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Last updated on April 12, 2001

If you're not a fan of endless semi-arid steppe and decaying industrial cities, Kazakhstan may seem bleak as a month old biscuit. And if it sometimes looks like the landscape has suffered from hundreds of nuclear explosions, well, parts of it have - ever since Russian rocket scientists started using Kazakhstan as a sandpit in the late 1940s. But any country which uses a headless goat's carcass as a polo puck obviously has lots to offer.

The chief exceptions to this relentless desolation are the cosmopolitan city of Almaty (you'll never believe how many ways there are to cook mutton) and the spectacular spurs of the Tian Shan and Altai mountains on the country's southern and eastern borders. Most travellers use Kazakhstan as a staging post to visit the more famous Central Asian destinations, but those who enjoy remoteness, wide open spaces, long hypnotic train rides and horse sausage will definitely be in their element.

Map of Kazakhstan:


Facts at a Glance:

Full country name: Kazakh Republic
Area: 2.7 million sq km (1.67 million sq mi)
Population: 16.8 million
Capital: Astana (formerly Aqmola; population 300,000)
People: 40% Kazakhs, 38% Russian, 6% German, 5% Ukrainian
Languages: Kazakh, Russian
Religion: Sunni Muslim
Government: Republic
President: Nursultan Nazarbayev
Prime Minister: Nurlan Balgimbayev

State Structure:

In 1993 Kazakhstan promulgated its first post-Soviet constitution, which officially established Kazakhstan as an independent constitutional republic with a democratic system of government and a strong presidency. In a referendum held in August 1995, voters approved a new constitution that provided for substantial changes in government. State governance is divided among the executive, legislative and judicial branches.

The president is considered the head of state and commander-in-chief of the armed forces, a post held by Nursultan Abishevich Nazarbayev since 1991. In October 1998, the constitution was amended to provide for a seven-year presidential term. The first election under this constitution was held in January 1999 and resulted in the re-election of President Nazarbayev.

The president appoints a Prime Minister, with the approval of the legislature, to head the government. The president also officially confirms the Prime Minister's recommended appointments to the Council (Cabinet) of Ministers. The constitution gives extensive powers to the president, including the rights to rule by decree and to dissolve the legislature under certain conditions. The constitution also prohibits the president from being officially affiliated with a political party, being a deputy of a representative body, and engaging in any entrepreneurial or commercial activity. The only grounds on which a president can be removed are his/her infirmity and high treason, either of which must be confirmed by a majority of the joint upper and lower houses of the new Parliament. In the event of such a removal from power, the Chairman of the Senate (Upper House of the Parliament) would become the temporary president.

The president is the dominant figure on the political arena, central in determining the direction of state policy and controlling the executive functions of the government.



Hotel Astana International
The three-star Astana International Hotel (3 floors, 114 rooms), opened in 1996, is located in a quiet part of Almaty in 10 minutes from the city center. The hotel occupies three upper floors of the business-center. The ideal location near the National Museum, business and administrative area attracts more attention to this hotel. Airport - 25 minutes. Railway station - 15 minutes.
Address: 113 Baitursynova ulitsa
Phone: +7 (3272) 507050
Fax: +7 (3272) 501060

Hotel Dostyk
The four-star Dostyk Hotel (5 floors, 69 rooms), built in 1986 and reconstructed in 1998, is in the city center close to the Presidential Palace. The Dostyk architecture contains an old style elegance in a combination with a comfortable design. The museums, banks, embassies are in 10 minutes walk. The Fantasy Club is in 15 minutes from the hotel. Airport - 30 minutes. Railway station - 10 minutes.
Address: 36 Kurmangazy ulitsa
Phone: +7 (3272) 636555
Fax: +7 (3272) 636804

Hotel Hyatt Regency Almaty
The five-star Hyatt Regency Almaty Hotel (10 floors, 292 rooms), situated in the heart of Kazakhstan on Marco Polo's silk route, was opened in 1995. It is located in the center of Almaty close to the Fantasy Club, the Circus, the National Bank and the National Museum named after Kasteev. Airport - 40 minutes. Railway station - 10 minutes.
Address: 29/6 Academika Satpaeva ulitsa
Phone: +7 (3272) 509234
Fax: +7 (3272) 508888

Hotel Regent Almaty The Ankara
The five-star Regent Almaty The Ankara Hotel (9 floors, 290 rooms) was opened in 1998. It is located in the city centre, right opposite the Presidential Palace. The beautiful park with marvellous fountains surrounds the hotel. The State Museum is in 10 minutes walk. Airport - 30 minutes. Railway station - 15 minutes.
Address: 181 Zheltoksan ulitsa
Phone : +7 (3272) 503710
Fax : +7 (3272) 582100


Okan Inter-Continental Astana Hotel The five-star Okan Inter-Continental Astana Hotel (22 floors, 228 rooms) is ideally located in the city center close to the administrative and shopping areas, embassies. The central square, museums are in 5 minutes from the hotel. The hotel is a part of the Inter-Continental Hotels Group. Airport - 30 minutes. Railway station - 20 minutes.
Address: 144 Abaya prospect
Phone: +7 (3172) 391000
Fax: +7 (3172) 391010

Restaurants & Bars in Almaty:

Line Brew Cafe
Located at the corner of Furmanova and Abai St next to the French House. A dungeon like tavern with great ambience and an outdoor patio on the roof that is designed like a ship. Reasonable prices.
Tel.: 50-79-85.

Pizza and more. Located on Abai Street between Seifullin and Masanchi. Set back off the road about 100 ft. Popular, but expensive. All-you-can-eat Buffet during lunch.
Tel.: 67-57-85 or 67-20-57.

Located at 75 Shevchenko near Nauryzbay St. Probably the most popular restaurant serving national Kazakh, Uzbek, and Russian cuisine.
Tel.: 69-54-27.

