Trans Eurasia travel

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Ak Bulak Canal

Ak bulak canalThere are a few sites strung along the Ak Bulak Canal east of the city centre. Get a taxi to drop you at the Manas Street bridge over the canal. On the north side stands Astana's red-brick Roman Catholic cathedral. Plaques inside the entrance recall the visit of Pope John Paul II to Kazakhstan in 2001. Across the canal, the brown-hued tower topped with a large Kazakhstan flag houses the Interior Ministry.

Opposite this is a park focused on the Defenders of the Homeland Monument. This attractive structure takes the form of a tapering ribbed column with a circular base adorned with metal spheres. It is topped by ears of wheat, in a reference to Astana's Virgin Lands heritage. A mother reaches forward from the column, proffering a golden metal bowl. An inscription below her concludes that, where there is one motherland, there is one heart and one desire. An eternal flame burning in front of the column is set not in the five-pointed star of Soviet memorials but in a metal base resembling the shield of a Kazakh warrior. There are friezes along two segments of marble-tiled wall behind the monument. One portrays Kazakh warriors battling their Dzhungar foes; the other depicts Kazakhstanis fighting in World War II, their families fretting at home. A line of young conifers immediately to the south of the monument has been planted by visiting heads of state.

The walk eastwards along the canal-side from this monument is pleasant in good weather. Across the canal is the pastel blue-painted modern Beit Rachel Synagogue, with its octagonal domed tower. Ahead stands the Kazakhstan Sport Centre, whose futuristic design of sloping, metallic tile-faced exterior walls is somewhat undermined by the onset of shabbiness. It is the home of the Bars Astana ice hockey team, which plays in the Russian league. Underneath the flyover beyond, you reach the beige-toned main building of the Eurasian National University, with its columned facade. The university is named in honour of Lev Gumilev, a Russian historian of Eurasian peoples and son of the poet Anna Akhmatova.