world’s oceans is located in western China along the Kazakhstan border, so it would make sense that an aquarium in the capital would hold this record. Above is a tunnel aquarium and a large shark about the same size as me. The aquarium also has things like these red ear sliders below which are native to America, a few tropical reefs, and other exotic fish. Outside the aquarium there is sort of a reptile house, arcades, and other forms of entertainment. This talking tree in a hallway on the lower right got my attention when I passed by.
The downtown parts of Astana are located in the city’s southern area and is separated by the river. After I crossed the river by taking the bridge photographed above. At first the neighborhoods are still pretty nice and on the upscale side, but eventually you get to areas that you’d expect in Central Asia. Above is a man buying some food from a small restaurant in the north of Astana. Below are some of the more beat up neighborhoods that I came across.