The Bradt guide to Kazakhstan, now in its second edition from 2011, is written by Paul Brummell, British ambassador to Kazakhstan, and also author of the Bradt Turkmenistan guide. I think it’s excellent.
The history and culture chapters are very extensive, and an in-depth literature list on all kinds of topics adds value if you want to dig out one specific subject.
The Bradt guide is really the only guide covering Kazakhstan that goes everywhere. Although there are still some places that I would have liked to have seen covered in more detail, this is the only book that writes about Ungirtas, the bellybutton of the universe, or the magical tree in Zharkent.
Maybe it’s too much too ask, but the only thing that I feel is missing from this book is a description of a few hiking paths in the more popular natural areas of Kazakhstan. There are pointers on how to find your way around the national parks, though.
Good style and extensive coverage
Otherwise, the guide has very good coverage of Almaty, Astana and the other main cities of Kazakhstan, as well as descriptions of all of the national parks and their activities. Loads of accommodation options are listed, from high-end to budget and ‘eco’ as well as a large selection of restaurants, bars and tour operators in each city. There is even an extensive guide to the nightlife in Almaty, which fuels the imagination with thoughts of the honorable diplomat getting funky on the dancefloor of Da Freak.
Most of all, it’s nice to read. It’s funny. You’re actually turning the accommodation pages to see how the bathroom in the next shabby Soviet hotel will be described. Brummell is not shy to offer his opinion either; if it sucks, that’s what it says in the book, with some British über-dry quip to go with it.
He has this to say about the petroglyphs:
“Scenes of hunting and dancing offer information about Bronze-Age daily life. Scenes depicting sexual relations betweens men and goats indeed perhaps offer a little too much information.”
Or on Almaty’s museum of Regional History and Lore:
“the displays conclude with the post-independence era, featuring a display of books written by President Nazerbaev and a selection of products from the region’s factories: ice cream, facial scrub, wine and car batteries.”
With this, the author has achieved the Holy Grail of guidebook writing: getting all the practical information down without boring you senseless. I love it, and I suggest you love it too.
Buy it on Amazon.