Tequila Sunrise
Mexican food cuisine, lower level of Otrar Hotel on Golgol, across the street from Panfilov Park. Good food, expensive. Dance floor and extensive bar. Popular on weekends.

Pubs in Almaty:

Havana Club
Hyatt Regency Hotel. Popular with the young crowd. Dancing, disco, darts, billiards. 17:00-04:00.
Tel.: 50-92-34.

Mad Murphy's
Irish-styled pub. The most popular pub with ex-pats, especially on Friday nights. Located on corner of Zenkova St. and Tole Bi. Enter from Zenkova St. Food is great, atmosphere is wonderful, prices are average. Entertainment available. Has a nice outdoor patio.
Tel.: 91-28-56; 91-59-72.

Nightclubs in Almaty:

The most popular nighttime hangout at the moment. Disco by night, movie theatre by day. Located on the East Side of Dostyk a little up from Abai. Disco is open 23:00-04:00, daily except Mon and Tue.
Tel.: 53-22-10.

Gay/Lesbian nightclub. Dancing gay shows every night. Meals and disco. Located on Michurina, a small street to the west from Kosmonavtov (Baitursynov), half way between Kurmangazy and Abaya. Entrance is a long covered stairs to the second floor.

Les Pyramides Club
152 Vinogradova and Nurmakova, to the left from Kardinal bowling and carting center. Average prices. 2 levels. Dancing floor is on an elevation designed like a boxing ring with a bar and tables around. Fairly popular hangout. Open Wed-Sun, from 22:00.
Tel.: 50-94-90.

Provinces (Oblasts):

Akmola Oblast
Aktobe Oblast
Almaty Oblast
Atyrau Oblast
East-Kazakhstan Oblast
Karaganda Oblast
Kostanai Oblast
Kyzylorda Oblast
Mangistau Oblast
North-Kazakhstan Oblast
Pavlodar Oblast
South-Kazakhstan Oblast
West-Kazakhstan Oblast
Zhambyl Oblast

Main Cities & Telephone Codes:

Astana (capital)3172
Shymkent325(22, 2)

Useful Phone Numbers in Almaty:

Free of charge from any telephone booth:
Fire brigade01
Police Station02
City ambulance service03
International SOS Clinic Almaty (an SOS company)
24-hours emergency assistance
91-30-30, 64-26-56, 64-32-48, 91-07-65, 65-17-42
Accident bureau63-87-90
Information-consulting toxicological center67-70-55
Center of disaster medicine24-28-83, 27-93-10
Information bureau on medicine availability50-97-87
Airport (Information bureau on flights schedule)54-05-55
Railway station Almaty-136-33-92
Railway station Almaty-260-55-44, 60-53-44
Information bureau (gives phone numbers free of charge but the database isn't full)09
Aist information service (charges a small fee for giving phone numbers and addresses; database is updated)088
Betsi information service (free advice about where you can buy various goods and services, also gives phone numbers and addresses)080
Kazakhstan and CIS codes070
International codes079


Covering 2.7 million sq. km (1.05 million square miles), Kazakhstan is the ninth biggest country in the world, about the size of western Europe or half the size of mainland USA. It borders Russia to the north, the Caspian Sea to the west, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan to the south and China to the east. Kazakhstan is mainly dry and flat except for its alpine south-east and eastern fringes which lie along the northern edge of the mighty Tian Shan range. Mt Khan Tengri at 6995m (22,950ft), on the Kazakhstan-Kyrgyzstan border, is the country's highest point. Lake Balqash in the central east is huge but shallow - the eastern half is salty, the western half fresh. Kazakhstan's underground environment contains massive deposits of iron, coal, oil, gas, lead, bismuth, cadmium and thallium (these last three essential in electronics). These and other minerals have drawn hefty, if shady, foreign investment interest to Kazakhstan's otherwise unpromising plains.

Back on top of the crust, Kazakhstan has been badly ravaged by dodgy Soviet schemes which have poisoned, denuded and drained. The country was set aside for massive wheat production in the 1960s, setting off a train of ecological nightmares. Water from the Syr-Darya and Amu-Darya rivers was diverted for irrigation, causing the Aral Sea, which they fed, to shrink dramatically. The fishing port of Aralsk was left high and dry and became a ghost town; the fish died out from rising salt levels; rains stopped; salt, sand and dust blew in storms for hundreds of km around; birds and animals have fled the river delta. Chemical residues from agriculture have found their way into the rivers and into Kazakhstan's drinking water, while the Kazakh steppe has become eroded, arid and salinised from over-cultivation. In case Kazakhstan hadn't had enough, Moscow used the area between Semey and Pavlodar as a testing ground for nuclear weapons between 1949 and 1989; around 40 million people have been adversely affected by radiation.

Amazingly, there's still a reasonably good chance you'll see some memorable beasts and plants once you get out of the dead zones. At the very least there are the millions of rooks that inhabit the towns and the Cannabis indica that grows thick and wild by the roadsides. You're likely to spot antelope, brown bear, wild boar, lynx, and eagles in Kazakhstan's mountains, though sighting the elusive snow leopard may take a tad longer. Poppies and tulips grow wild in the grassy steppes, trampled upon by roe deer, wolves, foxes and badgers.

Summer is hot with desert temperatures topping 40?C (105?F) during the day, but often dropping to less than half that at night. Snow starts to fall around November and the mountain passes fill with snow until April, sometimes even May. Winters are bitterly cold, even in the desert. Annual precipitation ranges from less than 100mm (3.9in) a year in the deserts to 1500mm (58.5in) in the mountains. Much of the summer rain on the steppes comes from violent thunderstorms which often cause local flash floods.


