Kazakhstan: Exploring the cities of Shymkent and Turkistan

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Kazakhstan: Exploring the cities of Shymkent and Turkistan
Kazakhstan: Exploring the cities of Shymkent and Turkistan

Turkistan is renowned for its historical significance and spiritual heritage (Photo: Himanshu Talwar)

Kazakhstan is a land of immense beauty and diversity with its vast landscapes, rich history, and warm hospitality. From the bustling cities of Astana and Almaty to the serene beauty of the Kazakh steppe, there is something for every traveller to discover.
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Most Indian visitors to Kazakhstan, the largest country in Central Asia famed for its steppe grasslands, are familiar with Astana and Almaty, the two largest cities in the country and which are also connected directly by air with India.

But there is a lot more to discover in this vast land. Shymkent and Turkistan are two of Kazakhstan’s most popular tourist destinations. They are located in the southern region of the country and boast a rich cultural heritage, adorned with historical landmarks, vibrant markets and friendly locals. These cities offer an immersive journey into Kazakhstan’s past and present, from ancient mausoleums to modern architectural wonders.

Shymkent is one of Kazakhstan’s largest cities, serving as a bustling hub of commerce, culture, and history. Its location along the Silk Road has endowed it with diversity, reflected in its architectural marvels and vibrant markets.

One of the first spots for visitors to explore in Shymkent is Abay Park, named after the revered Kazakh poet and philosopher Abay Kunanbayev. It is a sprawling park that offers a serene escape from the urban hustle.

Another popular site is the Regional Ethnographic Museum that showcases Kazakh culture through traditional artifacts, costumes, and crafts. Visitors can explore yurts, as the nomadic tents in Kazakhstan are called and they can also learn about nomadic customs and gain insight into the region’s history and heritage.

In the heart of the city, the Independence Monument stands tall, commemorating Kazakhstan’s independence from the Soviet Union in December 1991. Its striking design and symbolic significance make it a must-visit landmark for history enthusiasts and patriots alike.

Spirituality and history in Turkistan

Turkistan is renowned for its historical significance and spiritual heritage. It beckons travellers with its sacred sites, ancient ruins, and revered mausoleums. As a spiritual centre of Kazakhstan, it offers a glimpse into the country’s Islamic heritage and centuries-old traditions.

One of the highly-recommended places from where visitors ought to begin the exploration of Turkistan is the Mausoleum of Khoja Ahmed Yasawi, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This architectural masterpiece stands as a testament to the legacy of Sufism in Central Asia. Built in the 14th century, the mausoleum is dedicated to the revered mystic and poet Khoja Ahmed Yasawi, drawing pilgrims and tourists from around the world.

Yet another site evoking history and culture is the Azret-Sultan Historical and Cultural Reserve that showcases the rich history of Turkistan. This expansive complex encompasses ancient fortifications, mosques, and museums. Highlights include the imposing walls of the Citadel, the grandeur of the Rabia Sultan Begim Mausoleum, and the tranquil gardens surrounding the complex.

The cultural exploration of Turkistan continues with the Mausoleum of Arystan Bab, nestled amidst picturesque landscapes, honouring the 12th-century Sufi saint Arystan Bab. Visitors come to pay their respects and seek blessings, immersing themselves in the spiritual ambiance of the site.

Throughout the year, Shymkent and Turkistan come alive with a variety of festivals and celebrations that showcase the region’s rich cultural heritage and traditions. One of the most important festivals in Kazakhstan is Nauryz, the Persian New Year, celebrated in March during which streets are adorned with colorful decorations, and people gather to enjoy music, dance, and traditional games.

The Shymkent International Festival of Culture and Arts held annually in May brings together artists, musicians, and performers from around the world, showcasing a diverse range of cultural traditions and artistic expressions. In Turkistan, the Silk Road Festival is a highlight of the summer season which celebrates the region’s role as a cultural and trade hub and offers live music, dance performances, and craft demonstrations.

The Shymkent International Festival of Culture and Arts

The Shymkent International Festival of Culture and Arts held annually in May brings together artists, musicians, and performers from around the world

Besides sightseeing and festivals, exploring the rich cuisine of Kazakhstan in Shymkent and Turkistan is a must. Beshbarmak and Plov are two of the most popular dishes in Kazakh cuisine. Beshbarmak is a hearty stew made with boiled meat served on pasta or dough, while Plov is a fragrant pilaf made with rice, meat, carrots, and spices. Kazakhstan is also known for its sweet treats like Baursak and Chak-Chak.

Whether wandering through colourful bazaars, exploring ancient mausoleums, or soaking in serene landscapes, Shymkent and Turkestan offer a captivating blend of tradition, history, and hospitality. With its welcoming atmosphere and endless opportunities for adventure, Kazakhstan especially Shymkent and Turkestan is a must-visit destination for those seeking an unforgettable journey.

(Himanshu Talwar is an avid traveller and has explored many countries around the world. An author of several books, he also frequently writes travelogues. The views expressed in this article are author’s own and do not necessarily represent those of India Outbound.)

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