Astana’s anniversary

I reached Astana just in time for the tenth anniversary celebrations of this new capital of Kazakhstan, a city created by the mere fiat of Kazakhstan’s president/enlightened despot Nazarbayev. We attended some concerts in the old part of town, while even grander concerts were going on in the new governmental district in the south. An enormous amount of money must have been spent on celebrations so large for a city which still has few inhabitants, although people were bussed in from the surrounding countryside to swell the crowds.

The differences between Astana and Almaty are immense. Almaty is a city of festivities, with people staying in the parks late into the night and having their choice of many eateries along the streets. Astana, on the other hand, falls asleep early, and one’s only dining options are expensive restaurants. While thoroughly international, Almaty provides at least hints of traditional Kazakh culture, while Astana is culturally generic.

Just as in Almaty, there are a lot of Turks in Astana providing skilled labour for the massive development that Kazakhstan is undergoing. My host was Kutluhar, a telecommunications engineer. He and his Turkish colleagues taught me along about their homeland, its cuisine, and its music, and I was left with a great desire to visit Turkey.

From Almaty to Lake Balkhash

It took hours just to hitch out of the Almaty metropolitan area, and I had to constantly wave on drivers willing to take me a couple of kilometres for a lot of money. Eventually I found a few people going a little further, first a nouveau riche family, and then a similarly nouveau riche police detective. Having finally reached an isolated spot on the national road, I waited for long-haul traffic, which in this sparsely populated country took still hours more to get. Only two cars stopped for me. One were some locals who merely asked me where I was from, and reported having met French hitchhikers shortly before. But with the next driver to come by I was fortunate indeed, for he was willing to take me the full thousand kilometres up to Astana.

We briefly stopped along the shore of Lake Balkhash. I was unhappy to see immense amounts of rubbish strewn about the shore. Evidentally the ecological awareness that has kept places like Lake Baikal fairly clean has yet to reach Kazakhstan.