Central Asia's recorded history begins in the 6th century BC, when the Achaemenid Empire of Persia held sway beyond the Amu-Darya River. In 330BC Alexander the Great led his army to victory over the last Achaemenid emperor and by 328 had reached Kabul and the Hindu Kush. The aftermath of Alexander's short-lived Central Asian empire saw an increase in cultural exchange between Europe and Asia. Hellenistic successor states disseminated the aesthetic values of the classical world deep into Asia, while trade bought such goods as the walnut to Europe.

No one knows for sure when the miraculously fine, sensuous fabric spun from the cocoon of the Bombyx caterpillar first reached the west from China. Even after the secret of sericulture arrived in the Mediterranean world, Chinese silk producers consistently exercised the advantage of centuries of know-how. The demand for this thread saw unprecedented trade upon what became known as the Silk Road - a shifting web of caravan tracks rather than a single road.

For a thousand years after the birth of Christ, Central Asia was the scene of pendulum-like shifts of power between nomadic hordes and the sedentary civilizations of Eurasia's periphery. Horses, rather than silk, had the greatest influence over regional events, since the vast grasslands fed millions of them. Mounted archers were the most potent military force in the region. The Huns, the Western Turks, Arabs and the Chinese all ventured into the region during this period.

From 1219, Mongol hordes under the leadership of Genghis Khan swept through most of Eurasia. The ravages inflicted on the region were so harsh that settled civilization in Central Asia did not begin to recover until Russian colonization some 600 years later. Genghis was brutal but he also perceived the importance of reliable trade and communications, laying down networks of guard and post stations and introducing tax breaks to boost economic activity. In modern terms, the streets were safe and the trains ran on time. The resulting flurry of trade on the Silk Road was the background to many famous medieval traveler's' journeys, including Marco Polo's.

The splits and religious divisions which followed the death of Genghis led to the fracturing of the Mongol Empire, the rise of the tyrant's tyrant, Timur the Lame (aka Tamerlaine), at the end of the 14th century and the emergence of Kazakhs as a distinct people for the first time. Springing from the descendants of Mongols, Turkic and other peoples, the Kazakhs went on to form one of the world's last great nomadic empires, stretching across the steppe and desert north, east and west of the Syr-Darya and capable of bringing 200,000 horsemen into the field. The ruin of the Kazakhs came thanks to the Oyrats, a warlike, expansionist Mongolian people who subjugated eastern Kazakhstan, the Tian Shan and parts of Xinjiang to form the Zhungarian Empire in the 1630s. The Kazakhs were savagely and repeatedly pummelled, particularly betwen 1690 and 1720. This 'Great Disaster' made them susceptible to the Russian expansion of the 19th century.

Enter the Bolsheviks , who quickly liberated the Central Asians from any ideas of self determination. Although there were frequent demonstrations of discontent, these were quickly and soundly defeated by the communists. Meanwhile a charismatic young Turk named Enver Pasha had bent Lenin's ear and convinced the Soviet leader he could deliver him all of Central Asia and British India. In reality Pasha had decided to ditch Lenin and win himself a Pan Turkic state with Central Asia as its core. A large army and some clever concessions to the Islamic religion saw Pasha's support wane and Moscow's reign prevail.

Kazakhstan's traditional tribal divisions - the Great Horde in the south, the Middle Horde in the centre and north-east, and the Little Horde in the west - were pasted over by the Russians and simply ignored by the Soviets but remained important as social and ethnic identifiers. In fact, nationalist confusion is one of the major legacies of Soviet rule. Since the republics of Kazakh, Kyrgyz, Tajik, Turkmen and Uzbek began to be created in the 1920s each was carefully shaped to contain pockets of differing nationalities with long-standing claims to the land. The present face of Central Asia is a product of this 'divide and rule' policy.

Soviet rule in Central Asia was a parade of ridiculous ideas: assimilating the region's ethnic groups, converting the steppe into a giant cotton plantation, using Kazakhstan as a 'secret' nuclear testing zone, etc. The political, social, economic and ecological disasters resulting from these experiments meant all five republics had little to lose by declaring their sovereignty when glasnost and perestroyka led to the disintegration of the USSR in 1991. Later that year they joined with 11 other former Soviet states to form the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS).

Today Kazakhstan is grappling with the free market and an enthusiastic brand of deregulation that tends toward anarchy. President Nazarbayev, a former Communist, is imposing his peculiar ideas about democracy (weakened parliament, handy constitutional changes) on the country he hopes to turn into Central Asia's economic tiger. Nazarbayev's sweeping election victory in early 1999 was aided by the banning of major opponents on frivolous grounds and the fact that one of the remaining candidates based his campaign on an ability to crush glass with his bare hands. In keeping with the ad hoc nature of the new republic, the nation's capital was moved from Almaty in the south to Akmola in the north and then re-named Astana, none of which really helped Kazakhstan's image as a country prone to tragic flights of fancy.

Economic Overview:

The economy of Kazakhstan is based on its extensive agricultural and mineral resources. The country has enormous untapped fossil fuel reserves and supplies of other minerals and metals. Heavy industry was developed for further processing of these mineral reserves. The national engineering industry specializes in construction equipment, tractors, agricultural machinery, and defense equipment. Kazakhstan vast steppe lands secure considerable agricultural potential of the country, which accommodates both grain production and livestock grazing. The process of macroeconomic changes in the country is irreversible. Major components and basic conditions of the market economy have been established in Kazakhstan. Consistent monetary and fiscal policies resulted in a considerable reduction of the inflation rate from 2,200% in 1993 to 11.2% in 1997. In 1998 inflation rate fell to 1.9%. This was a result of a major decline in the aggregate money stock from 10%-11% in 1995 to 8.5% in 1997. In 1999, the monetisation of the economy increased from 8% in the beginning of the year to 11.4% by the end of 1999. The national currency (the tenge) was relatively stable against the US dollar until April 1999. The exchange rate changed from 76.01 tenge per dollar in early 1998 to 83.28 tenge by the end of the year. After the devaluation of the tenge in April 1999, the local currency peaked at 150 tenge per dollar, however, the exchange rate stabilized at 139.8 tenge per dollar by the end of 1999.

