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Visiting Astana through the Eyes of Mayor Imangali Tasmagambetov

Mayor Imangali TasmagambetovWhat are some of your favorite locations in the city?

I like the city itself, in its entirety, and think of Astana as a single organism, as something alive. You cannot isolate one part of it and say: “This part of the city I love, and the rest - not so much.” Each place is important and has its own significance.

Astana is the capital of an independent Kazakhstan, which is being built, for the first time, in harmony with the geopolitical interests of the nation. It is a capital of young people. The average age of an Astana resident is 32; their children, our future, are growing up here. My task is to establish a creative environment in Astana, where bright and motivated individuals will grow and develop. To reach this goal, the city itself needs to be like them. Anyone who visits the area near the “Kazakh Yeli” monument always feels its energy and magic. Being there during celebrations, when the area is filled with tens of thousands of fellow citizens, a sense of patriotism overwhelms you.

The water-green boulevard is a family vacation place. It creates a festive, light mood; it is nice to come here in summer with your family, friends and relax, sit in a restaurant or just walk around and feel the harmony and aesthetics of this place.

The old city on the Right Bank has its charm, a compact arrangement of shopping and entertainment centers, which are especially appreciated by the old-timers of the city.

In order to fall in love with a city, or a separate district, you should have certain emotional experiences, “a positive memory.” Since the city has no place I have not visited, which has not left an impression, so, probably, there are no places that I am indifferent to or dislike.

Are there any places that have particularly impressive vistas?

If we talk about beauty, then it is better to put it like this – it’s better to see once than to hear a hundred times! I would advise everyone to come and see Astana, as it has a remarkable feature – to surprise its guests. A first visit is always a discovery. But if you return to Astana after one or two years, you will be amazed to see how the city has changed in that time. Dynamic changes, large-scale projects are features of our young city.

In my opinion, the left bank of Astana is particularly interesting for tourists. Moreover, not just in the form of separate buildings, but as a reflection of a single concept. Astana is a tangible embodiment of the President’s idea. Nursultan Nazarbayev, when the future of the city was being designed, very eloquently outlined its dynamic axle, comparing it with a flying arrow.

One unique architectural object – Baiterek, or the “tree of life”— which has become a symbol of the city today, stands in the middle of the shaft of this arrow. According to a nomad legend, Baiterek is a unique tree where the bird of happiness, “Samruk” builds its nest. So, in the southeastern part of this geographic and architectural composition is the Park of the First President, which, from a bird’s-eye view, resembles a giant shadow cast by the wings of Samruk.

The shaft of the arrow metaphorically creates the architectural complex of administrative buildings, which include the Ak Orda, the Ministries building, the Majlis and Senate buildings. The Palace of Peace and Harmony in the form of a pyramid, the famous architectural work of Norman Foster, is the point of the arrowhead. This axis, crowned by the 91- meter high Kazakh Yeli monument is a tribute to all generations, preserving the scope of their native land, creating statehood and ensuring its independence. The year of 1991 is the year of the declaration of Kazakhstan’s independence.

The “feathers” of the arrow are formed by two unique buildings. One is the national company KazMunaiGaz, in a form of semicircle, bordering the Round Square. It is a landmark of our city. The second, no less majestic and a very high-tech architectural solution, is the Khan Shatyr, also designed by Norman Foster.

In winter it can get very cold in Astana, what can a visitor do in the middle of winter?

The “winter opportunities” of Kazakhstan’s capital are unique. Judge for yourself, not in all world capitals can you skate outdoors, go skiing on the icy river, look at the ice sculptures in the Ice Town display, which grows every year and is always new and surprisingly beautiful. This “frosty advantage” has enabled Astana to share with Almaty the opportunity to host the 7th Asia Winter Asian Games in 2011.

There are also many opportunities to spend leisure time in warmth and comfort. For active visitors, tennis courts, swimming pools, a water park with slides and a beach in the Khan Shatyr shopping and entertainment center welcome you.

There are also the National Opera and Ballet Theatre named after Kulyash Baiseitova, the Kazakh Music and Drama Theatre named after Kalibek Kuanyshbayev, the Russian Drama Theatre named after Maxim Gorky, as well as a number of museums and galleries, for example, the Kulanshi Center for Contemporary Art, the Has Sanat Art Gallery, the Museum of Modern Art, the Presidential Center of Culture. You definitely will not get bored.

The Khan Shatyr seen through the KazMunaiGaz building

Astana offers a wide variety of cuisines, both local and international. What would you recommend a visitor might try?

I think one of the greatest discoveries during any journey is the national cuisine of the country you are visiting. The Kazakh national cuisine reflects the features of nomadic life, their customs and traditions. A meal at the “dastarkhan” (formal meal table) for each guest of the capital is not only a taste experience but also an opportunity to meet and explore the subtle philosophy of our nation. A guest for the Kazakhs is an honored person, and it starts with cooking, serving and seating at the table.

I’ll give you some details. The sequence of dishes served is preserved from ancient times. The rule here is to eat tastefully and without hassle.

Traditionally, Kazakh national cuisine starts with dairy drinks – we offer kumys (fermented mare’s milk), shubat (fermented camel’s milk) and airan (fermented cow’s milk), which not only quench thirst but also strengthen the immune system. And then we serve tea. Most often it is served with milk or cream at the dastarkhan where there are baursaks (fried balls of dough), kurt (dried salted cheese balls) and dried fruit (apricots, raisins, nuts). The main Kazakh national dish is beshbarmak (five fingers). Beshbarmak is made of mutton, horse meat or beef. The meat is eaten with thin slices of boiled dough. The perfect complement to the dish is a flavorful broth – sorpa, which usually is served in cups. At the end of the meal kumys is served, after which it is tea time again.

But Astana is ready to welcome guests with any preferences; you can find traditional dishes from Europe, Japan, Russia and other nationalities.

For the shopper looking to pick up something to remember Kazakhstan, where might they go?

While traveling, some of today’s tourists enthusiastically buy all kinds of magnets with the names of visited countries and cities in order to collect a world map for the panels of their refrigerators. We also have them, and you can buy them at the airport, and in any shopping center.

But for those tourists who use even a short trip to collect impressions of a country, who are looking for items to study afterwards and consider deeper concepts–culture, customs and origins—I would like to suggest the following. The history of the Kazakh people is preserved in the folklore, handicrafts and monuments, ancient writings, which have reached us from ancient times. Many traditions of old masters passed down through generations are echoed in the products of modern masters and jewelers. I would also recommend purchasing CDs with recordings of popular kyui (music for the dombra) and folkloric melodies, and photo albums. You can buy them in our shopping and entertainment centers such as Mega, Keruen, Asia Park, as well as in the Presidential Center of Culture.

For those who like more exclusive souvenirs I would recommend visiting the capital’s art galleries. Most of them are located along the Respublika Avenue. There you will find not only dolls in national costumes and traditional statues, but also carpets with national ornaments, and fashionable fur hats made of mink and fox. You can get a handmade bucket for kumys and cups made of birch for everyday life. The materials of souvenirs can be very diverse – metal and porcelain, leather and glass. Moreover, each of the five and four star hotels have boutiques with souvenirs, handicrafts, carpets, batiks, etc. They say memories are magical clothes that don’t wear out from use. Guests of our capital can only choose which of these “clothes” will be woven.

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