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Shopping

Kazakhstan is not the best country for souvenir shopping. The attractiveness and price of the handicrafts on offer tend to compare relatively unfavourably with those to be found in central Asian neighbours such as Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan. Moreover, several of the most typical Kazakh souvenirs don't always appeal to Western visitors. The kamchy, for example, is a leather horse whip, an item hung by many Kazakhs in their homes, as a symbol of the protection of the house. But the decoration borne by the kamchy frequently includes a deer's hoof nailed to the side. Still if you did feel like leaving Kazakhstan with one of these items, you would be in the company of US astronaut Peggy Whitson, who was gifted one by the Russian Federal Space Agency before her launch from Baikonur in October 2007 to become the first female commander of the International Space Station. The amused Western press speculated as to whether it was intended that she would use it to keep her team in check.

Other souvenir versions of traditional items of the Kazakh nomads include the torsuk, a leather vessel used for carrying kumiss, which in its souvenir incarnation often has 'Kazakhstan written on the front, lest you forget its provenance. If you are invited as a guest of honour to a Kazakh dinner, you may be presented with a lavishly embroidered cloak, a chapan, together with matching hat and belt. The tubiteika, an embroidered skullcap, can make an interesting small gift. Souvenir shops across Kazakhstan also tend to offer a broad range of felt items. Slippers and waistcoats can make for good purchases; the smiley felt camels and felt yurt trinket boxes are perhaps a matter of taste. Dolls in Kazakh costume, and Kazakh musical instruments, from dombras and kobyzes to smaller instruments such as clay whistles, known as syrnais, are also available. Before investing in any antiquities or expensive carpets or artworks you should check the position regarding any export restrictions in respect of the item concerned.

Other items which can make a good souvenir include a bottle of Kazakh vodka or brandy. Some bottles feature steppe eagles and other suitably Kazakh-looking designs. The souvenir collection of Kazakh music, Musical Kazakhstan, issued by the Kazakh Cinema Distribution company, with one DVD and two CDs in a presentation pack, makes a nice gift, although the selection is firmly a middle-of- the-road offering. The best place to look for it is probably the music store Meloman, which has branches in all the main cities. This is also the store to get your Kazakh films and pop music


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