Macroeconomic stabilization accompanied by growth in production resumed in 1999. In 1998 Kazakhstan GDP dropped by 2.5% reaching the level of $21.2 billion. The recession was mainly due to the Asian economic crisis and falling prices for the country's main export commodities (oil, gas, and non-ferrous metals). However, in 1999, by some estimates, GDP increased by 1.7%, as compared to the preceding year.

Production of goods increased by 6.6% (mainly agricultural products), while services fell by 1,7%, with the greatest decline observed in health care services (7.9 % decrease). Agriculture amounted to 8.9% of GDP, industry accounted for 28.0%, and the remaining 63.1% is the share of other services.

The breakup of the USSR and the collapse of demand for Kazakhstan's traditional heavy industry products had considerable effect on the pace and character of further economic development of Kazakhstan.

Privatization in Kazakhstan:

Privatization is central to economic restructuring in Kazakhstan. The Privatization Program was launched in 1991, alongside with economic, legislative and institutional reforms. Two main laws of the Republic of Kazakhstan, "On State Property" and "On Denationalization and Privatization", constitute the legal basis for privatization in the country.

In 1991-1995, two programs of denationalization and privatization were implemented in the Republic of Kazakhstan. The Program of Denationalization and Privatization as of June 22, 1991 covered 1991-1992 and its main focus was on sale of retail trade and service facilities, and transfer of state property to employees. The National Program of Denationalization and Privatization in the Republic of Kazakhstan for 1993-1995 (II Stage) as of March 5, 1993 covered, apart from the small-scale privatization, mass privatization, case-by-case privatization and privatization of agricultural enterprises.

Under the small-scale privatization, approximately 11 thousand objects were sold, which is about 2/3 of all objects subject to the small-scale privatization. As for objects which form the majority of the small-scale privatization program and are considered to be the most important ones for satisfying the population's needs, specifically objects of retail trade, public catering and services - 84% of them have been privatized.

Under the case-by-case privatization that includes enterprises with more than 5,000 employees, 5 enterprises were sold, 44 were transferred to trust management. Of them, 12 enterprises - to foreign entities. Under the privatization of agricultural enterprises, more than 1967 enterprises were sold by the end of 1995. That constituted 93% of all agricultural enterprises in Kazakhstan. As of early 1996, about 60% of charter funds of privatized enterprises was transferred to private owners (excluding the small-scale privatization). The privatization process of pharmaceutical companies resulted in privatization of 57% of all the drugstores of the Republic. In 1997 over 2,900 social sphere facilities, engaged in medicare, education, culture, tourism and sports, have been privatized. In general, since 1991 17,070 enterprises were privatized in the country.

Strategy of Kazakhstan development up to 2030 has set the task to complete the overall privatization processes to cover real estate, remaining SMEs, and enterprises in agro-industrial complex.

According to the program of privatization and state property management for 1999 - 2000 the state intends to preserve its ownership in strategically important spheres of economy, like extraction, transportation and processing of oil, rail road and air transportation, power distribution, uranium raw materials production. The government outlined directions for denationalization of certain markets and defined strategies for development of regulatory legislative and administrative frameworks.

Privatization of the enterprises positively affected their operations. A representative sample of 15 percent of privatized businesses (survey conducted by Deloitte and Touche) was questioned about employment practices, employee salaries, management concerns, taxes, government interference and other business- related concerns. Results of the survey showed: a 20 percent increase in average employment per firm; substantial financial investment on the part of new owners; increased business revenues for privatized enterprises; higher employee salaries in the private sector as compared with the public sector; a wider assortment of goods offered by privatized enterprises; lower overall prices. The survey also noted other important results of the privatization process, including increased customer satisfaction and the growth of service industries such as accounting, marketing and advertising.

Consulting Services:

Deloitte & Touche
Floor 4, 81, Abylai Khan Ave., 480091, Almaty
tel.: 581340 fax: 581341
E-mail: almaty@deloitte.ru

"Ernst & Young Kazakhstan"
R.22, 9/2, Republic Ave., 473000, Astana
tel.: 391593, 392496, 392374 fax: 392374

"Ernst & Young Kazakhstan"
273, Furmanov Str., 480099, Almaty
tel.: 585960 fax: 585961

Translation & Interpretation:

"Ace Translations Group"
Office 208, 58 A, Abylai Khan Ave., 480004, Almaty
tel.: 334751 fax: 334751

"Polyglot International" (USA)
R.7; 124, Zheltoksan Str., 480091, Almaty
tel.: 632234, 626221 fax: 639526

"Usoroh's Language Service"
R.810, 42/44, Abai Ave., Almaty
tel.: 632303, 634839, 923078

Culture & Art:

The nomadic way of life did not lend itself to the construction of architectural monuments, and thus Central Asia's ancient cultural centers, full of architectural grandeur, were located south of Kazakh lands. However, several outstanding monuments of the ancient times have survived through the years in the form of mausoleums, burial mounds and beautiful architectural ensembles. Burial constructions in the basin of Syr Darya river (south west Kazakhstan) had blind air-dried brick walls crowned with domes. Circular and rectangular plans and construction techniques influenced the architectural styles not only in Kazakhstan, but in Central Asia, Middle East and Eastern Europe. Southern Kazakhstan is home to a number of important Islamic buildings, including the Arystanbab Mosque (built in the 12th century), located near the ancient city of Otrar and the villages of Talapty and Kogam; the Khoja Akhmed Yasavi Mausoleum (14th century), in the city of Turkestan, the Aisha-Bibi, Babajan-hanum and Rabat-i-Malik Mausoleums in the city of Taraz.

