Nothing in Ust-Kamenogorsk (the lovely, but decidedly unspectacular capital of East Kazakhstan) prepares you for the Ethnographic Park.
It’s not very often that the director of a park becomes a regional celebrity, but such is the case with Nikolai Zaitsev. Over the past 10 years, he has taken over a swampy piece of land on the banks of the Irtysh, landscaped ever bigger parts of it, and stuffed it full of exhibits on regional history.
In the shade of a new, shiny mosque, an airplane and helicopter rescued from Soviet oblivion set the tone.
Statues of Soviet heroes, and a collection of Lenins, are set around a line of WW2 tanks.
A giant Lenin incongruously pops out from the trees. Just behind him, a brand-new mosque. How he would have hated that!
There really is a lot of warcraft, including more guns, rockets and radar equipment.
Ethnographic houses collection
The real highlight of the park is its collection of traditional houses from different areas of the Soviet Union. The quality of displays is like nothing I have ever seen: immaculately built and kept, with a keen eye for interior decoration. The antique exhibits in every house are in excellent state.
In all, there are about 15 houses, showing the traditional households of Kazakhs, Russians, Ukrainians, Georgians, Belarussians, Uyghurs, Jews, Germans, Old Believers, Polish, Tatars, Armenians, Azeris, Koreans, …
Clothes, textiles and traditional objects of daily use in these households are all beautifully displayed. It’s not hip anymore to say you like stuff, but if you are still an old-fashioned materialist like us, you will love this.
You need to pay a small fee to enter the houses. An English-speaking guides is available on the weekends. The guardians of each house only speak Russian.
The Silk Road
Crossing a lake, and ignoring the crowds and limousines at the wedding palace, you have now entered the ancient Silk Road. Here you can find reproductions of palaces of a Kazakh Khan, a Chinese emperor, an Indian Raja, and an Uzbek emir. There’s also a maze and an exhibition center shaped like a life-size Spanish caravel.
Nikolai Zaitsev is treasured by the people of Oskemen. He is getting old, though, and it is unclear what will happen to the park once he retires. For now, the park continues to grow, with new bits being added yearly.
You can already spend a whole day wandering around here, but he also took control of all the other parks in the city. So if you are staying for a longer time in Ust-Kamenogorsk, don’t forget to join the other strollers at Zhastar, Kirov and Metallurg park.