Turkistan, Kazakhstan

Trip Start Mar 13, 2007
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43
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Trip End Aug 10, 2007


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Wednesday, May 23, 2007

To avoid confusion, I should explain that there are a number of places in Central Asia with Turk- and -Stan in their names. One is the nation of Turkmenistan, inhabited mostly by the Turkmen nationality of desert nomads.  A second is the historical region of Turkistan in western China, the domain of the Uighur people that is now the known by the Chinese name for the province, Xinjiang.  The third is the city of Turkistan, on a spur of the Silk Road and now in southern Kazakhstan.  This is the Turkistan I'm visiting on this trip.

Turkistan is a city quite like the other old Silk Road cities of Samarkand and Bukhara in Uzbekistan, centered around the massive Hodja Ahmet Yassawi Mosque/Mausoleum complex, a UNESCO World Heritage site, and a huge bazaar where you can buy everything from goats' heads to wedding dresses.  In Central Asia it often seems as though most of the population spends most of its time at the bazaar, not entirely unlike Americans and their shopping malls.  Like elsewhere in Central Asia, the people here are especially friendly to foreigners, calling out in English "What you want to buy?" and asking to have their photos taken.

Turkistan is the site of the rather new Turkish-Kazakh University, funded largely by Turkish money like the restoration of the mausoleum complex and new investment in the hotel we stayed in and other development projects around town.  Turkey's apparently now the fourth player (along with Russia, China, and the U.S.) in a contemporary version of the 19th century "Great Game" competition for influence in Central Asia, with Turkey capitalizing on its ethnic and linguistic links to the region.  The reason behind all this outside interest being, of course, Kazakhstan's extensive oil and mineral resources.  At a restaurant on our first evening in Turkistan we met two students from the Turkish-Kazakh University named Ilyas and Gulzhan who were eager to practice speaking English and offered to guide us around the city the following day since we had no scheduled tour.  

Gulzhan and Ilyas also introduced us to some typical Kazakh food, most notably a dish named Beshbarmak that's considered the most traditional dish of Kazakhstan, a large platter of irregularly shaped flat noodles covered with a stew of mutton, potatoes, and green onions.  Beyond Beshbarmak, Kazakh food seems quite similar to that of other Central Asian countries with staples of shashlyk (meat grilled on skewers), manti (boiled dumplings stuffed with mutton and onion), samsa (deep fried puffs stuffed with mutton and onion), laghman (mutton and noodle soup), and various types of meats called Kebab. 
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