Is Astana Worth Going? A Day Trip to Borovoye

I met a guy from another room on the train. He knew where my hostel was so he offered me a free ride. That was so kind of him.

Well, was Astana with the visit? Before I went there, I read from various sources that said it wasn’t. But the tourist who tagged along insisted and the guy from the information centre at Almaty said it’s the capital city so we should go and I was flexible, so, here I was with the tourist.

The slow train that I was on was powered by this engine.

As Astana was in the north, it was still cold. It still snowed occasionally.

The hostel owner suggested a few landmarks to us. I asked him about Borovoye. He said it was far from the city so he arranged a tour guide for us who could also drive us there.

Astana was huge and it was still developing. After all, the capital city had just been moved from Almaty to here a few years before I went there. I had the feeling that the government wanted to build another Dubai there.

A square in the city centre, Astana
The landmark of Astana – the globe at the top of Bayterek Tower
You can find many giant rings in this square. The rings of match makers mean unity.
Bayterek Tower
No, these ‘humans’ were not real. It just showed how life was in the past in the country, I think.
Hi, it’s me here. πŸ™‚
This is interesting. I saw quite a lot of sculptures like this in the square.
Nur Astana Mosque, the third largest mosque in Central Asia, according to Wikipedia.
This one looks so much like Dubai. The tent-shaped building was actually a shopping mall called Khan Shatyr.
Let’s take a closer look at Khan Shatyr.
A roller coaster ride inside Khan Shatyr.
Khan Shatyr was just a typical shopping mall – one floor was dedicated to a food court, one floor for video games and roller coaster ride, a few floors for clothes, etc. Nothing special. The only special thing was the design – it looked like a tent. Food was kind of ok and the price was kind of ok too. I wrote in my journal that the cost of a small strong hot chocolate I ordered was KZT700 but it was in 2013. Kazakhstan was not and is not an inexpensive country to travel to.
Outside Khan Shatyr at night.
Nur Astana Mosque at night
Bayterek Tower at night

I emailed the librarian about my schedule that night. She asked me if I could speak Mandarin because some students were learning the language and would like me to have an exchange with them. Loved this idea. Yes. All set. That’d be the first thing I’d do once I returned to Almaty. I didn’t really care about the tourist now. I just did what I wanted to do and he just followed. I had enough of him. I couldn’t wait to spend some time all by myself.


The hostel owner arranged a day trip to Borovoye, a place recommended by the librarian. It turned out the ‘tour guide’ was the hostel owner’s brother. πŸ˜€ Fair enough.

It was snowing in the morning but very sunny and warm in the afternoon.

The foggy morning and the snow reminded me of Norway but it wasn’t as bad as the time when I was in Norway. 

Hm… I wouldn’t know how to drive in Kazakhstan. Look at the signs. They were all in Kazakh.

I asked the tour guide about everything, and he answered everything too, about Kazakhstan, the future of the country, the president, the stock market (only one company was listed which was an electricity company) while the tourist were sleeping. We talked very softly in the car. The thing was, the tourist wanted to take the front seat but he slept. I should have taken the front seat so that it’d be easier for me to talk to the tour guide and take pics. The tour guide was really a nice person. He also told me his parents used to take the whole family to Borovoye when he was young.

We stopped for a quick breakfast break and then continued the journey. The sun was coming out. I didn’t remember when the snow stopped.

We arrived at the first lake. There was a house for Santa Claus and a post office. The house was closed but the Santa Claus post office was opened. The staff was preparing for the coming Christmas. I was given a blank piece of paper on which I wrote my wish. I wanted world peace so I wrote it in the letter. The tour guide was somehow impressed (I still wonder why today) when he saw my wish. I put my wish in the letter box provided. It looked like a drum. The tour guide asked me to hit it 3 times. That way, I was told, my wish would come true.

Santa Claus in Kazakhstan? Yes, they did build a house for Santa Claus in Borovoye.
The staff was packing some story books for the children. This post office belonged to the casino.
See the turquoise top there? That’s where you put your letter / wish in. Then hit this drum 3 times.
It does feel Christmasy, even though it was April and we should be celebrating Easter.
Some Christmas trees
The first lake we went to. It was covered with snow.
Look at the snow! It was so thick! It buried half of the lamp post. I went into one of these yurts.
Inside the yurt.
Look at the fur / wool! They felt very soft!!!
A few huskies lived there.
You were so pretty, husky. πŸ™‚
The sign read ‘Kazakhstani Lapland’. It did feel like Norway.
We visited a museum
There was a little zoo outside the museum.

