Kazakhstan is the 9th largest country in the world, equal in size to the whole of Western Europe, a huge land encompassing two time zones, stretching from China to China’s silk road economic belt Caspian Sea. It has an ethnically mixed population of 15 million people including Kazakhs, Russians, Ukranians, Uzbeks and others. Kazakhstan is potentially the richest of all the Central Asian countries with huge mineral and oil reserves.
The Eastern part of Kazakhstan and the area around Almaty is extremely mountainous, with beautiful alpine scenery, densely forested valleys, multicolored lakes and pristine glaciers. Travelling to the west in Kazakhstan the mountains give way to the vast steppes and also the desert.
Nomadic people have inhabited the vast steppes of Central Asia for many thousands of years but the Kazakh, a Turkic people, distantly related to Genghis Khan’s hordes, emerged as a distinct nationality in the 15th century. By the 17th century the Russians had arrived and in 1640, Guriyev (now Atyrau) became part of the Russian Empire. By 1848 all of Kazakhstan was under Russian rule and in 1854 the Russians established a fort called Verny, which later became Almaty. Kazakhstan became one of the constituent republics of the Soviet Union until 1991 when it gained its independence.
Uzbekistan is located at the very heart of Central Asia and in ancient times was a key link on the Silk Road connecting China with Western Europe. The legendary cities of Samarkand, Bukhara and Khiva were powerful states, important trade centres where architecture and the arts were highly developed.
Uzbekistan’s golden age was under Tamerlaine in the 14th century AD. Ruling an empire stretching from Turkey to China, he made Samarkand his capital and left a breathtaking architectural legacy including mosques, madrassahs and majestic Registan Square.
Today, the old atmosphere of the Silk Road still survives in the oriental bazaars and tea houses where the many nationalities of Central Asia gather together wearing their traditional and colourful clothes.