OCA #21  SPRING 2015  WWW.OCAMAGAZINE.COM Text by Andrew Glenister

Before visiting Kazakhstan, the country had never really been on my radar. I knew where it was, and a little of its history, but I had never considered it as a holiday destination. I definitely do now. And I would recommend that anyone with an interest in a more adventurous type of holiday consider it too.

Though my time there was short, eight days in all, it was big on experiences. Bearing in mind my adventure was primarily limited to southern Kazakhstan and the Caspian coast, here, in no particular order, are my top five reasons to visit Kazakhstan.

CHARYN CANYON
Charyn Canyon is a few hours east of Kazakhstan’s largest city, Almaty, and can easily be visited on a day trip. Part of the Charyn National Park, it was easily the most ‘touristy’ part of my adventure, with signposts guiding you down to the base of the canyon. Do not let this deter you though, as the surroundings are magnificent. In the layering of the canyon walls you can see how this land was built over tens of thousands of years, and in the fast flowing Charyn River at the bottom how it was all carved away.

THE MAUSOLEUM OF KHOJA AHMED YASSAWI
Kazakhstan has four UNESCO World Heritage Sites. One of them is the Mausoleum of Khoja Ahmed Yassawi in the city of Turkestan. It is one of the most impressive buildings I have ever had the pleasure of visiting, easily the equal of more famous religious landmarks such as St Pauls Cathedral in London or the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, despite the fact that it remains incomplete more than 500 years after building began.

BAIKONUR COSMODROME
When most people think of watching rocket launches they think of the Kennedy Space Centre; it is, after all, where the first men on the moon launched from aboard Apollo 11. But it is worth remembering that the first man-made object in space, the first man in space, and the first woman in space all departed from Baikonur Cosmodrome. That alone makes it worth a visit. But if you want to see something truly special, and make your friends jealous in the process, try visiting during one of the regular rocket launches.
A Soyuz rocket ready for take-off

THE RUINS OF SAURAN
Sauran. Not Sauron. There be no Hobbits here. But there are extraordinary panoramic views of the Kazakh steppe. An old fortress city of the Silk Route, it is now a collection of partially excavated walls offering a fantastic, tourist-free, view of the how the eastern and western worlds traded and communicated nearly a millennia ago.

THE AK-MECHET CAVE
A hidden treasure. Those three words best sum up this otherworldly cave. It is so hidden that, at last check, two of the top four search results on Google are my blog. It is probably for the best that it remains hidden, lest the calm, tranquil, and spiritual feeling be spoilt. From the dripping of water from the roof of the cave, to the assortment of birds and bats twittering, and the extreme calm that comes from being out of winds way, Ak-Mechet Cave is an experience like no other.