We headed to another lake. It was also covered with snow. It reminded me of the salt lake in Bolivia. I asked the tour guide to take some funny photos with me, like what I did in Bolivia. But of course the one in Bolivia was much better as it didn’t have a hill at the back.

The tour guide told us about the legends. He said one of the rocks looked like a woman. She was a beautiful woman. All the guys wanted to marry her. She decided to climb up to the top of a hill with a handkerchief. If any of the guys could shoot the handkerchief, she would marry that guy. But none of them could. And in the end she fell off the cliff. The moral of the story? πŸ˜€ Guys were weak and girls were not just beautiful, but they were also strong. She could climb up that hill back in those days! 

The second lake we went to. It was covered with snow.
The cone shape looked so cute.
A closer look at the cone shaped moutain
What were they? It was a bag of fish!! How come they appeared here?
Because this guy was fishing at the lake and I took a photo of the fish he caught. He dug a hole in the icy lake and put the bait down into the lake. The guy on the right was my tour guide.
Another person drilled a hole in the ice. It was actually quite a clever idea. Free fish, free food. Actually, all the fruit and fish and everything on earth was supposed to be free for humans. But humans started marking their territories and invented something like trading. Then came the barter system which I think was fine but when money came into the scene, we no longer lived the way we used to live. Imagine if the world returned to the ‘monetary system’ our ancestors used to have even before the barter system started, how would the world change?
I blew the tour guide away! πŸ˜€
I like the icy blue of the lake.
What does it look like to you? It was actually a branch of a tree but it looked like a snake or a crocodile or a reptile enjoying its prey.

We then went to the Exposition Hall of Abylai Khan.

Inside the traditional Kazakhstani yurt. The yurt actually looked like the one I visited in Xinjiang. Some Kazakhs moved to China decades ago and had started living there since then.
A performer. The musical instrument that looked like a guitar was a traditional Kazakhstan musical instrument.
The tour guide demonstrated how to play the traditional Kazakhstan musical instrument.
The tour guide knew I liked hiking so he took us to different places to hike. The tourist just followed around. He didn’t speak at all anyway and he wasn’t curious about anything anyway.
I missed this!
The tour guide took us to this restaurant for an early dinner(?). I don’t remember. It was a nice meal anyway. He then told me he wanted to do international law. Then I said, ‘do it on behalf of me. It was an elective subject that I wanted to take when I was at uni.’ But somehow something happened and I couldn’t continue with my law degree. The tourist was shocked when he heard that I used to study law because he thought I was lame. Time and time again, he showed disrespect and looked down upon me, during the entire trip. His face always said, ‘you are so stupid.’ That’s why I said I had enough.
Kazakhstan was indeed a vast country.
I watched the sunset in the car as we drove back to Astana.

Before we took the overnight train back to Almaty, we walked around the city. I didn’t really care about that tourist anymore. For the first few days, I wanted to make sure that he was ok. But after all the disrespect and the poor manners I got from him, I quitted. He was an adult, not a kid and I had no responsibility over him. When I wanted to visit a place, I just went ahead. It felt so much freer. He was the one who asked me if he could tag along, I didn’t invite him to join (that was also what I said to him in Astana). For the entire time, for whatever reason, he despised me @@###???!!!! (all these replace some swearing words. LOL!)

Anyway, landmarks from Astana in the sun πŸ™‚

The weather was much better on my last day there.

Nur Astana Mosque again
Nur Astana Mosque looked really beautiful.
Khan Shatyr
Bayterek Tower
Eh? A windmill?
Inside the windmill building
Another building in the city centre.
Another mosque
Me in Astana

We went to Presidential Culture Centre. It displayed many different artifacts and a private collection of the mayor of Astana. What a rich mayor. Free entry to the museum with a free English tour guide. Great! I asked the tour guide about the difference between this one and the one in Almaty. She said very little. But since it was free, I went in.

The Golden Man here too?
The mystery and treasure of the Kurgan Issyk
I like this outfit!! Everything about it!! πŸ˜€
I love the jewelry too!! I like the design!
The design of this building was so interesting! It said it was a restaurant.
Hazrat Sultan mosque, the largest mosque in Central Asia
One of the entrances of the mosque
The ceiling of the entrance of the mosque. It reminded me of those ones I saw in Esfahan.
Another entrance of Hazrat Sultan mosque.
Another photo of the arch of Hazrat Sultan mosque
Hazrat Sultan mosque
The fast train was way better than the slow train – more modern and cleaner but it was pricier.
This photo looks like some settings of some Broadway musicals.

So, is Astana worth going? It may have changed a lot since I last went there. You may find some other things to do now. But if I go to Kazakhstan again, I may skip it.

1 – 4 April 2013

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