Shymkent – Capital of the province South Kazakhstan

Shymkent: Kazakhstan’s most Kazakh city

Only 100 km away from Uzbekistan’s capital Tashkent, Shymkent is a thriving trade center and is said to be the most Kazakh city in the whole country with regard to the people’s ethnic origins.

Well, regarding the city’s outlooks, it seems much more Russian than Kazakh: Not much is left of the Silk Road stop that Shymkent once was. The Russians took over in 1864 and nearly completely rebuilt in soviet standard architecture in the following decades.

The Borat Trauma

Our travel companion Martin made friends with a nice, young Kazakh on the bus ride from Turkistan to Shymkent. The young man is very warm-hearted towards us. Upon arrival he squeezes us into his rattling Nissan, gives us a free city tour and then brings us to our hotel in Shymkent.

We all have to suppress a smile when he very emotionally complains about the movie „Borat“ (see on IMDB), as he is convinced many people think of it as a documentary rather than comedy. He stresses several times that the movie does not display Kazakh reality. In order to reestablish the reputation of his country, he made it his mission to be extremely friendly and inviting towards foreigners. And he is successful with it!

As a good bye present he even buys some local sweets for us: small, white, harmless looking candy balls made of fermented milk. Depending on the original ingredient, they are available in the flavors cow, goat or camel. Luckily our friend saves us the embarrassing moment to try those sweets in front of him. These candy balls are … not so much our taste.

What’s there to see?

If you like to absorb some Soviet flair, Shymkent is certainly a good place to stay. It also has lots of street life around the bazaars.

However, apart from long roads, parks with huge concrete monuments, ugly apartment blocks and a handful of not too small war victim memorial places, the most interesting object we discover in the whole city is the brochure of the Victims of Soviet Repression museum. Yes, the brochure, not the museum. You can buy it for 200 Tenge at the entry of the museum, and it contains a well-written, concise overview on the turbulent past 150 years of Kazakhstan’s history.
The certainly interesting exhibition inside the museum only has explanations in Kazakh language rendering it less educational for us than we would have hoped. Sure enough a massive, distressing statue in the middle of the exhibition hall speaks for itself, regardless of your mother tongue.

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