These architectural ensembles are just the examples of the architectural heritage left from Kazakh ancestors. Many new mosques have been built since independence.

In the new capital, Astana, buildings were constructed or renovated specifically for the government's move there in 1997; these include a modern complex in the city's main square that serves as the government headquarters. The cities of Kazakhstan also contain examples of Russian architecture, such as the Zenkov Cathedral (built in 1904) in Almaty. The architecture of the Soviet period mostly took the form of drab, functional buildings.

Almaty is unique in its architecture. A modern ensemble of buildings and architectural structures matches a picturesque landscape of the Alatau mountains. High glass-and-concrete public buildings next to apartment complexes make up Dostyk prospect, one of the central street of the city. Facades of many buildings are made of pink shell and granite of different colors.

During the Soviet era a number of Kazakhstan architects were awarded national prizes for their works built in the city: Medeo sporting complex and the Palace of the Republic. If you are in the city, you will enjoy a magnificent ensemble of the Kazakh circus, Kazakh drama theater, the museum of arts, the wedding palace, and several entertainment parks located on the Vesnovka river.

Another architectural attraction of Almaty is the Republic Plaza. President's palace, white-stone buildings on the north side of the plaza together with the National Museum, fountains and memorials make up a beautiful architectural ensemble. Kok-Tube peak of the Alatau mountains opens a nice view on the city. Medeo skating rink, one of the few high-altitude outdoors skating rinks in the world, is located in Medeo tract of the Alatau mountains.

Almaty architects, so different in their styles, are working towards one goal: matching city ensembles with the unique landscape.

Much Kazakh food resembles that of the Middle East or the Mediterranean in its use of rice, savoury seasonings, vegetables and legumes, yoghurt and grilled meats. Other dishes have developed from the subsistence diet of the nomads - mainly mutton (including entrails), milk products and bread - whereas in the heavily Russian-populated cities of northern Kazakhstan, the dominant cuisine is Russian. Rural Kazakhs make good qazy, smoked horsemeat sausage sometimes served sliced with cold noodles. If that sounds a bit hardcore, look out for a sweet plov (pilaf) made with dried apricots, raisins and prunes or Kazak apples which are famous throughout Central Asia (Almaty literally means 'father of apples').

Theaters in Almaty:

Auezov-Kazakh State Academy Drama Theater
Between Abai and Kurmangazy next to Zhandosov.
Tel.: 67-53-00 or 67-50-64.

German Theater
64 D Rozybakiyev and Satpaev.
Tel.: 46-57-74.

New Stage (Novaya Scena)
103 Panfilov.
Tel.: 32-38-49.

Russian Drama Theater (Lermontov Theater)
State Academic Russian Theater of Drama also known as "Lermontov Theater": 43 Abai and Ablai Khan.
Box offices are usually open from 10:00-18:00 with a lunch break between 14:00-15:00
Tel.: 69-56-56, 69-54-42 or 62-82-73.

Museums in Almaty:

44 Dostyk at Shevchenko. This museum contains a collection of shards and ceramic artifacts from the 3rd century AD, as well as a life-size replica of the Golden Man, a 5th century BC Sacae warrior found in tombs near Almaty.
Open daily 10:00-18:00.
Tel.: 61-85-85.

Central State Museum
44 Furmanov above Satpaev St., near Republic Square. This is primarily a history museum, with exhibits that detail the development of Kazakhstan and its people from the Bronze Age to the Russian Empire, the Communist Period, and afterward. The museum also has exhibits of Kazakh handicrafts, and three souvenir shops where rugs, jewelry and other objects are available for purchase. Open 9 AM to 6 PM, however, the visitors must enter by 5 PM Closed Tuesdays.
Ticket prices vary with exhibit.
Tel.: 64-23-90.

69A Kabanbai Batyr Street. Features a collection of stones indigenous to Kazakhstan. Around the corner on Dostyk Ave. is the museum shop where gem products are sold. Open 9:00-18:00. Closed Sunday.
Tel.: 61-86-63

Public Holidays:

January 1New Year's Day
March 8Women's Day
March 21Noruz
May 1International Labour Day
May 9Victory Day
October 25Republic Day
December 16Independence Day

Kazakhstan isn't really known for its splashy mardi gras. Public holidays include two for New Year's Day (January 1 and either December 31 or January 2), Kazakhstan Constitution Day (28 January), International Women's Day (March 8), Labour Day (May 1), Victory Day (a commemoration of the end of WWII for Russia on May 9, 1945), Republic Day (October 25) and Independence Day (December 16).

The spring festival of Nauryz ('New Days') is by far the biggest holiday. It's an Islamic adaptation of pre-Islamic vernal equinox or renewal celebrations and can include traditional games, music and drama festivals, street art and colourful fairs. Medeu, outside Almaty, hosts the Voice of Asia rock festival in August when bands from all over the CIS and Asia dribble on the drum riser.

Important Muslim holy days, scheduled according to the lunar calendar, include Ramadan, the month of sunrise to sunset fasting; Eid-ul-Fitr, the celebrations marking the end of Ramadan; and Eid-ul-Azha, the feast of sacrifice, when those who can afford to, slaughter an animal and share it with relatives and the poor.

Passport & Visa:

A valid passport and visa are required. Visas are issued by the Kazakhstani Embassy on the basis of an invitation from an individual or organization that is the sponsor in Kazakhstan, or by bilateral agreement, by the Russian Embassy in countries in which there is no Kazakhstani Embassy. The U.S. Embassy in Almaty does not issue letters of invitation to citizens interested in private travel to Kazakhstan. Kazakhstan has suspended the 72-hour transit rule, which allowed travelers with other Commowealth of Independent States' visas to transit Kazakhstan. All travelers, even those simply transiting Kazakhstan for less than 72 hours, must obtain a Kazakhstan visa prior to entering the country. Furthermore, travelers may be asked to provide proof at the border of their onward travel arrangements.

