Explore spiritual shrines of Kazakhstan

From the mysterious Town of Spirits in eastern Kazakhstan to the ancient mausoleums of Khoja Ahmed Yasawi and Arystan Baba in Turkestan, Kazakhstan offers travelers a unique selection of cultural and historical attractions that exude the nation’s rich history and identity.

Khoja Ahmed Yasawi Mausoleum; photos source: www.electrummagazine.com

Kazakhstan’s cultural tourism must be rooted in the symbolic heritage of the Kazakh people and historical places that constitute the core of Kazakh national identity, according to President Nursultan Nazarbayev. In his article “Looking into the Future: Modernizing Public Consciousness,” Nazarbayev emphasized the need for a project aimed at promoting Kazakhstan’s unique and untouched cultural landmarks.

As the head of state noted, it is necessary to entrench in public consciousness the significance of attractions, such as Ulytau, the Mausoleum of Khoja Ahmed Yasawi, the ancient monuments of Taraz and the Beket-Ata Underground mosque, the ancient sights of East Kazakhstan, as well as the sacred Land of Seven Rivers and many other places. “All of these constitute the core of our national identity. The internal and external cultural tourism must be based on this symbolic heritage of the people,” the President said.

Tengrinews described what tours are currently available for tourists willing to discover the spiritual and cultural attractions of the country that would be of interest to tourists from all walks of life.

Turkestan, photos source: seasontravel.kz

Turkestan is one of Kazakhstan’s top destinations, according to travel companies. Travelers can venture on two- or three-day tours to this city from Almaty and travel either by bus or car, according to Alma Alzhanova, the head of travel company “Almaly-Travel.” The advantage of a three-day tour is that it allows tourists to visit the holy places around Taraz, such as the Aisha Bibi mausoleum and the ruins of Otyrar. Visitors can also travel directly to Shymkent or Turkestan by train or plane. In Turkestan, travelers visit the mausoleums of Arystan Baba, Khoja Ahmed Yasawi and other spectacular sights.

“If you organize a bus tour for 40-50 people, then the cost will be around 12,000 tenge per person. We leave Almaty in the evening, arrive in Taraz in the morning and then go to Shymkent. Afterward, we go on an excursion to Turkestan and return to Almaty in the evening. A three-day tour will cost 18,000, which includes transportation and tour guide services,” Alzhanova explained. Tourists have the option to pay for a night at a hotel. Mausoleum entrance tickets are paid separately, she said. Additionally, foreign tourists can pay for the services of an English-speaking guide, about 20,000 tenges a day.

Another area that boasts a significant number of holy sites is the Mangystau Region in the southwest of the country, according to Evgeniya Slyusareva, the director of Tourist LLP.

Beket-Ata mosque; photo source: littlemissadventuress.wordpress.com

“There are unique underground mosques and necropolises. Most often, tourists visit the Beket-Ata and Shopan-Ata mosques, which are located far from the city,” she said. Tourists have the options to go on two- or seven-day tours to visit the shrines, according to Slyusareva. The approximate cost of an economy class bus tour to Beket-Ata mosque would be 120,000 tenges per a group of 20 people, she said.

“The road from Aktau to Shopan-Ata takes about five hours. Tourists have lunch on site, then visit Beket-Ata. We visit the holy spring and partake in the pilgrims’ dinner, which features a dish from a sacrificial animal. Each visitor receives an amulet known as amanat,” she said.

Descent on steps to mosque Beket-Ata, photo source: tengrinews

Meanwhile, a seven-day tour includes trips to the Sultan-Epe canyon, Shakpak-Ata necropolis, and the mosques of Karaman-Ata, Shopan-Ata and Beket-Ata.

“Tourists usually return to the city or spend the night on site, in the houses of pilgrims or mosques. We consult all visitors. It is recommended that visitors behave in an appropriate manner, without offending the feelings of believers,” Slyusareva said.

Moreover, there is a special route named “West Kazakhstan Ring,” which features visits to Aktau, Atyrau, Aktobe and Uralsk. Its duration ranges from eight to ten days and can include visits to holy places. “Each region has its unique cultural monuments,” Slyusareva says.

As for eastern Kazakhstan, there are excursions to Altai that can be organized from Ust-Kamenogorsk. The costs of these tours are calculated individually, according to Gaziza Kazgulova, the supervisor of the tourism department of “Otrar Travel.” After receiving a request from the client, the company makes arrangements with carriers and guides. The price for visiting attractions ranges from 25,000 to 40,000 tenges per person.

Kiin Kerish; photo source: www.shutterstock.com

Travelers can visit Kiin-Kerish (Proud Beauty), a unique natural landmark also known as “Town of Spirits.” The town is located in the vicinity of Lake Zaisan, nestled among picturesque red cliffs. The place exudes a strong energy and was used for sacrificial rituals in the ancient times. Tourists can also pay a visit to “Rachmaninov Keys” and the area surrounding Belukha Mountain.

Finally, tours are organized from Astana to Ulytau. Tour operators use ten-seat off-road SUVs for this route, due to the lack of road infrastructure. An overnight trip costs 15,000 tenges and includes a visit to Mount Aulietau.

Edyge Batyr; photo source: eurasiaoverland.com

“The road from Astana takes about five hours. We leave the capital around 11 pm and arrive in Zhezkazgan in the morning. The excursions take a full day. We visit the mausoleums of Zhoshi Khan, Alash-Khan and Edyge Batyr. Employees of the Ulytau museum may serve as guides,” said Almas Maratuly, a representative of the limon.kz company. Another option is a tour without an overnight stay, which costs 10,000 tenges and includes visits to the mausoleums.

To access the list of historical and cultural attractions of Kazakhstan online, visit the “Madeni Mura” portal here.

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