Trans Eurasia travel

Your virtual guide to Eurasia! Let's travel together!

Exploring Shymkent

Map of Shymkent (Chimkent)South of the Regional Museum - Heading south along Kazybek Bi Street from the museum, you pass on your right the philharmonia, named in honour of composer Shamshi Kaldayakov, whose bust stands in front of the building, together with a plaque bearing the first few bars of his best-known work, the patriotic song 'My Kazakhstan'. Kaldayakov composed the music to this in 1956, with Zhumeken Nazhimedenov providing the words. Originally a celebration of the Virgin Lands programme, an adapted version of the song, with new lyrics by President Nazarbaev, was adopted as the national anthem of Kazakhstan in January 2006.

Kazybek Bi Street runs into the busy roundabout known as Ordabasy Square. Soviet and post-independence Kazakhstan collide here. A MiG plane on a metal stand seems to be taking off from the south side of the square, while the eastern side is illuminated by the golden dome of a new mosque.

Taking the road running up the hill to the right of the mosque, at the junction with Kabanbai Batyr Avenue you reach the Shymkent settlement ethnopark, celebrating the original settlement with various pieces of historically themed modern statuary. There is a large statue of Kabanbai Batyr, a warrior involved in battles against the Dzhungars, including in the defence of Turkestan in 1724. A plaque in Kazakh and Russian tells us that he spent 63 of his 78 years in the saddle, and was victorious in 103 individual combats against enemy warriors. A path leads into the park through a gate comprising carved obelisks. Pieces of stone statuary in the park are inspired by the forms of balbals and koytases.

City-centre parks - The name 'Shymkent' is believed to have meant 'turf city', and there are appropriately several parks in the centre, though they serve more as places of amusement than as green lungs for the city. The parks listed below are busy on warm summer evenings, providing food and drink and a range of entertainment: you can dance, play Russian billiards or even croon your favourite karaoke number in the open air, in each case with a throng of locals walking past you on the way to their favoured entertainment option.

From the regional historical museum, head north along Kazybek Bi Street, turning right at the junction with Tauke Khan Avenue, the east-west thoroughfare which runs through the heart of the city. On your left is the entrance to the Ken Baba Ethnopark, a historically minded park focused on eating and amusements, privately run by the Sapar Group (of Tots of hotels with Sapar in the title' fame). A statue at the entrance involves three hands rising up from a base bearing the 'Sapar' logo. The hands hold up a globe, on which the territory of Kazakhstan is highlighted. On the globe dance three boys, dressed in outfits hinting at Africa, Europe and, more definitely, Kazakhstan.

Within the park itself is a series of golden sculptures of monuments standing on plinths. Described as 'Kazakhstan in miniature' the selection takes a strong bias towards the monuments of South Kazakhstan, including the Mausolea of Khodja Ahmed Yassaui and Arystan Bab, the latter having mysteriously acquired blue domes, and the Karashash Ana and Ibragim Ata mausolea in Sayram, their labels having been mixed up such that the mausoleum of Yassaui's mother advertises that of his father. If the mistake has been rectified by the time you read this, as you were. The only intruder from outside South Kazakhstan is the Golden Man, in this interpretation with his hands on his hips and ready for action. Other attractions in Ken Baba include open-air table tennis and Russian billiards, plenty of places to eat and drink, and a pond with swans, a waterfall in which cherubs frolic and a statue of a naked woman holding a jug.

Head back west along Tauke Khan Avenue. Beyond the junction with Kazybek Bi Street, on your left, is the entrance to Shymkent's Central Park. This offers several cafes serving up beer and shashlik; open-air karaoke, with customers crooning in front of a television set; assorted fairground attractions; a few odd pieces of statuary, such as a family of bears at play; and a plaque recording that the Russian singer- songwriter Vladimir Vysotsky performed in the park in 1970.

'Most people want to see wild tulips in bloom,' Anna said. 'In spring I take groups from all over the world into the national park near Shymkent. Nobody has ever asked to see apples, although,' she added quickly, 'apples are interesting too.'

Anna was now retired, but she had spent most of her working life on horseback in the unspoilt Shymkent National Park, often camping out for weeks at a time, her two young children at her side on ponies. The water there was so pure, Anna said, that people from Leningrad would ask her to bring it to them, prizing it over wine.

In Search of Kazakhstan by Christopher Robbins

Several blocks further to the west, Tauke Khan Avenue turns into Respublika Avenue, and switches its direction to a southward one. At the start of this southward descent, opposite the Shymkent Hotel, stands another amusement park, Fantasy World. A statue of a rather subdued-looking Al-Farabi welcomes you in. Perhaps he's discomfited by the pop music. The 'Karaoke Club' here is at least surrounded by a glass wall, though your Elvis impersonation is still audible to passers-by. You can be photographed with a stuffed yellow elephant or a real live python. Or test your strength at one of the inexplicably popular automated punchbag machines.

Behind Fantasy World is the functional building housing the South Kazakhstan Region Russian Drama Theatre. It sits on Al-Farabi Square.

Kasiret Memorial - This moving monument to the victims of Stalinist repression lies at the northern edge of the city. Take Kunaev Boulevard north out of the centre. At the edge of town you see the arcaded entrance to Shymkent's arboretum on your left. The Kasiret Memorial lies on the right of the road at this point. Take a flight of steps up to a conifer-lined pathway, at the end of which is a statue of a young mother holding her child. A flight of steps leads down to your left into the grassy hollow, a one-time quarry which served as the place of burial for victims of repression. The Kasiret Memorial stands here: broken marble blocks inside two metal cages. A rose-lined path leads back towards the road.

Shymkent zoo, not recommended, is further out, beyond the arboretum on your left.