Boy playing with pigeons in Panfilov Park.
T plus 36 - Almaty, Kazakhstan
I struggled to find an interesting angle for Almaty, but unfortunately this is not a place with a storied past, or a particularly interesting present-day persona. Don't get me wrong - it's a nice place to park oneself for a couple of days, drink well-made coffee and watch pretty girls go by. But those shouldn't be the reasons for visiting Central Asia should it? Well, ok, maybe the girls, but not the coffee.
Brief history of Almaty - it was founded in 1854 but came into prominence in 1927 when it was named the capital of the newly formed state of soviet Kazakhstan. Its old name was "Alma-Ata" which means "Father of Apples" in Kazahk language. The etymology of this name is a little confusing, harking back to the 13th century where the city was a Silk Road stop, and a legendary apple-producer. Not anymore I guess. The only apples I could find in the city and its vicinity were Chinese imports in supermarkets.
While there's not much to write home about in Almaty city itself, one may hop on the No. 12 bus, opposite Hotel Kazakhstan, a major landmark, and head for the hills. A 30 minute ride will get you to Medeo, where a massive ice-skating stadium is located. Some of the speed skating records set in past world championships held here still stand today. Sadly, the cost of maintaining this arena for top-draw events proved to be too prohibitive and it functions mostly as a recreational venue these days.
BUT here's the interesting part - there's a cable car station just down the road, which takes you all the way up to the Shymbulak ski resort, 3200m up in the misty mountains. Now this was quite special, because I've never seen snow in mid-June, 45mins away from a major city centre. Skiers and snowboarders amongst you take note. It's not expensive to fly to Almaty - about RM2,000 or USD600 from Kuala Lumpur. And accommodation is fairly affordable. Besides, you'll never get tired of telling people that you had a skiing holiday in Kazakhstan of all places.
Some photos from Shymbulak:
The cable car - there are two legs, each costing 2,500 tenge (about USD12); the first leg takes you to the halfway point where the restaurants are and the second takes you all the way to the top (elevation of 3,200m).
Look at the silly Malaysian boy in his shorts at 3 degrees C.
Slightly deserted restaurant area. It was hailing and very cold for a summer's day. But I'm assured it's much better during the ski season and when it gets warmer in summer.
The tastefully appointed Chalet restaurant with a killer view where one may order a horse steak for about USD50. Yes, I believe they have wagyu beef too.
Gotta say that it's very pretty up there. But visibility deteriorated as I climbed higher. I'm told that you can see the whole of Almaty city on a clear sunny day. You can just about pick it out from the second picture from the top of this series.
Vibrantly coloured munchies and rows of meaty goodness at the Green Market, east of Almaty city centre.
The Zenkov Cathedral in Panfilov Park, the second tallest surviving wooden structure in the world.
Kids playing in the square in Panfilov Park