Tuesday, 2 March 2010

Some Impressions of Astana

Sunday morning the sun shone brightly on Astana. The sky was a brilliant blue.

So 3 sun-starved Malaysians decided to jalan-jalan around the area of the Astana Baiterek (Viewing Tower).

As they say when in rome..... do as they do. And we hailed a taxi the Kazakh way - and that is to just stand by the roadside and raise an arm shoulder level.

Now a "taxi" can be ANY car willing to stop and give the hailers a ride (in the proper sense). For money.

Recognisable metered taxis do exist, but they are few and far between.

However the "hitcher" taxis have been absolutely reliable so far, though usually the cars look like they have seen better days, but they are warm and comfortable inside, and they get you to your destination.

We've ridden in European, Japanese and Korean makes and have been "cabbied" by people from young lads to fifty plusses. I guess taxiing's a way for them to earn an extra tenge(Kazakhstan currency) or two.

A 10 minute drive downtown in daytime may cost us 600 tenge (equivalent to about RM15), at night 1000 tenge.

The middle-aged driver we had yesterday was friendly.

"Cheena?", he asked.

"Nyet, Malaysia", we said.

"Aaaah, Malaysia...Kazakhstan... turis?".

"Nyet, business"

"Aaaah, biznis..... Kazakhstan.... Astana. Malaysia?"

"Malaysia..... Kuala Lumpur"

"Aaaah, Kuala Lumpur....   Kazakstan ...tenge, Malaysia?"

"Malaysia..... ringgit"

"Ringgit? Skolka tenge....ringgit?" (skolka is Russian for how much)

I showed 4 fingers followed by a zero by joining my thumb and fore-finger.

"Aaaah. Malaysia.... kikboks?" He asked while gesturing with a closed fist.

"Hahaha nyet, Thailand, Thailand". But I was reminded of the interest in Muay Thai of mamasita's kain pelekat blogger.

"Aaah, Thailand"

And.... we arrived at Baiterek, paid him the 700  tenge he requested and said our spaseeba(thank you in Russian) and rehmat (thank you in Kazakh).

The authorities have shoveled the snow since
I was here last Wednesday. Note the cloudless sky.

The Baiterek is the city's icon, symbolizing a tree of peace, unifying three levels of the universe - lower, middle and celestial. We did not venture inside, preferring to walk around and take pictures, but it says in my guide-book that there is an aquarium, an art gallery and a cafe on the lower, "below ground" level, and a restaurant and a viewing gallery on the upper "celestial" level. The "trunk" is accorded the middle-level.

The area around the Baiterek is Kazakhstan's administrative centre where ministries and government offices are, much like Putrajaya.

We didn't have to walk for very long before the unforgiving cold bit - especially my 2 inadequately covered escorts who felt their ears progressively turning to ice. It must have been minus 11 degrees

We ducked into the upmarket Keruen shopping mall to get warmed up and balk at the items on display in the boutique windows.We also managed to use a Russian language kiosk machine to top up our phone credits. It took 10% off our payment as fees - and I bet it charges the telco as well. We are using Bee-line, but there is also Aktiv and K-cell.

The Keruen is the low-rise building on the left

After 40 minutes or so, we braved the cold again and walked back towards Baiterek and onwards  in the direction of the President's Palace.

The President's Palace
As I understand it the President of the Republic of Kazakhstan, Nursultan Abishuly Nazarbayev, like our sultans, holds his position for life. Other than functions related to the appointments of parliament and government hot-shots, he is also the Supreme Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces as well as the life Chairman of the Assembly of the People of Kazakhstan. The 350-strong Assembly is not part of government but is focused on maintaining inter-ethnic concord, and promoting cultural and spiritual revival. Kazakhs look up to the President as a visionary who inspired the development of Astana as the new capital of Kazahkstan.

We had to nip  into another building for warmth and comfort, where we met up with Yerlan and his family, who took us to his office for zohor prayers. Then back to sightseeing, this time travelling in the comfort of his car.

Inside the Pyramid of Peace, under the glass
roof stained with  lovey-dovey doves. 
No dead mummies here but maybe one fat mama.

The Pyramid also known as the Palace of Peace and Reconciliation "has been conceived and designed by architect Sir Norman Foster and inaugurated in September 2006. It contains accommodations for different religions: Judaism, Islam, Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism, Taoism and other faiths. It also houses a 1,500- seat opera house, a national museum of culture, a new “university of civilization”, a library and a research center for Kazakhstan’s ethnic and geographical groups. This diversity is unified within the pure form of a pyramid, 62 meters high with a 62 x 62-meter base. The building is conceived as a global center for religious understanding, the renunciation of violence and the promotion of faith and human equality. The Pyramid of Peace expresses the spirit of Kazakhstan, where cultures, traditions and representatives of various nationalities coexist in piece, harmony and accord. Bathed in the golden and pale blue glow of the glass (colors taken from the Kazakhstan flag), 200 delegates from the world’s main religions and faiths will meet every three years in a circular chamber — based on the United Nations Security Council meeting room in New York. ; Height: 77 m (252.62 ft), total area: 25,500 sq.m.; Accommodates: Opera Hall for 1,500 seats, The Museum of National History, The Research Center of World Religions, Library of Spiritual Religious Literature, Exhibition and conference rooms" - from Wikipedia

A section of the interior wall  nearer the roof is lined 
with plants and flowers

The younger Kazakh is a visitor from
London. The more mature one is Yerlan.

Another young Kazakh man
- the guide at the Pyramid
  Talgat, the bellboy
and the doorman

I am not able to discern a common look in the Kazakhs as there are 100 different ethnicities making up the population.

