Nur-Sultan is a new capital city of Kazakhstan, but that does not mean a visit to the former capital is not worth the trip. Visitors may overlook the country’s most populous city, which until 1997 served as the seat of the former Soviet republic’s government.
What is Kazakhstan’s largest metropolis is located just 29 km (18.4 mi.) to the north of the country’s border with Kyrgyzstan, and lies in the mountainous area of southern Kazakhstan, in the foothills of the Trans-Ili Alatau mountain range. The area’s resorts, dramatic mountain landscapes, mouth-watering cuisine, and famed apples are just some of many reasons to visit.
Located near one of the most beautiful mountain ranges in Central Asia, Almaty is home to various alpine recreation facilities, located near to the city center. While in the area, be sure to visit the Shymbulak resort, which is best experienced during winter but is open all year round and offers guests a variety of activities, including biking, mountain climbing, paragliding, buggy riding, and excursions with a professional guide.
The region’s picturesque mountains, rivers and springs will entertain those who are tired of excursions to historical sights. Almaty Lake is arguably one of the most breathtaking destinations in Kazakhstan. The color of this giant lake’s waters varies, depending on the season, while the breathtaking view of the canyon will impress. Although it is strictly prohibited to go down to the edge of the lake, you can enjoy its mirror surface and take in the view of the mountains, including the 4,317 meter-high (14,163 feet) Sovetov Peak.
A trip to Almaty is not complete if you do not try a bit of everything there is to eat, and your culinary marathon should definitely begin with laghman.
In its classical form, laghman is made of noodles, which are spun by hand like white ropes of wool. The noodles are cooked separately and then combined with meat – usually with lamb – and vegetables, including peppers, eggplant, beans, radish, onions, carrots and pickled peppers. A mixture of red, bitter, ground pepper and garlic poured with boiling vegetable oil, called lazhan, is added as a seasoning.
Very few people in Kazakhstan would say they are not big fans of this dish. Although laghman is not a traditional Kazakh food, it has for long been part of the national cuisine, and is popular among the Uyghurs and Dungan populations living in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and the Chinese region of Xinjiang, as well as those living in Uzbekistan.
Another dish that is likely to please foodies is kazy, a traditional sausage made of horse meat, and is an obligatory dish at special occasions like weddings. Historically nomads – the ancestors of modern Kazakhs – were hunters who consumed large quantities of meat. Because horse is such a large animal, after it is slaughtered the meat needed to be preserved somehow. Kazy is made from seasoned horse meat that is carefully inserted into the intestine, used as a casing, and cooked for at least two hours. Kazy can be eaten on its own or added to various dishes such as pilaf.
If you are going to satisfy your sweet tooth, try zhent – roasted millet, dried crushed curd, ghee (clarified butter), sugar, honey, raisins and nuts. The best way to try zhent is with a cup of milk tea.
If you want to bring home something special from Kazakhstan, tableware with national ornaments is one of the best souvenirs that illustrate the country’s rich spiritual heritage. They will decorate any dining room table, and reminded you of your time in Kazakhstan.
Central Asian countries are known for their distinctive clothing designs made from felt, and Kazakhstan is no exception. Handbags, purses, slippers and other Kazakhstani products made from felt can be easily purchased.
Meanwhile, apples are some of the many things that could be brought from Kazakhstan’s largest city. Almaty means “father of apples,” and the town touts this fact proudly. The apple is a symbol of the city, and the fruit’s famed variety, known as aport, usually ripens in the middle of September. Tourists often buy souvenirs made of glass, onyx and felt, as well as silver-plated versions, as a keepsake to remember their time in the city.