All travelers staying for more than three business days must register with the Office of Visas and Registration (OVIR). Visitors who do not register may have to pay large fines at the airport upon departure. All visitors must also present to the OVIR office within 10 days of arrival a certificate indicating a negative HIV test conducted no more than one month prior to registration. Evidence of an HIV test performed abroad is acceptable. Testing may also be done at the Center for the Prevention and Control of AIDS (7 Talgarskaya Street, Almaty).

Types of Visas
Kazakhstan has nine different categories of visas. The Kazakhstani visa is issued for single, double, triple or multiple entry. Tourist visas are usually issued for one month, while the others are issued for up to one year. Multiple-entry visas issued for one year allow you to enter and leave the country as many times as you like.

Before Applying For a Visa
To obtain any kind of visa, you first need to get an invitation letter from a Kazakhstani firm, governmental organization, branch or representative office of a foreign firm or individual.

The invitation letter must state your name, passport details, dates and purpose of the visit, cities to be visited, and where the visa will be picked up. Your passport must be valid for at least three months beyond your intended stay. The invitation letter is registered with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Almaty (ex-capital since 1997) and Astana (new capital), which in turn instructs the specified Kazakhstani consulate abroad to issue a visa. You must pick up your visa within 3-5 days after you have received an invitation letter from the organization inviting you. (Do not wait until you are contacted; it seldom happens.)

Take your invitation letter, passport, a completed visa application form (available from the consulate), three passport-type photographs, and the required fee (it varies from consulate to consulate). If you're applying for a multiple entry visa, you are officially required to present the results of an HIV test taken within the preceding three months.

Visa fees vary, depending on how quickly you want to receive the document. Fees at Kazakhstani embassies or consulates for a single-entry visa for most nationalities are about US $60 for one to three weeks; US $170 for one to three months single entry; US $180 for a double-entry visa; US $190 for a triple- entry visa; US $200 for a multiple-entry visa; and US $260 for a year. For processing in less than one week, fees are double. Fees vary for visas issued through Russian embassies. You must come to Kazakhstan with the passport you specified in the invitation letter.

Time: There are three time zones: GMT/UTC plus 4, 5 and 6 hours.

Electricity: 220V, 50 Hz, using European two-pin plugs (round pins, no earth connection). Bring a torch!

Health risks: Hepatitis A & E, cholera, diptheria & undulant fever. Play it safe and don't drink the water even if locals say it's OK to drink.

Weights & Measures: Metric.

Money & Costs:

Currency: tengge (T)

Relative costs:

  • Budget meal: US$ 4-8
  • Moderate restaurant meal: US$ 25-60
  • Top-end restaurant meal: US$ 60 and upwards
  • Budget room: US$ 10-20
  • Moderate hotel room: US$ 20-50
  • Top-end hotel room: US$ 50 and upwards

Kazakhstan is the most expensive of the Central Asian countries. If you're travelling with a friend, staying in modest hotels, eating in cheaper restaurants and travelling by bus or train, you can get around for about US$ 20-40 a day. You can cut this further by shopping for your food in bazaars, staying in people's houses, avoiding taxis and staying away from cities as much as possible. If you have to stay in a tourist hotel, your budget may go up substantially. Other little luxuries include car hire, imported beer and Mars bars, which will really blow you out. As a foreigner, you will often have to pay more for services than the locals do.

Kazakhstan has the most advanced banking system in Central Asia, and credit card use is on the increase. Generally, though, you can't rely on anything but cash. US dollars are the easiest to exchange (particularly on the black market) but Deutschmarks can also come in handy. Most banks will only accept new notes. You may be able to change travellers cheques in Almaty - American Express are the most widely accepted.

Tipping is not common, although a few top end restaurants automatically add a 5% to 15% service charge to the bill. Tipping runs counter to many people's Islamic sense of hospitality, and may even offend them. Shops have fixed prices but bargaining in bazaars is expected.

When to Go:

As summers are ferociously hot and winters bitterly cold, spring (April to June) and autumn (September to November) are the best seasons to visit Kazakhstan. In April the desert blooms briefly and the monotonous ochre landscapes explode in reds, oranges and yellows. Autumn is harvest time, when market tables heave with freshly picked fruit. If you do decide to battle the winter, be aware that many domestic flights are grounded and finding food can be a problem since lots of eateries close for the season.

Where to Go & What to Do:

Kazakhstan lies at the crossroads of ancient civilizations, the intersection of major transportation routes, cultural, economic, social and ideological links between Europe and Asia, between the East and the West. The South of Kazakhstan, as a part of the Great Silk Road, features a unique complex of historical, archaeological, architectural and cultural monuments. The Northern part of the route run through the South of Kazakhstan and Semirechye and was the main connection for international trade and cultural exchange. On the territory of contemporary Kazakhstan there are more than 22 sites of ancient settlements, including local rulers' (khans) palaces. The most famous tourist attractions are Turkestan, Taraz and Almaty cities. Khodja Akhmed Yassaui mausoleum in Turkestan became a sacred place for Moslems from all over the world. Nowadays the mausoleum is visited by 100 - 250 people every day and during religious holidays the number of pilgrims increases up to 1, 000 people a day.

Taraz used to be the main administrative center of the Silk Road. Historical monuments of the past are preserved here in an excellent condition. Necropolis of X-XII centuries, world-famous mausoleums of Karakhan and Davudbek, castles of ancient rulers, fortification works, temples and other cult buildings takes visitors back to ancient Kazakh khanates (states).

