Jagsemash in the Kazakhstan – Cultural learnings of Kazakhstan for make benefit glorious readers of Roadjunky
Women in cages, canine slaughter, Jew-baiting and drinking fermented horse urine – do you really believe that these are popular pastimes in Kazakhstan? Or anywhere really? If so Sascha Cohen’s Borat joke is on you.
And while if you want to find out whether Borat’s sister is still No. 4 prostitute you might be disappointed, don’t let that put you off visiting this mammoth central Asian state. Life here is still fun and full of surprises and wacky in a way maybe weirder than Cohen’s fictional depiction.
Kazakhstan does not feature large on the list of travellers’ fave destinations; it doesn’t have the lure of the classic Silk Road cities of its neighbors, Uzbekistan and Xinjiang (China). But it does have a lot for the active traveller – skiing, skating and snowboarding for the winter months, trekking, white-water rafting, mountain-biking and horse treks for the summer. For party animals there’s a vibrant nightlife scene all year round in Almaty.
The Kazakhs were traditionally a nomadic people, so there are not a lot of things to see history-wise. Their culture revolved around the horse – it provided transport, entertainment, something to drink, and, when times got hard, something to eat. Kumis – fermented mare’s milk – and kazy – a horsemeat sausage (not, as some believe, the horse’s penis) – are staples on the Kazakh table.
Horses are not only for eating – try and catch a game of kokpar, or polo with a dead goat. This national sport is a manic tournament which can involve a few hundred horsemen competing to score goals with the goat. The winner is rewarded with a Lada or something similar.
The capital, Astana, is a giant building site as the President brings to life his vision of a futuristic city in the middle of the windswept steppe, helped by the petrodollars that have flowed into the country in recent years. It resembles Dubai in its ambition with landmark buildings such as the Cigarette Lighter, which recently went up in flames, Chupa Chups Tower, so-called for its resemblance to the lollipop, and the pyramid-shaped Palace of Peace and Accord. The former capital, Almaty, remains the commercial and cultural hub for the country.
There are two mountain ranges, the Tien Shan in the south and the Altai in the north-east which offer numerous outdoor activities all year round, from gentle day treks to full-scale mountain ascents. The country also has a number of lakes which holidaymakers flock to in the summer.