Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan 2018

Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan 2018

Kazakhstan 2018


The overnight train arrived in Almaty at 8:45am, about 20 minutes late.  The blue skies of Karaganda had given way to grey, overcast skies, which matched the mood of many of my travelling companions who had not had a good night’s sleep. It was, however, energising for me to see Almaty’s mountainous backdrop of the Tian Shan Mountains, a stark contrast from the flat lands that had dominated my surroundings over the past week or more.

Our hotel in Almaty was the Hotel Kazakhstan, which has been described as “a towering monstrosity offering great views over the city as well as faded-luxury; an iconic structure in an iconic city”.  Along with the Soviet-era architecture came a Soviet-era attitude on the part of the staff; there was no way we could get access to our rooms for an early check-in even though the rooms were sitting there empty.  Many of us had worked up an appetite as there had been no dinner last night and no breakfast this morning, so some time to purchase a coffee and muffin at the Gloria Jean’s Coffee Shop in the hotel’s foyer was deeply appreciated.  Appropriately rejuvenated, we were ready to head out for a walking tour of Almaty at 11:00am.

We headed north along Dostyk Avenue, an unremarkable but pretty tree-lined street for about a kilometre until we came to Panfilov Park, a lovely, shady area that housed a large, eye-catching (indeed somewhat fearsome)  war memorial.  To the west of the war memorial, the candy-coloured Zenkov Cathedral was under renovation, and so could not be entered, but the exterior was very impressive, especially as the clouds were clearing and the day was becoming sunnier.  The cathedral is built entirely of wood, apparently without the use of any nails.

Passing a former boys’ school in a lovely varnished wooden building that is now used to house government offices, we then came to the Green Market, Almaty’s largest central market area that is housed in a huge green (of course) concrete building that was built by the Soviets in the 1970s.  As is the case with most markets in Central Asia, the most interesting parts of the market were the food sections, and especially the sections selling meat in the open air.  The meat sections in the Green Market are very well organized, with clear signage and clear categorisation, which leads me to say confidently that the largest – by far – section of the market is devoted to the sale of horse meat.  We spent about half an hour exploring the market, which was only just sufficient for me to explore it to the extent that I wished.

Walking west from the Green Market, we came to Arbat Street.  Named after the pedestrianised street of the same name in Moscow, Arbat Street is a nicely renovated pedestrian area that is ideal for promenading, window shopping, café culture, public art sales, and so on. The pedestrian plaza is very modern and it was lined with some great examples of brutalist apartment buildings, making a lovely contrast.

More walking brought us to Zhibek Zholy Metro Station.  Almaty’s metro was only opened in 2011, although its planning lasted about 30 years, which probably explains the traditional Soviet design of its nine stations.  The Metro in Almaty is one of only two subway systems in Central Asia, the other being in Tashkent.

We travelled for two stations on the Metro, arriving at Abay Station, which was very close to both our hotel and the base station of the cable car to Kok-Tobe.  Our intention was to take the cable car to the top of Kok-Tobe, where we would enjoy the views and have lunch.  We arrived at the summit of Kok-Tobe at 2:00pm, where we were surprised to learn that we should walk around the children’s amusement park for an hour and then reconvene for lunch at 3:00pm.  We did so, although the air was far more hazy that my previous visit a few weeks earlier and the views were mediocre at best.

When it came, lunch was a very enjoyable salad and beef shashlik, the final meal that the group would have together.  Saying our farewells, we took the cable car down to the city and finally checked into the hotel at about 4:30pm.  It was wonderful to have a shower and then enjoy the fabulous views of Kok-Tobe from the window of my room on the 22nd floor – the hotel may look gargantuan on the outside, but the views from the building are wonderful.

I leave Almaty tomorrow for the long trip home, made longer because I have booked my flights using points, a constraint which often imposes some compromises.  In my case, the return flights will be Almaty to Novosibirsk, connecting to Moscow, and then connecting to Dubai and Bangkok, where I have a 25 hour layover.  Then, finally, on Sunday night, I’ll complete the final leg from Bangkok to Sydney, arriving (if all goes well) in Sydney on Monday morning.

Day 16



27 September 2018