In Central Asia, a giant
'steppe' towards 21st century city
Oct 20 (IANS) An icy wind blasting across a large swathe of
open steppe land welcomes you warmly in this spectacular capital
city of Kazakhstan, sometimes making it hard to catch your
Astana, in the heart of the Central Asian landlocked country
of 16 million people, has turned into a modern city aptly
called the "Manhattan on Steppe". Not long ago,
this area was almost a forgotten place.
was a rundown provincial city when President Nusultan Nazarbayev
conceived his dream of shifting his political centre from
Almaty in the south despite lack of enthusiasm among the country's
an official: "This move was mainly to promote the development
of the country's north."
observers here say the capital was moved to ensure Kazakhstan's
security and assert its claim in the northern part, housing
a large Russian minority.
diplomat, who wished not to be named, said: "It's a move
to send a message to Moscow - (Kazakhstan's closest business
and military partner) - that the country's territorial integrity
city, known at the time as Akmola, officially became the capital
in 1997 - almost six years after Kazakhstan declared independence
from the erstwhile USSR. It was later renamed Astana, meaning
capital city in the Kazakh language.
history has been erected tall and high with Astana being considered
one of the most beautiful cities of the 21st century. Already
over $10 billion has been invested in raising the infrastructure
and many billions are still flowing in for its construction,
said a government official.
on the left bank of the Ishim River, the city, originally
drafted by Japanese architect Kisho Kurokawa, is a huge panaroma
of multicoloured towers and government offices.
high-rise buildings, many say, vaguely remind one of the National
Mall in Washington. The white-coloured and blue dome-shaped
presidential palace in the centre, the senate and lower house
of parliament, on one side, and glistening, huge offices built
in marble, granite and tinted glass, at the other end, are
some of the architectural masterpieces here.
then the peak of a pyramid rises more than 200 feet high.
Much like the entire city, the nine-storey monument was built
in a rush - a little less than two years from conception to
construction - for a meeting of world religions, held after
every three years.
pyramid - the Palace of Peace and Reconciliation - designed
by British architect Norman Foster links the presidential
palace to a 340-foot glass-and-metal observation tower called
Baiterek, or Tree of Life, whose spherical, golden-hued deck
symbolises the Kazakh legend of mythical bird Samruk which
lays a golden egg each year in a poplar tree.
the ball-shaped deck, atop Baiterek, visitors place their
hand in the president's palm imprint to have "good luck".
buildings have also earned nicknames from irreverent locals
in a form of private protest against the city master plan
which has displaced many. Baiterek is called "Chupa Chups",
after the lollipop. One government building is known as the
"Lighter" - it had caught fire in May 2006 - and
is positioned near a semicircular building, earning the entire
complex the epithet of "Ashtray".
a million inhabitants are expected to live in this city -
spread over tens of thousands of acres - by 2030 compared
with almost 700,000 now, which is already more than double
the figure a decade ago.
the shifting of the capital from Almaty has not received a
universal welcome. And that is why flights from Astana to
Almaty are overbooked during weekends by people who rush to
holiday in the former capital.
Astana, winter temperatures routinely fall to anything between
zero and minus 40 while in Almaty - the balmy south - the
average temperature is about 20 degrees higher.
feel nostalgic about Almaty. We have a cultural legacy there.
Almaty is reflective of Kazakhstan's age-old civilisation
unlike Astana," said Indira, a waitress at a restaurant
who refused to give her second name.
she added, "I think our future is here only now."
Kashani can be contacted at email@example.com)