If you want to travel for experiences , culture , nightlife ,natural beauty and awesome food and still not burn a hole in your pocket, then your search ends right here, ALMATY,Kazakhstan. Most people ,who haven’t traveled enough, feel that ,you need to select a specific place for a specific activity or an interest, but there are hidden gems ,which have it all and ALMATY certainly is the one. I have no doubts what so ever ,that ,it is going to be the king of tourist destinations in central Asia in the near future. Here are my 8 reasons, why you should plan an Almaty trip now .
- Cost factor :
The biggest single factor that can make a destination expensive is the currency. The Kazakh Tenge,scores big on that front . 1 USD is approximately 370 KZT, or for an Indian traveler 1 INR is approximately 5 KZT. So anything that you buy or spend on doesn’t seem to be too expensive. You can actually finish your trip with all the luxuries ,but in a budget.
- Air Astana:
Personally for me ,the travel experience starts right at the airport. The national airline of the country is pretty nice. Though you cant compare it with the biggies of the middle east or say a Lufthansa, but the aircraft are classy,well maintained, great crew and fantastic service. You might have traveled places that have been British or French colonies and might have seen their impact, well,your introduction to the Russians happen right here on the flight.
- People :
Once you land and you interact with the locals, you wont take much time to mingle. They are warm and welcoming. Though the language barrier continues to be a hindrance as most people speak only Kazakh and Russian, they, will still try and make you comfortable. A foreigner on their land is still a novelty, so don’t get surprised if you are stared at or being asked to click a picture with them.They don’t like foreigners getting cozy to their women thou.
- Natural Beauty:
A simple 30 minute drive to the outskirts of Almaty and you are in for some amazing views. Though, cant be compared to what you see when in Alps and the countries around, this surely is a miniature version of it. It can leave you mesmerized. No pictures can ever do justice to ,what you actually see and end up feeling once there. The visit to the Big Almaty Lake and to the Kyrgyzstan border is a must. The mountains, The snow,the rugged terrain,the shepherds,the trekkers,the picnickers all will keep you engrossed at all times.
- Food :
No holiday is ever complete without lip smacking food. If you love eating and meat on your plate is what you like,then this is the place. From chicken to lamb to beef to horse meat to deer to rabbit ,you name it and you get it. You can enjoy authentic trukish and Georgian cuisines along side the Russian stuff. If you want to try out local delicacies, try out the BESHPARMAK made out of horse meat,the traditional Kazakh preparation.
- Culture : The city is full of traditional stuff. The major population being Muslims,Christains and Jews,the city is full of beautiful religious buildings. The Zenkov cathedral and the central mosque are the two standout architectural masterpieces that are a must visit.The markets are full of lovely scarfs and skull caps and crosses decorated in various froms. The famous evil eye too has a strong presence.
- Night Life :
Surprisingly, one of the factors that brings the most tourists to this city is the night life. If you like gulping down gallons of spirits and dancing your nights out ,then this place surely will become your darling. Though a non drinker myself, I could easily figure out the variety of spirits on display and again not too expensive. The Russian stuff in their bars is supposed to be top class. The ambience and environment is electric .But, all those who are walking in from the major cities of the world, don’t expect the places to be as huge as your home city, these places are pretty compact ,but enough to thrill you.
- Sports :
A place that snows and gets to temperatures of -32 degrees obviously is going to be a major spot for winter sports. So Skiing and related activities happen regularly . But, apart from these, during the not so cold climate, you can find football and golf here.most kids that I met were skiing enthusiasts and they have professionals coming here from across the globe for the same. So, if winter sports is what you are really good at, this place has to me high on your wish list.
Finally , My recommendations while visiting Almaty:
- Do check for climate before you leave. The place gets really cold from November to March. If you are travelling from warm places like say Mumbai,Chennai or Colombo, this is a huge factor.
- Do not carry too much KZT (Kazakhastani Tenge). Carry any global currency like USD,EURO There are many currency exchange spots and the rates are pretty good.
- you will need a translator at all times. Just google translator wont suffice.
- The airport is really small, don’t expect it to match a Changi or Heathrow.
- Places to Visit in almaty
- Panfilov Park
- Zenkov Cathdral
- Central Mosque
- Big Almaty Lake
- Charyn Canyon
- Kok –Tobe ( if you have kids with you)
- Green Bazaar (closed on Mondays)
- Shyambulak Ski resort
- Loads of pubs.