Almaty spreading out at the foothills of the Zaili Alatau, is a very beautiful city with extremely picturesque surroundings. Kok-Tobe (Green Top) (1,130 meters), below which stands the city's 350-meter television tower, opens a very beautiful panorama of the city, especially gorgeous is the night view of the city with myriad sparkling lights. There are some cozy restaurants and cafes open for tourists and guests. Closeness of Almaty to the Zaili Alatau mountains adds special charm to the city, providing the fantastic diversity of beautiful surroundings, routes and landscape, which attracts tourists and lovers of active leisure. The Medeo the world-famous skating-rink is probably the most visited and attractive site within the Almaty area. It derives its name from that of an ancient nomad, Medeo, who founded a village in that fabulous place. The road to Medeo snakes along the Maloye Almatinskoye Ushchelye (canyon). This is where mountain resorts, sanatoriums and private estates are located. Once a year the Medeo stadium is de-iced and transformed into a huge concert stage. It becomes the venue of the popular song festival "The Voice of Asia" (Azia Dauysy) http://www.voiceofasia.actis.kz that draws together young and world famous singers from different countries of the world.

Those who seek stomach-turning sensations may try the skiing resort of Chimbulak http://www.chimbulak.kz located beyond Medeo at the altitude of 2,230 meters.

Khan Tengry is the highest peak of Kazakhstan. Its splendid marble top makes it one of the most beautiful mountains of the world, which attracts alpinists from all over the world.

Off the Beaten Track:

The Kolsai Lakes comprise three mountain lakes located at the altitudes of 1,000, 2,250 and 2,700 meters above the sea level. Surrounded by rocks, forests of broad-leaved trees, pines spruces and mountain meadows, the lakes create an enchanting picture. There are a lot of opportunities for diverse forms of outdoor and water recreations: swimming, fishing, horseback riding, hiking; skiing and skating in winter. The lakes are open for boat excursions. A real pearl of the Zaili Alatau is Bolshoe Almatinskoe Lake, situated at 2,510 m above the sea level, 15 km from Almaty and surrounded by majestic mountains.

Charyn Canyon, also called "a young brother of the Grand Canyon", is nearly 200 m long and 100 to 300 meters high. The red clay walls of the canyon are carved with deep fissures, caves, grottoes of different shapes and sizes. They create an impression of a huge, ghost city inhabited by fantastic creatures.

Unexpected paradise can be found on the territory of the State Park of Altyn-Emel. It stretches from Ily-river till mountain ridges of Aktau. Here one can see rock paintings, witness the enormous variety of the fauna and the Singing barkhan. This unique miracle of the nature is a 300-m. high sand hill, which utters sounds, resembling the siren of riverboats.

Unexpected paradise can be found on the territory of the State Park of Altyn-Emel. It stretches from Ily-river till mountain ridges of Aktau. Here one can see rock paintings, witness the enormous variety of the fauna and the Singing barkhan. This unique miracle of the nature is a 300-m. high sand hill, which utters sounds, resembling the siren of riverboats.

In Tamgaly ravine, not far from Almaty archaeologists discovered about a thousand of the rock-paintings, still unknown to the world. This place is really the ancient gallery of Art, featuring pictures of discs, chariots, tamgas (family sings), preying inscriptions. The gallery of Tamgala's petroglyphs is the world's treasure and is kept under the protection of UNESCO.

The West. West Kazakhstan is the meeting point of Europe and Asia in the basin of the Caspian Sea. The region's Karagie Depression, 132,9433 ft below the sea level, is the lowest point in the world after the Dead Sea in Sinai. There are many architectural heritage sites in this region, including the subterranean cross-shaped Shakpak-Ata Mosque (12th - 14th century) which is hewn out of rock, memorial complex Eset-batyr (Eset warrior), and natural reserves in Turgay and Irgiz, with settlements of flamingo, wild boar, saiga, and other species of rare animals. A number rivers flow across the region: Irgiz, Torgay, Khobda, Yil, which open a lot of opportunities for fishing, underwater hunting and water sports.

The North. This region is the industrial, high-populated part of the country. The Ishim River runs through the territory and proposes many beautiful sand beaches, scattered with ancient pines and rare species of fauna. It numbers up to 160 species of mammals and about 200 species of birds and this fact promotes hunting in the region. The State National Park "Kokshetau", uniting a great number of resorts, is known as an excellent place for medical treatment and leisure. "Borovoye", a popular resort, called "Little Switzerland", is surrounded by numerous charming lakes. Every year this region is visited by more than 15 thousand tourists for active leisure, fishing, hiking, hunting, educational and echo-tourism.

The Center. Central Kazakhstan has one of the largest lakes in the world. The unique Lake Balkhash is one-half salt, one-half fresh water. Some archaeological and ethnographical sites have been preserved in Central Kazakhstan. There are Bronze Age and Early Iron Age sites and New Stone Age and Bronze Age settlements in the Karkarala Oasis. The Bayan-Aul National Park has rock drawings, stone sculptures, clean, sparkling lakes and pines clinging to the rocks. The Baikonur Cosmodrome is located 5 km (3 miles) from the garrison city of Leninsk and 230 km (143 miles) from Kzylorda city. Astana, a new capital of Kazakhstan is located in the region.

The East. East Kazakhstan offers picturesque landscape of snow-capped mountain peaks, plunging forested canyons and beautiful cedar forests. Lake Markakol is 35 km (22 miles) long and 19 km (12 miles) wide and lies 1,449 m (4 754 ft) above sea level. The city of Semipalatinsk, 30 km (19 miles) from Siberia, was a place of exile of famous Russian people, whose houses are preserved as museums. Other museums in the city include the Abai Kunanbayev Museum, commemorating a great Kazakh poet and philosopher, and the History Museum. Nuclear tests were carried out south-west of Semipalatinsk until 1990, and today background radiation does not exceed international standards. The town of Ust-Kamenogorsk is a mining and smelting town and is the gateway to the Altai Mountains. Occupying the central point of the continent, these gentle mountains are covered with meadows and woods and stretch for thousands of kilometers into Mongolia.


