Site Logo  Shymkent
Shimkent, probably more accurately transliterated with a Y, raises the eyebrows of those whoíve never been there, the so called Wild West of Kazakhstan on a sure but steady march to modernity as the fourth or fifth city in a country very definitely heading towards a more prosperous future. Located deep in the south, not far north of the Uzbek border and capital, Tashkent, Shymkent does remind us of the moderate difference between very civilised Kazakhstan, that which we find in the two capitals, and emerging Kazakhstan.
And no bad thing.

Very well intentioned warnings about remaining vigilant etc have come, it seems, whenever Iíve ventured outside the home town, wherever that happens to be at the time. I remember being told to be careful in Napoli, Roma, Bari, even Venice. Osh is a place to hang onto your camera, as is Attaba in Cairo and yes, Shymkent in Kazakhstan. So they say.

I wouldnít refute that people do get robbed in Shymkent, but what I will say is that the reputation did seem to be wholly exaggerated, as a very welcoming people had time of day for us without wanting anything in return. The city has a population of 540,000 and seems composed of the same basic ethnic mix as Almaty. While itís cheaper than Almaty there are many of the same shops, some very modern, and a decent choice of real bazaars (remember, if you donít get lost, itís not a proper bazaar).

A group of us went at Nooruz hoping to see the Kazakh national sport played in an arena set aside for equestrian pursuits (although yes, that sounds posh). Kokpar is a game played by about two teams of six (I think) and involves them attempting to deposit a dead goat into a hollowed out mound of earth, all on horseback. Not the most vegetarian of sports but it is Central Asia, after all. It was cancelled however and we were almost forced to wander round the environment of the zoo where I came up with a definition of the boundaries of animal captivity, not as if Iím into the subject but I was proud of it all the same.
No animal should ever smell its own shit.
The kokpar goats are spared the pong, as they are rendered carcuses before the game begins. Eaten afterwards, the Shymkent folk I know told me that the meat tastes better if prepared in this way.
Shymkent is largely organised around the same system of streets as Almaty, the grid pattern common in former Soviet cities but while you might consider this bland, there is no focus on the streets, there are plenty of parks and trees, cute statues and eating places selling potatoes, a darn good snack, I say. Itís not so wild as some people had us know, indeed, very civilised in many ways and clearly on the up.

In reality we were only there a few hours, other than time spent in the hotel, and in truth I struggled to write even this much. I would like to go back, canít have my pages left barely more than blank, can we?


"No animal should smell its own shit"