But then I arrived in Almaty again and again and got to learn its other sides. The former capital of Kazakhstan turned out to be worthy of living there, walking along, seeing and feeling its atmosphere. I do not know, of course, whether this atmosphere will be able to exist for a long while in the city, the authorities of which are trying their best to make the international finance center out of, built up by skyscrapers from glass and concrete only. Demolitions go on despite people’s protests, and the process seems to be unstoppable. But there is still a lot to see in the city. And I suppose that sometimes even in search of profit one still should think of preserving historical heritage.
Despite the investigations of present-day Kazakhstani historians proving that Almaty had been founded long before 1854, this exact date is believed to be a starting point in the history of the city itself and not of the settlement which certainly should have long before existed on this very convenient for living place. These are the second half of the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth centuries which are connected with lots of events in the city life, the evidence to which are numerous constructions, both magnificent and very plain.
Almaty residents should actually be in constant fear. The city suffered many times from destructive earthquakes, mountain torrents and avalanches. But despite all of these, it was built up over and over, becoming more beautiful. The constant danger was the reason to create a rank of buildings which had been constructed according to the canons of seismic stability. The first place among those latter certainly belongs to the famous Zenkov Cathedral. The wooden building resisted the earthquake of 1910, which literally destroyed almost all the city. Among the present-day seismic-resistant constructions we may mention the famous high-rise hotel Kazakhstan which, apart from everything, is simply rather a beautiful building.
Once my friend Dima considered aryks (irrigation ditches) to be the most important sight in Almaty. I am apt to agree with him, for if this engineer net had not been founded by the Cossacks of Semirechye as far back as at the tsar’s times, there would not be shady streets in Almaty pleasant to walk along in the summer evening, there would not be numerous rose bushes, there would not be apple-trees with the well-known Almaty Oporto.
One of my favorite places in Almaty is Kazakhstan Academy of Sciences, built in a unique style which is a mixture of the Stalin’s empire and eastern architectural traditions. In front of the main entrance to the Academy is the monument to one of the people whom I consider to be the prime of the mankind – a traveler Shokan Valikhanov who discovered for the rest of the world the unknown and mysterious Kashgaria.
Koktyube does not perhaps strike anyone as a mountain, for it is but a small mount predominating over the city due to its height, but looking rather insignificant against the background of snow-covered peaks of the Zailiskiy Alatau behind it. What represents interest is a rope-way going to Koktyube and the view of the city from its viewing site. The view of the television tower placed near the mountain is one of the most classical Almaty landscapes, I should say.
Medeu, the highest mountain skating-rink in the world still bears the palm among the places all the guests of the city are to visit. Even without it, Almaty is noteworthy for a very considerable altitude swings (that is why all the residents are chronic lovers of trekking in a way). But Medeu is situated on the height of 1700 meters above sea level, approximately 16 km of the city center, and that is why not at all the overwhelming majority gets there on foot. Still, buses and taxis dash between the city and Medeu almost every minute, for the popularity of the place is acknowledged. Many people want to arrive there to ascend all 830 stairs of the Health Staircase, to get to the top of the torrent-control dam whence an unforgettable view of the Zailiskiy Alatau mountain peaks opens.
Those who are richer surely get to Shymbulak. But this is quite another level of prices which grow up with every meter of the height like in a geometric progression. Mountain skiing becomes more elitist pastime supposing enormous expanses for equipment which are above the power of usual lovers to ski. Capitalism came in Shymbulak earlier than in other places, and it is here that the gilded youth of Almaty love to pass their free time.
As for me, one of the most pleasant places in the southern capital is Dublin restaurant located close to the Novaya (New) Square. Even if I do not have enough money for food, I come there to drink a pint of dark ‘Guinness’ to feel in the atmosphere of coziness and tender warmth. After drinking beer you may go the TSUM and continue your holiday with a walk along Almaty Arbat – Zhibek Zholy Avenue , rather a quiet and lyrical place where one can observe various hang-outs as well as numerous works of art created by local masters. Sitting on a bench, you may observe passers-by and simply relax until it gets dark…
However, such homely and peaceful dispositions are quickly replaced by more adventuresome ones. And to sustain this kind of spirit Almaty can offer everything you wish, or even more.
I already wrote about my traveling in the mountains of the Zailiyskiy Alatau, that is why I will stick here only to the most unforgettable impressions which engraved upon my heart.
Thus, I will never forget how, descending from the Space Station towards Bolshoye (Big) Almaty Lake, I saw the peaks Molodezhniy, Lokomotiv and Sovetov lightened by the setting sun. I will never forget the night in a village next to the Sternberg observatory, some distance above Bolshoye Almaty Lake. I will never forget how, climbing the Almatinskiy Peak, we hid in a crevice from foul weather and stripped naked to the skin to change our wet clothes, eating dried apricots and walnuts that had been wet through in the rain, our hands grown numb. I will never forget our ascent to the Zhosalykezen pass, when I hardly shuffled my feet up, marking off the steps by dozens and making long breaks between them, while rainclouds were rushing past me...