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Zhambyl Museum

A small village now bearing the name of Zhambyl contains the house where the great Kazakhstani poet and improvising musician Zhambyl Zhabaev spent the last years of his life, as well as his mausoleum.

To get here, take the Bishkek road west from Almaty. Turn left onto a road signposted for 'Uzunagash', which sits just beyond a police checkpoint some 45km beyond the edge of the city. After another 6km, you reach a Y-shaped junction in the little town of Uzunagash. The left-hand fork takes you straight to a grand equestrian statue of Karasai Batyr, a 17th-century warrior, depicted lance aloft and ready for battle. For the Zhambyl Museum though take the right-hand fork. After 11km the road forks again, a sign marked 'Jambyl's Museum' and a relief of the poet direct you to turn left. The village of Zhambyl is reached after a further 2km. Drive through the village, passing a brightly domed modern mosque, to reach the complex housing the Zhambyl Museum and his mausoleum at the end of the road.

You are greeted by a bust of Zhambyl, behind which lies the smart single-storey house in which Zhambyl spent the last years of his life, and which now houses his museum. The building, with an arch over the entrance supported by four square columns, was given to Zhambyl in 1938. The poet lived with members of his family in the rooms to the left of the entrance hall; the rooms to the right were occupied by his literary assistant. The hall is a riot of stucco. Zhambyl's rooms have been preserved: his bedroom and that of his grandchildren; his study, with a wall carpet portraying the leader of the 1916 uprising Amangeldy Imanov; a room for entertaining guests; and most tellingly, his infirmary. Medical staff were always on call. To the right of the hall, the rooms are now laid out with displays about Zhambyl's life and works, though the labelling is only in Kazakh. These displays include extracts from his poetry, gifts from other musicians, and a display about his mentor, Suyunbay Aronov, including a painting of Suyunbay, with shaven head, long white beard and imploring eyes. A modern extension, added in 1996, contains a conference room and more displays, including personal items such as a pair of Zhambyl's glasses, copies of his works, and the awards given to him by the Soviet authorities. A small art gallery contains paintings of the elderly poet sitting smilingly amongst children, or playing his dombra on a windswept mountainside. Zhambyl's car, given to the poet in the late 1930s, is still kept in the garage near the house. Zhambyl's house gives a sense of an elderly man being kept alive by the Soviet authorities in order to churn out pro-regime poetry.

From the entrance of the complex, a shady path running to the left of the house, along which have been placed stones bearing inscriptions by or about Zhambyl, takes you to his octagonal turquoise-domed mausoleum. There is a simple stone tomb, standing beneath a domed ceiling decorated with tiles bearing elaborate floral motifs. Four arched windows, decorated with golden latticework, let in the light. On the exterior of the building, more floral tiles enliven a curtain of arches running around the walls. Sculptures at the entrance include a big cat, dombra, kopyz and saddle.

A short path leads from here to the tomb of another musician, Nurgisa Tlendiev, who created, in 1980, the Otrar Sazy ensemble, which aimed to use traditional Kazakh instruments and techniques of musicianship in a contemporary context. A statue of the dinner-jacketed Tlendiev shows him standing theatrically, brandishing his dombra. A minaret stands behind him, while two swans take flight to his side.

Zhambyl Museum