Trekking and mountaineering are particularly good in the Zailiysky Alatau and the Kungey, notably around Medeu, Shymbulaq and Kokshoky. There are more opportunities in eastern Kazakhstan in the Zhungarsky Alatau range east of Taldy-Qorghan and in the Altay mountains in the country's north-east. The safest way to go trekking is through a reliable agency and with a guide, though you're advised to bring your own equipment since gear is hard to come by. The best trekking season is between June and September, though be prepared for bad weather at any time.

Shymbulaq is Central Asia's best known downhill ski area and is only a day trip from Almaty. January and February are the peak months of the ski season. A few local travel agents offer ski-mountaineering trips in the central Tian Shan in July and August, and in the Alatau range between Almaty and Lake Issyk-Kul from February through April. Nearly every sports related agency offers heli-skiing to remote high peaks in old Aeroflot helicopters.

Rafting and canoeing trips on remote rivers can be arranged by several travel agencies. There is easy rafting and canoeing on the Ili River between Lake Qapshaghay and Lake Balqash, north of Almaty, from mid-April to mid-October.

Getting There & Away:

Flights to Almaty most commonly transit through Istanbul (Turkey), London (Great Britain), Amsterdam (The Netherlands), Frankfurt (Germany) and Moscow (Russia). The main Asia links are Urumqi (Xinjiang, China), Islamabad (Pakistan) and New Delhi (India). Some smaller Kazak cities have international flights but rarely to anywhere except Russia. Asrana and Atyrau also have international flights.

Long-distance rail connections include a daily Moscow-Almaty service and another line to Almaty from China via Urumqi. The latter route is notable for the unpleasant China-Kazakhstan border crossing (think eight hours, no toilets, plundering officials). There's an overland route from Urumqi to Almaty via the border post at Khorgos and Zharkent, accessible year-round. There are two other China-Kazakhstan crossings farther north, at Bakhty (Tacheng on the China side) and Maykapchigay (Jeminay in China), but it's a toss up whether they're open to foreigners.

If you're more into travelling than arriving, there's a hybrid journey by air from Turkey to Baku (Azerbaijan), by cargo vessel across the Caspian Sea to Turkmenbashi in Turkmenistan, and from there to Ashghabat, Bukhara and beyond by train.


"Air Kazakhstan"
14, Ogorev Str., Almaty
Tel.: 572157, 572982; Fax: 572503

"British Airways"
115, Abylai Khan Ave., 480091, Almaty
Tel.: 503628, 503629, 503631; Fax: 503630
E-mail: baalmaty@itte.kz

"China Xinjiang Airlines"
36, Arykov Str., 480002, Almaty
Tel.: 300486, 301963, 501368; Fax: 509485

"KLM Royal Dutch Airlines"
Otrar Hotel 73, Gogol Str., 480002, Almaty
Tel.: 507747; Fax: 509183

"Lufthansa German Airlines"
152 J, Radostovets Str., 480060, Almaty
Tel.: 457892, 455512, 441127, 443412; Fax: 443711

113, Kazybek Bi Str., 484000, Taraz
Tel.: 450890; Fax: 450890

"Turkish Airlines"
81/83, Kazybek Bi Str., 480012, Almaty
Tel.: 501067, 506220; Fax: 506219, 623927

Getting Around:

Flying saves time and takes the tedium out of Kazakhstan's long distances, but it is the least edifying and arguably the least safe mode of transport in the region. However, for some destinations, and in some seasons, flying is the only sensible option. Helicopters are often available to get to hiking and skiing destinations that are way off the beaten track.

Trains are cheap, slow and easy going, but crowded, grotty and increasingly crime-ridden. Buses are the most frequent and convenient way to get between towns cheaply, and the best way to see what remains of the land of the nomads, though long trips can be tedious and cramped, and vehicles are prone to breakdowns. An option in many areas is to hire a car and driver: taxis and private citizens are often willing to take travelers between cities.

Recommended Reading:

Trekking in Russia & Central Asia by Frith Maier is an unrivalled guide to the wild places in Central Asia.

Journey to Khiva by Phillip Glazebrook and Apples in the Snow; A Journey to Samarkand by Geoffrey Moorhouse are accounts of travel in Central Asia on what turned out to be the eve of independence. Moorhouse's book was published in the USA as On the Other Side; A Journey Through Soviet Central Asia.

Martha Brill Olcott's The Kazakhs is the ultimate English-language tome on the folk round these parts.

The Silk Road: A History by Irene Frank and David Brownstone is a well illustrated and mapped history of the caravan routes that began crossing Central Asia in the 2nd century BC.

Central Asia; A Traveller's Companion by Kathleen Hopkirk is a handy historical background to the region.

The Great Game by Peter Hopkirk is a very readable history of the 19th-century cold war between Britain and Russia as it unfolded across Europe and Asia.

Kim by Rudyard Kipling is the master storyteller's classic epic of the Raj during the Great Game.

Useful Links:

General Information:
Official site of Kazakhstan: lots of information about culture, history, government, etc.
General information about the people of Kazakhstan
Information on investment in Kazakhstan
Yellow Pages of Kazakhstan
The Expat Site. Expats from Almaty help you to get around.

Embassies, Consulates, Visa
Kazakh embassy in the UK
Kazakh consultant in New York
US embassy in Kazakhstan
Travel Documents

Airports and Airlines
Almaty Airport

Travel Agencies and Travel Tips
Kazakhstan Consular Information Sheet: safety and health information provided by the US State Department
Kazakh Travel agency also providing airline reservations
Travel agency
Travel information provided by the Lonely Planet

Kazakh holidays
Worldbank Office in Kazakhstan
Interactive Central Asian Resource Project
The Kazakhstan expat site
Law firms in kazakhstan
News and more

Last updated on April 12, 2001

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