A Quick Guide to Central Asia
ASIAN Geographic|AG 04/2020 143
{Kazakhstan}

Cities: Nur-Sultan (capital, previously known as Astana), Almaty, Shymkent, Taraz, Aktau, Atyrau

Languages: Kazakh, Russian

Time zone: UTC+5/6

Dialling code: +7

Power: 220–240 V Euro round 2-pin, French/German Schuko 3-pin

Climate: The four distinct seasons make visiting a varied experience depending on time of year and location, with most travelling between late April (spring) and late October (autumn). Springtime temperatures in the south reach about 18°C, while summer temperatures can reach well into the 30s Celsius. Autumn can be rainy and misty in the mountainous areas but still be quite hot in the desert areas.

Currency: Kazakhstani tenge (KZT)

Exchange rate: USD1 = KZT404

More information: www.visitkazakhstan.kz/en

VISIT

USTYURT PLATEAU: A stony desert of around 200,000 square kilometres, Ustyurt is an otherworldly realm of breathtaking rock formations and awesome canyons tucked into the southwestern corner of Kazakhstan. Vultures and eagles circle overhead and – far more surprisingly – wild horses roam its rugged terrain. Join an experienced adventure tour and overnight in a tent.

NUR-SULTAN: Taking Almaty’s place as the capital and seat of government in 1997, Nur-Sultan (previously known as Astana) has been rapidly developed into an ultramodern city complete with gleaming futuristic buildings like a giant transparent tent (Khan Shatyr) and an enormous glass pyramid (Palace of Peace and Reconciliation). The largest mosque in Central Asia, Nur-Astana Mosque, is also found here.

ALMATY: In every way the nation’s capital (except on paper, the way it apparently matters to President Nursultan Nazarbayev), Almaty is a prosperous, cosmopolitan city that has echoes of Europe in its lovely parks, fine museums, excellent shopping and wonderful selection of places to eat and drink. Chimbulak ski resort is nearby, as is Big Almaty Lake, a beautiful spot surrounded by excellent hiking trails.

ARAL SEA: Straddling Kazakhstan and Karakalpakstan (an autonomous republic of Uzbekistan), the Aral Sea was the world’s fourth largest lake 50 years ago, but has steadily dried up as irrigation projects diverted the rivers that once fed it – a man-made environmental tragedy almost without parallel. What’s left of the area – a desert wasteland of rusting, abandoned ships – has spawned the country’s prime hotspot for so-called “disaster tourism”.

EAT

BESHBARMAK: Meaning “five fingers” (referring to the tools you’ll need to eat it), this Kazakh national dish comprises boiled horse or mutton and is usually accompanied by shorpo, mutton broth served in traditional bowls.

SUJUK: These tasty horsemeat sausages are well spiced and dried for several weeks before consuming.

KUYRDAK: Another contender for national dish, kuyrdak utilises the kidneys, heart, liver and other innards of a cow, sheep or horse – cooked together with onions and peppers and served in soup form with bread.

MANTI: These very popular spicy morsels are the Kazakh (and Central Asian) answer to dumplings – typically served with a dollop of sour cream or garlic sauce.

CELEBRATE

Nowruz (Persian New Year) March 21, annually, nationwide

Kurban (end of Islamic fasting month) currently May, nationwide Russian Orthodox Easter March/April, nationwide

Eurasia Film Festival Nur-Sultan, postponed till autumn 2020 (due to the global pandemic), www.eiff.kz

{KYRGYZSTAN}

Cities: Bishkek (capital), Osh, Dzhalal Abad, Karakol, Tokmok

Languages: Kyrgyz, Russian

Time zone: UTC+5/6

Dialling code: +996

Power: 220–240 V Euro round 2-pin, French/German Schuko 3-pin

Climate: The effects of the continental climate depend on elevation. Lowland areas drop a little below freezing in winter and can reach up to 30–35°C in summer. Wintertime temperatures in the highland areas go as low as –20°C with year-round on the peaks. The best time to visit is generally July to September.

Currency: Kyrgyzstani som (KGS)

Exchange rate: USD1 = KGS75

More information: www.discoverkyrgyzstan.org

VISIT

JETI-ÖGÜZ ROCKS: A well-known landmark that is the subject of songs, paintings and various local legends, Jeti-Ögüz is a unique geological formation that resembles seven angry red bulls. A favourite among hikers, the region, located at an altitude of 2,200 metres in the country’s extreme east, is known for its fresh mountain air and excellent views.

ISSYK KUL: The planet’s second-largest saline lake is surrounded by the snow-capped peaks of the Tian Shan, earning it the name “hot lake” in Kyrgyz because the salt prevents it from freezing. Head to one of the country’s undisputed beauty spots for the lovely views, healing waters and decent beaches.

OSH: A venerable city that was once one of the major trading towns on the Silk Road, Osh retains much of its exotic history in its massive bazaar in the city’s north. Haggle your way to a few bargain souvenirs before paying a visit to a few remnants of Soviet influence (including a rare statue of Lenin). Plan an excursion to the nearby UNESCO World Heritage Sulaiman-Too Sacred Mountain, with its numerous ancient places of worship and caves with petroglyphs.

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A Quick Guide to Central Asia

{Kazakhstan}

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