Kazakhstan: space rockets and tulips

By | Category: Travel destinations

Ask anyone about where tulips came from originally and the answer almost certainly would be a small country famous also for its red, ball shaped cheese and its very tolerant coffee shops – the Netherlands. I thought the same but no, tulips are wild flowers from Kazkhstan.
There are at least thirty-six wild species of tulips in Kazakhstan, half of them on the endangered list. As there are just under a hundred species in the world, about a third in total are based in this one country.
Talking to Mrs Karlygash Kaken, the Director of the Tourism Board of Kazakhstan, was like opening a gate to an unknown world. And that world is an unknown tourist destination to most of us. Kazakhstan is the ninth largest country in the world as well as being oil-rich.
Found lying between Russia and China and bordering the Caspian Sea, 50% of its land is covered by desert, and a mixture of mountains and large steppes. Kazakhstan in central Asia is where nature awaits you.
If you fancy visiting Kazakhstan, you will be joining those few who have the opportunity to be in at the beginning of a new travel destination that, up until now, has been visited by backpackers and the adventurous. It was only last year when the Asian winter games were held there that many people began to be aware of the country.
Amazing and different landscapes greet the visitor. And if you get out into the countryside by trekking, hiking, cycling or horse riding you’ll see even more. Kazakhstan shelters the Charyn Canyon, the second largest canyon in the world. Close to the Chinese border it is nearly a hundred miles long and, in places, almost a thousand feet deep. The Valley of the Castles is the most popular part to be visited, an area only two miles long but with rock formations bearing a striking resemblance to medieval castles. Not far away you will see a small grove of Sogdian ash trees, a leftover from the ice age. How did they survive? The canyon is named after the River Charyn famous locally for rafting.
And then there’s the magical “singing sand dune” in Altyn Emel National Park where the graves of warriers called Besshatyr, can be discovered. Or what of the Tamgaly Valley which has become a Unesco World Cultural Heritage site due its petroglyphs (rock carvings) which mainly belong to the Bronze Age. In the south and only forty years ago was found the skeleton of the “Golden Man of Issik.” He was found wearing fabulous armour made up of 4,000 gold pieces, and buried under a traditional stone mound. This one of the greatest archaeological discoveries in Kazakhstan is now on display in the capital city, Astana.
Nature has been generous with Kazakhstan. More than 500 birds species can be found including pink flamingos and pelicans. But then there are snow leopards as well up in the mountains but that is only one of the rare species to be found there. There is also the Indian Crested Porcupine and the Himalayan brown bear in the oldest nature reserve in central Asia, Aksu-Djabagl.
Kazakhstan is crossed by the Silk Road that evocative road that Marco Polo trod on his way to China. Ancient caravanserais and old bazaars are spread along the Silk Road. The sight of a yurt put up in the steppes with a herdsman on horseback looking after his cattle makes you think of those ancient times when man led a nomadic existence. Today a number of countries including Kazakhstan are joining together to revive tourism along the Silk Route.
For those who want a more modern vision of Kazakhstan, Astana is a new modern capital, symbolized by Bayterek a tall tower topped with a golden globe nicknamed “Chupa Chups”.
And if you thought Cape Canaveral was the place to see the launching of a space rocket go to Baikonur Cosmodrome. This was the world’s first and largest space launch base, from where Sputnik 1, the first artificial satellite was launched. And it was from here that there was launched the very first manned space flight, that of Yuri Gagarin on 12th April 1961. You may even be lucky to be there when the next space rocket is launched.
From a practical standpoint travellers (you will need a visa) mainly choose to visit Kazakhstan from April to October as the winter can be harsh with strong winds. There are direct flights from Austria and Germany to Astana To Almaty – the second city of the country – bmi provides a direct service from Heathrow as does KLM from Amsterdam, which seems appropriate given the common bond of tulips.
A fauna with some rare species, like the snow leopard, a lot of beautiful lakes and waterfalls, thousands of plants and flowers, among them at least 30 wild tulips species, are a few reasons to visit Kazakhstan.
For further information click here
Guidebooks to the country include “Kazakhstan” (Bradt Travel Guides), Lonely Planet’s “Central Asia” and “Asie Centrale” (Guide Petit Futé) which is only available in French.

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