The world’s ninth-biggest country is the most economically advanced of the ‘stans’, thanks to its abundant reserves of oil and most other valuable minerals. This means generally better standards of accommodation, restaurants and transport than elsewhere in Central Asia. The biggest city, Almaty, is almost reminiscent of Europe with its leafy avenues, chic cafes, glossy shopping centres and hedonistic nightlife. The capital Astana, on the windswept northern steppe, has been transformed into a 21st-century showpiece with a profusion of bold futuristic architecture. But it’s beyond the cities that you’ll find the greatest travel adventures, whether hiking in the high mountains and green valleys of the Tian Shan, searching for wildlife on the lake-dotted steppe, enjoying home-spun hospitality in village guesthouses, or jolting across the western deserts to remote underground mosques. Get Kazakhstan Visa fast
At Turkistan, 165km northwest of Shymkent (an easy day-trip), stands Kazakhstan’s greatest architectural monument and most important pilgrimage site. The mausoleum of the first great Turkic Muslim holy man, Kozha Akhmed Yasaui, was built by Timur in the late 14th century on a grand scale comparable with his magnificent creations in Samarkand, and has no rivals in Kazakhstan for man-made beauty. Get Kazakhstan Visa fast
Turkistan was already an important trade and religious centre (under the name Yasy) when the revered Sufi teacher and mystical poet Kozha Akhmed Yasaui came to live here in the 12th century. Yasaui was born at Sayram, probably in 1103, underwent ascetic Sufi training in Bukhara, then lived much of the rest of his life in Turkistan, dying here about 1166. He founded the Yasauia Sufi order and had the gift of communicating his understanding to ordinary people through poems and sermons in a Turkic vernacular, a major reason for his enduring popularity.
Yasaui’s original small tomb was already a place of pilgrimage before Timur ordered a far grander mausoleum built here in the 1390s. Timur died before it was completed and the main facade was left unfinished – today it remains bare of the beautiful tilework that adorns the rest of the building, with scaffolding poles still protruding. From the 16th to 18th centuries Turkistan was the capital of the Kazakh khans. Coming by road from Shymkent, you can disembark your minibus when the mausoleum looms into view on your left as you enter Turkistan. Get Kazakhstan Visa fast