Junaid Khateeb is an avid traveler alongside being a software trainer and a teacher.
The author can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org
On whatsapp: +919820183864
Anyone travelling to India, will agree, that no visit to India is complete without visiting its maximum city, MUMBAI. Obviously, for any visitor the usual tourist spots like the Gateway of India or the Elephanta caves or Haji Ali Dargah are on the list,but ,if you are a tourist, who wants to feel the vibe of the city or wants to experience something,that only this city can offer, then here is the list for you :
Mumbai Local Trains:
If you are from USA or UK or any other western country, then am sure, you would have experienced the peak hour rush while travelling on the Undergroud in London or Subway in New york. But, when in Mumbai ,do experience the fun (and not so fun for many) of travelling in the mumbai local trains. One big difference s , that Mumbai locals are not closed unlike the underground or the subway. Trust me, the crowd on a non peak hour , will still be much higher than peak hour rush in any other country. My sincere advice is, no non Mumbaikar should try travelling at peak hours, just for the fun, visit just the station at peak hours and you will know what i mean.
Catch a Bollywood Movie:
Catching a Hollywood flick at Piccadily circus or a play at the West end or a musical at the Times square might be a routine for some of you, but watching a latest bollywood release in Mumbai is a very different or dare i say a better experience. I firmly believe, that movie going experience in mumbai in way better than most coountries in the world. The luxurious theatres, awsome services, never ending queue of patrons makes is so much fun. So , next time in Mumbai, do catch a bollywood flick on a Friday or a Saturday evening at one of the plush theatres near you.
Enjoy an IPL game:
For beginners , who do not follow cricket , let me just inform you, that cricket is India’s number 1 sport and Mumbai is one of the most important centres of the game. IPL (Indian Premier League), is Indias premium T20 Cricket tournament (similar to EPL ) but is played only in the months of April and May. Even if you dont understand cricket, visiting the Landmark Wankhede stadium for a game ,just for the experience ,will be well worth it. 33000 screaming fans, never ending energy,deafening sound, its difficult to match up anywhere in the world.just make sure, that you book your tickets well in advance.
Ride an Auto Rickshaw :
Public transport ,across the globe comes in various shapes and sizes, but nothing like an auto rickshaw. People ,who have traveled to Thailand, might find it similar to tuk-tuk’s , but auto rickshaws are much cheaper and easily available,do take a ride.
Visit a Ganpati Pandal:
Though, India is a country of festivals, in Mumbai, nothing compares to Ganesh chaturthi. If you are around during this festival (around aug-sept every year) , a visit to a local Ganpati Pandal will be an experience of a lifetime. The beautiful decor, courteous people, awesome mithai (sweets) distributed as sweets and long queues of devotees , makes it one of a kind. When in lords city, do visit him, its enriching.
Mumbai offers world cuisine and wherever you are from, you will find your food. But, mumbai street food is one of its kind. You should surely sample Vada Pav ,Pav Bhaji and Pani puri in Mumbai. Though, maker sure you make a request for a non spicy one.
The last thing you should buy in Mumbai ,are brands. you can always buy them in your home city. Mumbai, offers huge amount of street shopping right from apparel to books to beauty products to everything. If , you can bargain well, you will end up buying a whole lot of stuff, whithout causing a hole in your pockets.
Travelling is something that everyone looks forward to. In India, for way too many decades, the idea of a holiday , was to visit the relatives. But, it is changing rapidly due to the ease of options available for travelling and most importantly,there has been a major improvement in the spending capacity of the families. The idea of travel is to have new experiences, and more importantly ,experience something ,that is different from our home country.
Before i get started with my reasons , about why Indians shouldn’t take Thailand as their first International trip, i would like to specify the assumptions that i have made. Most people who book their first trip to Thailand,generally travel to Bangkok and then to either Patayya or Phuket. Very few of them or maybe just the younger crowd travel to islands like Krabi , Koh Samui etc. So my write up assumes that someone booking a first trip abroad ends up booking the popular stuff than an off beat option.
when ever we land on any foreign shore, the first factor, which makes, the place feel new is obviously, the climate. Landing in Europe, on most days, you drive out into a hazy and overcast climate with a little bit of impending rain around. This is in absolute contrast to Mumbai or Chennai ,where it is hot and humid and there is sun beating down 11 months a year. well, landing at Bangkok, you will feel that you have landed at the same airport from where you had taken off. The climate is almost identical to most Indian cities. So there is nothing foreign on that front.
