Borat put Kazakhstan on the map. The ninth largest country on earth totaling more than one million square miles, Kazakhstan lies directly between Europe and Asia and has the longest continuous bi-national border in the world (4,030 miles), with Russia. This former Soviet republic was an important caravan stop on the Silk Road, its plains are home to ancient Kazakh nomadic yurt settlements and the depths of the land are rich in natural resources (99 of the 110 elements of the Periodic Table are found here). It’s recommended that you safely travel as part of an organized tour group, as extremist groups are present.
Hear the Singing Barkhan, a two mile long desert sand dune that creates a loud sound as it crumbles and shifts. Time your visit to coincide with a rocket launch at the Baikonur Cosmodrome near Leninsk, from where Russian astronaut Yuri Gagarin launched in 1961. Explore Semipalatinsk, 19 miles from Siberia, where Dostoyevsky was exiled; his house is preserved as a museum. Nuclear weapons were tested here until the early 1990s. Other adventures include hunting with (not for) golden eagles in the Syugaty Valley, cruising on the Aral Sea to visit old, rusted boats in the ship cemeteries or white water rafting on the Ili River through the spectacular Charyn Canyon of petrified red sandstone. A “Borat 2 Kazakhstan” tour is being developed.
Astana replaced Almaty as the country’s capital in 1997, but Almaty will appeal more to Americans. Set against the spectacular backdrop of the Zailisky Alatau Mountains, Almaty is a city of glimmering geometric office towers, parks, squares and Soviet architecture melded together. Panfilov Park has one of the world’s tallest wooden buildings, which was constructed at the turn of the 20th century without using a single nail. The city also has museums, nightclubs, casinos, concert and exhibition halls and modern entertainment complexes.
The snow capped peaks beyond have become a popular playground for mountaineers, trekkers and skiers. More daring yet, are you willing to sample the local cuisine? How about horsemeat sausages, mutton stew and sheep’s head washed down with some kumys (fermented mare’s milk) or shubat (fermented camel’s milk)?