Site Logo  Manghyztau
That there are a lot of interesting places to visit in this region, probably one the size of Wales, is tainted by the fact that it takes the best part of a day to get from one to the next. The mainstay of the land is turned over to nature, if you pardon my choice of phrasal verb, and that which has been claimed in some way seems to belong to the oilfields, vast ostensibly unending arrays of pipelines (thick and thin) laid across scrub punctuated, in the winter months at least, by patches of half melted snow.

Now this may not sound too pretty, and Manghyztau would be the first to admit that its many visitors have been to more aesthetically pleasing places. Its attraction for ex-pats is probably the oil money which pours forth with careless abandon, but for anybody of a mind to look beneath the arid rather brown and extensive surface will be pleased they did, however long it took them to travel there.

The main attractions would be the city, Aktau, and the lake by which it is situated, known more commonly by its real name of Caspian. Not the CS Lewis variety, rather the sea which confuses anybody who learns that it is the biggest lake in the world, without being referred to as a lake. The horizon out across the water probably represents a point some two per cent across the breadth of this massive land-locked sea, and swimming across is not well advised.

Into the steppe and miles of wilderness later come the interesting but remote Islamic retreats of Erzhan Kharet Kesenesi and the sacred caves of Shakpak Ata (featured in the Kazakh film Kek). The former is a small museum given to preservation of artefacts and documents in sad but respectable condition, the latter a series of openings in the rock some of which once served (and perhaps still do) as centres of prayer and religious teaching. The tidy distribution of blankets also points to its ongoing purpose as more than a simple place of curiosity.

Aktau doesnít live up to the promise I had put into pixels on my January 27th 2011 blogge and while I have nothing bad to say about it, the area of land earmarked for a new city further north is likely to keep any meaningful modernisation out of the old quarters, rendering the grid formation city a talisman of its political past. Many of the apartment buildings are in poor repair and the streets donít have the same buzz as in Almaty or Astana. This doesnít make it a bad place. It just doesnít feel like a town swimming in petroleum revenue, a situation clearly down to the imminent modern metropolis planned for a few miles up the coast which surely will live up to the promise of the Kazakhstani dream.

The locals are mainly Kazakhs but with the token fifteen per cent of Russians and a fairly balanced ethnic mix as with most Kazakhstani cities. The lingua franca is theoretically Kazakh however in amazing comparison with Almaty - which is supposed to be a Russophile city to the core - there seem to be few people willing to communicate in it and even fewer who speak it with each other.
A final point of interest was another museum near the small town of Shetpe whose name I have completely forgotten which provided some of the photos on this and the next page, photos I hope speak for themselves because, for once, I have less than an abundance of sentences to apply myself.