This book is probably the most essential that you can bring on a trip to Kazakhstan. Admittedly my own journey only took in Almaty- but, extrapolating from the detail given on that city,I can recommend this book to anyone visiting the country- and I would advise visiting now while it is still relatively tourist free; in a few years time it will be a soughtafter destination. Paul Brummell introduces the book by giving a quite detailed synopsis of the history of Kazakhstan.From the time of the Scythians to independence from the USSR,the history of the country is elucidated.The background to Kazakhstan's economy, culture and ecomony is also detailed. A detailed list of Tour Operators to Kazakhstan is given.Crucially,as one would expect from an Ambassador, the is a list of all the Kazakh embassies and information on obtaining the necessary visas for visiting. Each area of Kazakhstan is very informatively dealt with and include: Astana and Akmola Region Almaty The Southeast Central Kazakhstan The East The North The Northwest The West The South I used the book when my wife and I visited Almaty in September of 2009. It was truly invaluable in navigating the city and finding points of culturalinterest.It has streetmaps and a directory of hotels with prices (and also estimates which ones are value for money).But it is in guiding the tourist to gems such as Panfilov Park (a beautiful family friendly area of green in the city-complete with the Cathedral of the Holy Ascension),the Green Bazaar,Kok-Tobe ( a hill overlooking the city which is reachable by cable car)and the unmissable Kasteyev State Arts Museum. All in all this is an invaluable guide to Kazakhstan.
Paul Brummell, the UK's serving Ambassador who wrote this book, states in the introduction that hitherto outsiders' knowledge of Kazakhstan has been conditioned by Sacha Baron Cohen's Borat, a representation of the country and its people that is "fundamentally wrong in every respect". Not only is he dead right, but his guide conclusively proves it at every turn, written as it is in a style that is highly informed and laced with astute observation and gentle humour. Kazakhstan is a country that is hauling itself into the 21st century after 140 years of Tsarist/Soviet domination, hence the contrast between its slickly modern cities and Chekhovian villages, resulting in the requirement for a robust sense of humour when travelling up country. It can also be very moving. The Karaganda region in particular was the site of Stalin's KARLAG Gulag complex to which two million mostly political prisoners were condemned between 1930 and 1959 (including Alexander Solzhenitsyn), and from which many did not emerge. A small on-site museum, staffed by soft-spoken descendants of survivors and funded by the Government, gently but subtly ensures that such horrors will not be forgotten. The author deftly captures all of these contrasting moods. He also succesfully conveys the breathtaking physical beauty of much of this vast and sparsely populated country, with its great rivers and lakes, "Virgin Land" steppe and awe-inspiring mountain ranges. But he is particularly strong in his descriptions of the genuine warmth and hospitality of the people of the 130 or so ethnic nationalities which make up the population. A visit to Kazakhstan is surprising and deeply rewarding. Paul Brummell's Bradt guide is the perfect companion.
Undoubtedly the most comprehensive travel guide to Kazakhstan, Brummell's book has sufficient historic and cultural detail to engage the armchair traveller whilst still providing the practical information required to make the most of this epic country. The book has been an invaluable resource in my two most recent visits to Kazakhstan, particularly when exploring the less-developed western areas. Brummell's prose is accessible and often surprisingly witty, and his years of experience in the country are certainly evident. The forthcoming 2nd edition (due November 2011) will build upon this strong foundation, providing updated information, improved photography and a number of suggested itineraries to inspire various journeys within the country.
We were travelling in a small group (6 people) visiting friends in Almaty/Kazakhstan. This was undoubtedly helpful as we don't speak Russian and very few locals speak English. However, according to one of our party who was there circa 8 years previously, Kazakhstan is getting much better at welcoming visitors and we had a really good time. However it wasn't what I would describe as a traditional tourist destination.
The Bradt Travel Guide was very useful: it does what it says on the cover.
The author of this book is our ambassador to Kazakhstan (he also wrote the guide to Turkmenistan) While the text is excellent the book is fatally flawed by poor printing and presentation. The guide is divided into two parts a)general information covering background and practical points and b)the guide which deals with two cities ,Astana and Almaty, plus seven regions-all this is of of the usual high standard-Iam pleased to see the Beatles statue in Almaty gets mention. The major faults of the book are a)it is printed on off white paper b)the type point size is 6 which is far too small c)the lines are far to close together and make reading very difficult d) the pictured are too small and of very poor quality. Finally, the picture on the front cover is suspiciously like a mosque in Uzbeckistan not Kazakhtan.