Wednesday, June 01, 2011

The Soul of Kazakhstan

To continue on with my thoughts on Kazakhstan and Astana, I am now writing from Almaty. These cities are so different. Astana is a big flashy showpiece of modern architecture with giant ice creams cones and huge gold tea pots, Almaty is a Soviet style city with buildings that lack imagination. Then again, it has wonderful character and some brillant parks. Catching shade in the middle of the day is an impossibility in Astana.
Two large kettles adorn the Millenium Avenue, Astana.
On my last day in Astana I visited the simply amazing Palace of Peace and accord. Designed by a Brit, Norman Foster, responsible for many of the Astana creations. The Palace of Peace and Accord may have a name that doesn't demonstrate a perfect knowledge of the English language (ie. it sounds to me like someone just liked the sound of a Peace Accord) but it shines on the inside.
A pyramid on the outside, the interior is simply stunning. Designed in such a way that if you flew over the pyramid you would see the Kazakh flag, there is a concert hall inside, displays, a large atrium and lifts that take you almost to the top where you can climb steps to the very top. The lifts are in themselves a marvel rising on a diagonal rather than vertically. 
President Nazabaev seems to regard himself as a beacon to the world as far as peace and religions are concerned. This building opened in 2006 and held a conference of world religions. There is a conference table at the very top of the pyramid. It sits around an open circle that looks directly down into the bowels of the pyramid. What more can I say?
The top of the Pyramid from inside. The yellow is from the sun on the Kazakh flag.

The Palace of Peace and Accord, exterior.
 Then I took the 'Talgo' to Almaty, the fastest train in Kazakhstan. Still over 12 hours for around 1000 km journey, but better than 20!
 The glitz of Central Asia'a anwer to Dubai seems a distant memory. Astana, the capital of the steppe, is missing only two things - vegetation and people. Really, every time I went to a museum or attraction I was left wondering if the thing was open, such was the string of tourists entering and leaving the buildings (ie there were none).
Almaty on the other hand is for living. The parks are great, even artists set up their easels to paint, families wander, children play... I visited the main mosque here today, it is very much like a church inside, and I wonder if it is a converted church. The streets are busy, the traffic crazy, people bustle here and there. Astana is the capital, it is Nazabaev's vision. There are many things to see, many photographs to take. However, Kazakhstan's soul lies a Talgo ride south. Almaty.
Almaty, artist at work in one of many parks.

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