Country #8, Day 48-52 – Almaty, Kazakhstan. Part 1
If we had to imagine a city of our dreams, many of us would imagine a modern city set against the backdrop of picturesque mountains, great weather and clean air. Almaty is the closest that one can come to that dream. It’s almost summer now and the days are pleasant, the evenings cool, and an ever-present mountain breeze keeps company all day. It was so amazing that we didn’t want to go back indoors at all and for four days, spent as many hours as we could exploring the city extensively.
The old name of the city – Alma-Ata – means father of apples. So if the first apple came from the Garden of Eden in Biblical lore, they must have gotten it from here. It does feel like the Garden of Eden: it has the history, natural beauty and urban spaces that make it an actual paradise. Include it’s residents and it gets a character, a personality, almost, such wonderful people! They capture love for their city in songs, in poetry, thinking of the city as a beloved friend.
Our recommendation for exploring the city, you should probably begin from its centre, where the monument of Independence is located in its central square. They say that the monument in Astana was the spontaneous expression of its youth, the scene of their uprising against communists in power but this is where independence was won and thus it is revered for it. People and tourists touch the handprints of the President of the republic on a plaque situated there, even make wishes!
From here one can head to the park of Panfilov’s 28 Guardsmen; it was buit to commemorate the Panfilov Division and the heroes who stopped Nazi Germany’s attack on Moscow in 1942. The brave soldiers who died there were awarded the title of Hero of the Soviet Union. If there was any place to sit and admire the architecture, I think Almaty is once again the place. The Holy Ascension Cathedral in the Park of Panilov’s 28 Guardsmen, and you’ll need to look no further to see what we are remarking. It is one of the most beautiful buildings in Almaty.
Another one of Almaty’s architectural marvels, mosques. They say the city has more than 2300 mosques, but the most beautiful by far is the Central Mosque, a grand white marble building set against the backdrop of the Atatau mountains makes for a very pretty site. It’s simple yet grand on the inside, very apt for a place of worship.
The park of the First President of Kazakhstan is another unique space; its a favourite with the city’s residents, who sit in the coolness of the fountain on a sultry summer afternoon. True the architecture is modern, but has an old world feel to it, Soviet perspective notwithstanding.
Yet it is the new construction which is a adding a charm to an already grand city. You could see the birth of a mosque, for example. Residents tell us about the construction of one, at the intersection of Zhandosov and Rozybakiev streets (if the names sound confusing, don’t worry; there’s always a helpful Almaty resident who will guide you to where you want to go most of them are human city encyclopaedias. You won’t miss Google Maps!.
Not every building that gets constructed gets wholehearted approval. Like some residents told us they skeptical about the construction of the Nurly Tau complex. “But in the end it turned to be a modern architectural masterpiece!” one resident told us proudly.
Want to know another way of getting round to experience the beauty of Almaty? Funiculars. They get people up steep slopes, besides being a great panoramic joyride (The operative word being ‘joy’). They say someone who saw cable cars in Turkey came up with idea of building funiculars in Almaty. Whatever the genesis of the story, they are convenient, easy to get around in and loads of fun.
No story can be complete with talking about food. Given the city’s cosmopolitan culture – you see signs of it everywhere – serve a multitude of cuisines. They say the city’s restaurants collectively offer over 3,000 dishes, an astounding number in a city with only 1.7 million people: that’s one unique dish for every 600 people who live in the city. Variety it seems, is indeed the spice of the city’s life. The nightlife is something young people love too: bars, pubs, restaurants and buffets are a plenty. You want to get know a city? Check out its food and its markets. Lipsmacking!
Sad but true: 4 days is too short a time in a place like Almaty. We didn’t want to leave, but all good things must come to an end. So we left a piece of our hearts behind in this gorgeous city; the idea is to come back and pick it up again.
But the city was not done with us, wait for part 2, we had to come back the day we left.