In Kazakhstan, you are already in Central Asia, but you have not yet really left Russia. The steppes are Kazakh, the cities are Russian. A unique opportunity to walk between two worlds, two universes, two cultures. The transition will be smooth, with Russians living mainly in the north, but also in the Almaty region, and Kazakhs being very present in the steppe. This is the reason why President Nazarbayev moved the capital to the north. Among the five former Soviet Socialist Republics of Central Asia, Kazakhstan is certainly the one that has maintained the closest ties with Moscow and the Russian big brother. Russian is still one of the two official languages. In the cities, even if all have regained their Kazakh names (Semipalatinsk has become Semey again, Ust-Kamenogorsk has become Öskemen again...), the Russian presence is still extremely strong and some districts will seem closer to Moscow or St. Petersburg than to the idea we usually have of nomad territories.
Off the beaten track :
Generally speaking, in Kazakhstan, as soon as you have moved more than 10 km from a railway or bus station, you will be off the beaten track. The country, from a tourist point of view, is in an embryonic state and if hordes of businessmen are already criss-crossing the region for its gas and oil wealth, countless tourist treasures remain difficult to access. In the Aktau region, many underground fortresses and mosques are still waiting for their archaeologists. In the Altai Mountains, there are hardly more than 200 visitors per year, most of whom are researchers or bird enthusiasts. In addition, there are regions that have long been banned, such as Semey, due to nuclear tests, Baikonur for rocket launches and Karaganda for gulags. So many stopovers where you will be among the first Westerners to set foot, which will enrich any stay with a unique feeling of discovery. The counterpart will be to be patient in doing so: the infrastructure is in its infancy and tourists have little help waiting for local agencies except to book tickets.
© Dominique Auzias & Jean-Paul Labourdette