Anywhere in Thailand, when you arrive at the hotel, you are welcomed warmly, your luggage is taken care off immediately and you are at so much ease during chek-in. so what’s wrong in that ? , well like Indian hotels, even Thai hotels are very hospitable and take great care of you ,by providing assistance everywhere. In comparison, if you had landed in a western country ,you would have to do all your stuff on your own. Don’t expect assistance. Thailand gives you an impression, that all the countries in the world are as hospitable and hotels as welcoming, well that’s not the case. so you don’t realize that most places in the world are ‘DO IT YOURSELF’ kinda places.
DIRTY BEACHES :
Though India has a huge coastline, the idea of long ,clean and enjoyable beaches is far from being realized here. As travellers, our idea about beaches is long stretches of fine coarse sand and never ending view of crystal blue waters. Lot of water sports and a view of people enjoying lazy afternoons on the beach. well, all this obviously has been picked up from millions of movies that we have seen.
Sorry to say, beaches in Patayya and Phuket, let you down on this front. The water is dirty and beaches overcrowded. your stay on the beach ,is far from relaxing as hundreds of individuals will try and sell thousands of their wares to you. The activities like under sea walk are carried out in mud filled sea where corals are impossible to locate. Parasailing is rough and so are numerous boat rides. First timers , will end up believing that, it’s done that way across the globe. Trust me, it’s not , if you have been to USA or even Mauritius or Seychelles, you will realise these activities are way more fun. Thailand fails to leave you awestruck on this front too.if you have been to GOA, you will end up confusing Patayya beach or Patong beach to Baga or calangute.
BAR CULTURE :
One aspect that i loved while travelling to various countries, is their ‘BAR’ culture. Though a non drinker myself, i love the way these people enjoy a game of football over never ending jugs of beer. Any country that you visit, if it has a strong sporting culture, the atmosphere at the bars is not to be missed. I must admit, that this is common across the globe, but in India it is restricted to few places and is not a wide spread phenomenon. May be, coz we don’t have that kinda drinking or sporting culture yet.
In Thailand too, the bars are too crowded and noisy. People there drink , to get really drunk. At Most places, the bars double up as pick up joints and hence dont let you be in peace. so unless you are into a habit of gulping down gallons of spirit or you have women on your mind, you might not enjoy the place.
ANIMAL PARKS :
The Pictures of pretty Dolphins ,amazing tigers or deadly crocodiles ,bring lot of visitors to the numerous animal parks across Thailand. Though there are few good ones , like the safari park in Bangkok, most of the parks are not well kept. These places end up disappointing tourists. We leave most places feeling sad for the animals kept there and the treatments meted out to them. Am sure most of these places are running on very tight budgets and hence can’t maintain the standards over a period of time. A first timer there, feels that is how the wild beasts are kept, but across the globe , in more well kept places, you really enjoy these creatures ,as they themselves enjoy their stay in those premises.
Like India, even Thailand is known for famous temples. lot of westerners come all the way ,to experience these temples. For us as Indians, a visit to temples is hardly on the agenda, as we have so many back home. also, world over ,it is difficult to match the awesomeness of the temple architectures here in India. So , at times these temples in Thailand leave us un-impressed.
For a lot of people Bangkok is a synonym to endless shopping. It could have been true a decade back, but its not the same any more. When shopping in a country , i look for local stuff, there is no point buying a global brand, which i could have bought in Mumbai or Delhi. The local stuff ,in Thai markets, is way below the desired quality and honestly ,all that stuff can be picked during a round of street shopping back home. The haggling for the prices is the same, as here in India. The shopping is restricted to few select areas in each city. My shopping experience in Bangkok is similar to that of Linking road at Bandra in Mumbai. Compared to other countries, yes shopping in Thailand is cheaper, but we Indians don’t gain much as the difference in the values of Thai Baht and Indian Rupee is not huge. if you compare USD to Thai baht, the difference is astronomical. The shopping experience in other countries is very different than in Thailand.
For a first time visitor, the take away from Thailand tour is, just a visit to another country. Its doesn’t give a peek into ,what the rest of the world looks like. I am sure, an American or European or an Australian, would be enthralled on their visit to Thailand, but i don’t feel, that as an Indian , I will feel too many differences.
Kindly note : Thailand is a great country to visit, just that, it shouldn’t be the first one an Indian should Visit.