Shymkent and around
To the south lie mountainous reserves Aksu-Zhabagly and Sayram-Ugam. Homestay programs bring in visitors and cash to protect rare fauna and flora.
Unlike in Western Kazakhstan, Kazakhstan’s Sufi heritage does not hide in caves here. The mausoleum of Khoja Ahmed Yasawi towers out above Turkistan. Numerous other Sufi mausoleums dot the desert. After prayer time, you can visit the ruins of former oasis towns at Otrar and Sauran.
The deep south is Uzbekistan by another name. It is Uzbeks who live and work here, growing cotton surrounded by medieval brickwork. Case in point: Sayram.
Taraz and Zhambyl oblast
I have never heard a foreign tourist say they wanted to visit Taraz or its surroundings (Zhambyl oblast). Perhaps it’s not that spectacular. But first and foremost, this lack of interest comes from a lack of information.
Taraz is sleepy, for a city of 300 000. Let’s just say its history is more amazing than its present. The evidence rests in mausoleums and archaeological sites. But you need to go and find them by yourself (I can help if you need info).
East of Taraz, the 3000m+ peaks that form the border with Kyrgyzstan are known only to local mountaineers. On a more illegal note: Shu is Kazakhstan’s marijuana capital.
More of Kazakhstan
- Almaty Region: Kazakhstan’s most pleasant city, sat on the doorstep of a mountain range. Beyond, a landscape safari beckons.
- The North: Kazakhstan’s brash new capital stands in stark contrast to modest Altai
- The West: Oil towns and stark desert landscapes, this is a geologist’s dream
- The Center: Remote steppe oddities of niche interest