Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Central Asia: Kazakhstan - Things to See/Do in Almaty

Sis described Almaty as "feel like KL but cooler weather". I must say I share a similar feel. I'm sorry Almaty but comparative to our stops in Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan, the people feels less friendly and helpful. I suppose it must've come with development. Almaty is definitely more developed than the balance of places we been in Central Asia.

1. Panfilov Park

The star attraction for me in this park is no other than Zenkov Cathedral. This cathedral is Kazakhstan's nearest distant relative to St. Basil's Cathedral and of Almaty's few surviving tsarist-era buildings. It was designed by AP Zenkov in 1904 and said to be built entirely of wood. No photos of the interior as we respect the 'no photography' sign on display. The interior is as stunning as the exterior. 

The park, however, is named for the Panfilov Heroes, 28 soldiers of an Almaty infantry unit who died fighting off Nazi tanks in a village outside Moscow in 1941. They are commemorated at a war memorial a short stroll from the cathedral. The memorial depicts soldiers from all 15 Soviet republics bursting out of a USSR map. 

Another memorial in the form of eternal flame honouring the fallen of 1917-1920 (Civil War) and 1941-1945 (WWII) is also found in this park. At the time of our visit, there was a rehearsal of a marching event. We watched for a little while before make our way to our next stop. 

2. Kazakh Museum of Folk Musical Instruments
This museum is the form of a wooden building, also the work of Zenkov. As the name presented, the exhibits are on folk musical instruments. 

3. Kok-Tobe
We toyed with the idea of getting to one of Almaty's surrounding mountains but given the limited time we had in Almaty, it didn't seem feasible so the alternative destination was Kok-Tobe. Kok Tobe or Green Hill is a 1100 metres hill. There were supposed to have options of cable car and by public bus but the cable car service is not running. so, it's worth to double check if it has re-open when you are visiting. That translated to, we took a bus. We were forewarned by our travel partners who shared the taxi with us on the long ride from Khiva to Bukhara about the non-running-cable cars. We found this post on getting to Kok Tobe via a bus as well. 
A 372m high TV tower

Upon reaching the hill, there is a very mini zoo and sad looking animals. There are also some amusement park to cater for tourists/visitors. We came for the view and I thought at the same time would check out the Beetles. Oh, and there are souvenirs stalls too.

4. Green Market
This place sells a good variety of food but the winning idea would be this breakfast cart, such a great idea. 

He called us and wanted us to take a photo of him

By the time we reached here where heaps of stalls were selling kimchi, we were approached by a guard and told that we are not to take any photos. So we kept our camera away.

5. Respublika Alany
It is a plaza or square showcasing the Independence Monument. It is actually a stone column with a replica Golden Man standing on a winged snow leopard. 

In 1969, in Issyk (about 70 km from Almaty) a skeleton was recovered from a burial mound. This skeleton was believed to be of an 18 year old Scythian warrior dating back to the 2nd or 3rd century BCE. This warrior was discovered wearing a gold-platted uniform, along with a gold dagger and sword. This soon became a symbol of Kazakhstan's past and heritage leading to the nickmane of "Golden Man"

At the bottom of this column, there's a sculpture in the form of a book. 

Around it's base are statues of a Kazakh family and behind a semi-cirular wall depicting scenes from Kazakhstan's history. 

A few steps along from road away from Republic Square, there's another monument. This Dawn of Freedom Monument, built in 1986 honours those killed and injured in a local uprising. 

6. Zhibek Zholy
It is actually a pedestrian only street dotted with art stands, buskers and cafes. There are some shopping centers along it as well. 

There's a "seat" for you to lie down and appreciate this recycling art
This piece of art is named "The Bride" and is made of plastic bags. 
7. Metro stations
Almaty Metro is only opened in December 2011. Unlikely it's neighbour, Uzbekistan, photography is ok. The metro is spacious, clean and has various form of artwork on the wall as well as on display. 

