The Khan Shatyr in Astana
T plus 38 - Astana
This place is unreal. Built from scratch less than 20 years ago as Kazakhstan's capital, the city is still a work in progress, but from what I could see, the future is going to be very bright, in every sense of the word.
Astana is 1,200 km north of Almaty, the nation's previous capital, and its business and cultural epicentre. So why then, was this remote site chosen to serve as Kazakhstan's government and corporate headquarters? I asked several people and got different answers, but the two which made sense to me are: (1) to unify the country by bridging its long-standing North-South divide and (2) to be physically closer to Russia, who remains the Big Brother in this region.
Ok, no biggie, many countries have their administrative capitals in obscure locations - Australia, Canada, South Africa, just to name a few. But what makes Astana different is the extraordinary amount of effort put in to ensure its success. Walking around the city (there are Segways for hire if you wish), one gets the sense that this is a gigantic statement, written in steel, glass and concrete, by Nazarbayev, the nation's founding president, to announce the arrival of Kazakhstan to the world.
One cannot help but marvel at the unbridled extravagance of it all. From the admittedly beautiful series of structures conceived by Norman Foster to the ludicrous amount of gardening required to carpet-over an otherwise barren landscape. This place screams "look at me". And it really is difficult not to. Yes, there is a monumental amount of narcissism at play here. But hey, weren't Versailles, and even the Pyramids of Giza mega statements of self glorification too?
In my opinion, Astana is a sparkling symbol of what Kazakhstan can become. In terms of scale and sheer audacity, it stands unrivaled amidst a sea of post-Soviet nations still trying to get the world to spell their names correctly. It has, and will continue to shift global perception to the nation's benefit. It was silly films like Borat which got people talking about Kazakhstan. But it is places like Astana which will turn that talk into something tangible.
In that sense, Borat was right - "Grrrreat success!"
Some photos of Astana's glittering sights at night:
From Top: The Bayterek with the mythical egg containing the secrets of human desires and happiness (out of reach); Ak Orda (white castle) - where the President goes to work; street view of the ministerial buildings; Concert Hall, Supreme Court; residential building; Ministry of Defense; Opera House; Business District; Khasret Sultan Mosque; Rear-view of Presidential Square; Palace of Peace; History Museum; Front-view of Presidential Square; Khan Shatyr illuminated in various colours; Eastern Astana skyline.