Located on the foothills of the northern Tian Shan mountain range (the ancient mount Imon), Almaty is the largest city in Kazakhstan, which is modern and culturally diverse. It was the capital of Kazakhstan until 1997, when it lost this status to Astana.
Once very much shielded from our gaze behind the Iron Curtain, Almaty seemed to be a far away place, alien and exotic. In reality, it’s just a 6 hour flight from Karachi, and that too if you take a flight via Abu Dhabi or Dubai. If you are flying from Lahore or Islamabad, you may be able to shave off another hour or so.
ST. NICHOLAS CATHEDERAL
A visit to St Nicholas Cathedral is a must; it gives you a magnificent flashback to the architecture and the colors of Czarist Russia. Its pale blue exterior and golden domes are straight out of a fairy tale, and the insides are dotted with candles and restored frescos.
It is an unforgettable experience for anyone with an eye for aesthetics.
The modern Almaty boasts of several malls and shopping plazas like the “Silk Way City” and the largest Mega Center, “Alma Ata”, however, the Zelyony Bazaar is an enthralling experience with its stalls of fresh and dried fruits, as well as chunks upon chunks of meat. This is where the locals shop and if you are feeling courageous you can purchase fermented mare’s milk, “kumys,” as well as fermented camel’s milk “shubat”. A good idea is to sit in one of the cafes overlooking the bazaar, munching on some bread and cheese and sipping coffee while watching the city on a winter morning.
These three lakes are arguably the most popular destinations near Almaty. Surrounded by all of nature’s beauty and rare wildlife, visiting these lakes is a great option if you want to escape the hustle and bustle of the city and enjoy a serene atmosphere. It is possible to reach the first lake by car, but you have to park there and travel to the other two lakes either by foot or on horseback. It takes approximately one day in order to travel from the first lake to the third lake and back. So as long as you like thrills you are bound to have a great adventure!
KOK-TOBE HILL AND BEYOND
The city also boasts a cable car for the aerial enthusiasts. If you are eager for a more personal connection with Mother Nature, the city offers various tour-guides who are willing to take you on a hike up in the mountains or a ski trip for the day.
It is said that the view experienced from the mountains is a scene from the heavens and Almaty is surrounded by them!
ZHIBEK ZHOLY STREET
Almaty has a wide variety of restaurants and cafes serving hot tea and coffee as well as different international cuisines. But no culinary tour of this city would be complete without a visit to the ZhibekZholy or pedestrian street. From dawn to dusk, one can see lines of people waiting to gorge themselves on “donor kebabs” more familiar to us as “shawarmas”. The crisp bread is stuffed with flavored meat, sour cream onions and carrots, and complemented with big, fat French fries. You can enjoy the food as you leisurely walk in the area or sit in one of the cafeterias. Most of these stalls also provide fresh pomegranate juice which makes a chilling complement to the piping hot sandwiches.
Must try these when you’re in Almaty!
BESHBARMAK – National Dish of Kazakhstan (Horsemeat & Noodles)
KUMYS – National Drink of Kazakhstan (Fermented Mare’s Milk)