Day tripping to Turkistan

Our original idea was to take a night train from Almaty to Astana, but just before we left NZ we read more about Turkistan and changed our plans.

From the 16th to 18th centuries Turkistan was the capital of the Kazakh khans. It is home to the mausoleum of Turkic Muslim holy man, Kozha Akhmed Yasaui, and was built by Timur in the late 14th century. It is Kazakhstan’s greatest architectural monument and most important pilgrimage site.

The guidebook claims that it rivals Timor’s creations in Uzbekistan such as the Registran in Samarkand, and says it has no rivals in Kazakhstan for man-made beauty.

We figured that it would likely be the last chance (and only time on this trip) that we get to see the stunning blue tile work so quintessentially Central Asia.

At only 165km northwest of Shymkent its day trip’able. We made an early start to beat the heat, taking a taxi to the bus station where after walking a lap to suss it out we found the ‘mini’ vans (12 seat people movers). Unlike the rest of the station they were doing a roaring trade; they are obviously how most locals chose to travel. We only waited around 10 minutes before we were full of people and luggage. At 800 Tenge each (approx NZ$4) it was only fractionally more than the bus too.

The journey there passed through open steppe which had varying attempts to farm it (we’ve put a short video below above the photos). It was a big main road so it went fast until we had to avoid a camel, and then we hit roadworks. The driver put the aircon on so it was more comfortable than we’d been mentally prepared for. As we arrived in Turkistan we could see the mausoleum so bailed off.

We were relieved to discover there was a breeze making the heat tolerable. We could see a modern mosque over the far side of the mausoleum complex so headed there first while the heat was manageable. It was more Turkic than Middle Eastern in style.

The Mausoleum was bigger than we expected inside (photos not allowed) and lots of side rooms had different exhibits so there was more to see than we had realised. Timur died before it was completed and the main facade was left unfinished without the tilework and with scaffolding poles still protruding.

There is also an underground mosque and Friday mosque but both were not much to see. We took a walk around the remaining part of the wall before we left, to enjoy the breeze as much as anything.

We knew the bus/taxi station was a few kilometres away, and we knew roughly in what direction but kept asking and checking anyway. We’d figured the streets were quiet and wide and if we walked slowly we could walk there, but it was too hot to walk the wrong way so we wanted to be sure. In the end we walked a couple of kilometres in kind of a 3 sided square before finally getting a marshrutka for 80 Tenge each (less than NZ$0.40). We spotted the Shymkent vans and jumped off. Again we didn’t wait 15 minutes for it to be filled and be on our way. Luckily this driver was faster and it only took us under 2 hours as we’d been given the front seats and while great for seeing stuff the sun was streaming in on Marie and the open window wasn’t doing anything to cool matters. We put our bags over our knees but within less than a minute they were too hot to touch and we started to worry about the heat getting to the contents.

The moment we arrived at the bus station we bailed off and negotiated with a shared taxi. We’d clocked the name of a bar/restaurant we wanted to try the day before and got the driver to take us there. We spent the evening re-hydrating as we ate and drank our way down a series of bars on the main street.

Click on any photo to enlarge and scroll through


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