From Wikipedia:
  • Kazakh, 44 percent
  • Russian, 36 percent
  • Ukrainian, 5 percent
  • German, 4 percent
  • Tatars and Uzbeks, 2 percent each
  • Azerbaijanis, Uygurs, and Belarusians, 1 percent each
  • Ninety other nationalities, 4 percent.
But they all have the exotic mysteriousness about them including being gracious, polite, and soft-spoken.

With our "nephew" Azizali.
He can sense if someone's good or bad.

And with the beautiful Zhannara who 
cooked us a fantastic meal on Saturday


This is only half of it

Will tell more later... Insha Allah


Naz said...

Nice pics. You must watch Urga!

Zendra-Maria said...

Naz, I've just read the synopsis - sounds interesting :)

Anonymous said...

Lovely! Me want to go there too! Brilliant sky :P

Your hubby always got cheeky smile when he peluk you I notice :P

Ni long term biz? Ade chance i nak supply malaysian food ker to the long termers...hehehe...supply apa2 lah...haha


NanaDJ said...


Very nice pictures and very interesting write up. Things must be much better now. My last visit to Russia - to Moscow, Leningrad and Uzbekistan - was when they were still behind the iron curtain, we were not allowed to wander on our own.
Such blue sky but it must be very cold judging by you being all wrapped up.

Tommy Yewfigure said...

Hey Zee, I'm still puzzled why it's so eeriely deserted in all those public pictures u had shown here. So what's the population there? I would assume a large pop due to it's cold weather, everyone's indoor cuddling to keep warm & making....wink2.

That doorman look like my local char kueh teow man....hahaha.

Hugs & xox..hehehe,(u blushing???)

P/S - Spencer Tunick should organize one of his famous artistic photo shoot in Astana :)))Don't know how many would turn out!

Zendra-Maria said...

Saya, come lah. Adalah makcik ...ooops lady to buat kawan. N u survey lah apa hang boleh supply to european std in a high income economy

Oii kalau peluk masam muka, itu peluk maut namanya hehe

Red Alfa said...


Excuse me! It's not cheeky.. it's the VERY happy smile, pleeze! I smile like cheekily only when Z's not around, hehehe!

Zendra-Maria said...

NanaDJ, things must have changed tremendously since the glasnost judging by the modernity of Astana. No one has come up to us to ask for passports, unlike in Frankfurt mind you, when we were there in 2008. No cops patrolling either unless they are observing us through hidden cameras lah hahaha. It's mind-numbing cold, subsub-zero :)

Zendra-Maria said...

Tommy, Astana has a population of about 650,000. The whole country has about 15 million. Tiny Malaysia has even more. So, cold does not equate to productivity in the demography dept hehe

Aiyah that doorman must have Cheena roots lah - with 100 ethnic groups there will surely be chinamen among them. Mana2 pun ada lah... :D u blushing?

XOX whatever...

Zendra-Maria said...

PS Tommy - who's spencer tuna?

Uncle Lee said...

Hi Zendra, wow! Love your well taken pics. Sure a very modern city....Can see you having fun in the snow.
I can imagine after the cold, you return to KL's heat and humidity, ha ha.
Have a great time Zendra, keep well, Lee.

Capt's Longhouse said...

,,,beautiful country and pretty ladies !. my friend went there and kawin one back too hehehe. she has green eyes !

mamasita said...

Wow Zen..lawa2 tempat diaorang kan..amboi..you and RA seronok nya..forever young romantic lovebirds!
Your info and description detailed nya..thanks for your extra work.

Weather kat Kuantan punyalah panas sampai rumput backyard jadi parched and brown..

Zendra-Maria said...

Uncle Lee, many of us think that pre-Soviet Central Asian countries are still in the backwaters, but Kazakhstan for one has progressed by leaps and bounds :)

Re the biting cold, we were joking about it last night - that when we get home to the heat and humidity, we might end up yearning instead for the snow and ice!

Zendra-Maria said...

Capt, yes really pretty ladies - there are quite a few of them studying in Malaysia, as a matter of fact :)

You like green eyes? hehe..

Zendra-Maria said...

mamasita, thanks... you always recognise extra effort HAHAHA... actually i takut kena rotan kalau paste gambar tanpa explanation ;)

duduk kat sini makin lama makin gedempol.. itu yang RA keep testing by his arm length hehe.. sebelah berapa panjang, yang sebelah lagi pun berapa..

Tommy Yewfigure said...

Haiyah Zee, go lah wiki Spencer Tunick :)

Hello Saya, u pun nak pi kena sejuk kah?...kekeke.

RA, oopsy 'smile cheekily' at 'green eyes wink2' when Z's not around...hahaha..tak takut kena kurung dalam stor kah :)))


P/S - Capt, gua prefer blue eyes ;)

zafi said...

oh nice place though!

Capt's Longhouse said...

,,,talking about eyes, my left eye is fast turning blind unfortunately, so won't be long you get a real one eye pirate at kapas hahaha. (a piece of broken glass got into it a few years back)

DrSam said...

minus eleven must be a very bone-chilling experience Kanda. Nice photoshots, but yes...the deserted places in the photos look eerily quiet.

Enjoy the sub-zero experiences kanda!

Zendra said...

Tommy, I'll pass on that Spencer No-Tunic *winks*

Zafi, thanks for dropping by :)

Capt, not yet a true pirate with just one eye, you need to have one leg and one arm as well hehe...

DrSam, truly bone-chilling I must say - when we arrived it was minus 25. It's something to experience cos before this, I couldn't fathom that kind of temperature :)

Capt's Longhouse said...

zendra tiks tiks !..you are a hard women. huhuhuu. S'wak pirate call.