Side note: Ha! Back in Sydney ;)

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Central Asia: Uzbekistan - Things to See/Do in Samarkand Part 2

Navoi Ko'chasi & Park

5. Hazrat-Hizr Mosque

Hazrat Khizr Mosque is located at the south of Afrosiab settlement, just opposite the famous Siab Bazaar and Bibi Khanym  Mosque. It is the oldest Muslim religious buildings in Samarkand, and there's a cemetary on it's ground.

The name of the mosque in Arabic means "green light". It was initially built in the 8th century but was destroyed in the 13th century by Gengis Khan and was only rebuilt in 1854. It was restored in the 1990s by a wealthy Bukharan.

Russian Town

6. Gur-e-Amir Mausoleum

This is my favourite among the places we saw in Samarkand. Gur-E-Amir is actually a mausoleum and it house Tamerlane @ Timur. It acts as the precursor and model for other Mughal architecture tombs, including Humayun's Tomb and even more famous Taj Mahal.

This Tomb for the King (Gur-E-Amir is it's name in Persian) was initially constructed for Timur's heir and beloved grandson Muhammad Sultan who passed away unexpectedly. Timur had built himself a smaller tomb in his birth place, Sharisabz but when he died on campaign on his military expedition to China, the passes to Shahrisabz were snowed in, so he was buried here instead.

The mausoleum is like Timurid's family crypt as next to Tamerlane's grave lie the marble tombstones of his sons Miran Shah and Shah Rukh, as well as his grandsons - Muhammad Sultan and Ulugh Beg. Tamerlane's spiritual teacher Mir Said Baraka's tomb is also found there.

According to some anecdote, a Soviet anthropologist opened the crypts in 1941 and among other things found an inscription on Timur's grave which translated to, "Whoever opens this will be defeated by an enemy more fearsome than I". The next day, 22 June, Hitler attacked the Soviet Union. Well, it make a good story eh?

Ok.. just one more photo...

7. Ak-Saray Mausoleum
Ak-Saray Mausoleum is just behind Gur-e-Amir. The name in Turkic means white palace. If you have time, I suppose it is easy to be included as part of the itinerary. The mausoleum was built in honour of the governor Abd al Latif who was under some influence and kill his father - Mirzo Ulugbek, so he could not be buried in Gur-e-Amir.

Ancient Samarkand (Afrosiab)

8. Ulugbek's Observatory

We were actually fairly low on funds at this stage and didn't really want to change money at some random spot outside so we walked from Shah-i-Zinda to the observatory. It wasn't that long, maybe about 30 minutes but it didn't help that we don't have a good map and there wasn't any good indication that we were going the right direction. We got there though....

The observatory was constructed by Ulugbek in 1428-1429. There are two building, one is the observatory, the other a museum. It was considered one of the great archaeological finds of the 20th century and this astronomy lab was designed to observe star positions.

This is what's inside the observatory...

9. High speed train "Afrosiab"
I put the high speed train here in Samarkand because we took the train from Samarkand to Tashkent. Like airport, we need to show our tickets as we enter the train station, and passed our backpacks through security check. Our tickets were checked again just before we boarded the train. Ohh... and there were free food served too! We didn't know and bought a cup of coffee before they served the meals, also we had our own stash of biscuits to keep the tummies happy.

Cupcake and coffee were complimentary, there was also fruits. 
10. Food :)
In no particular order and till now I have no clue how to tell if I order manti, does it come in just 1 or a plate of 4? Also, it took a while to tell them we wanted a plate of 4 and not 4 plates of manti.... haha

Stuffed peppers
Looks like ABC soup, no?
This was a very yummy manti... or I was famished?
The winner of the oiliest plov we had throughout Uzbekistan
More soup
Shashlik - check out the fat alternating with meat... 
Doner kebab in sandwich
Ice cream
It is to be noted that I did not have any food poisoning bout at all in Uzbekistan, and that includes after having ice-cream or having flies hovering around.

And... Almaty next!

Side note: Got to study sooooon....