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My Parting Tribute to Almaty – by Asif Zaidi

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I lived in Almaty for slightly less than three years and, as I leave the city now, I think I ought to be able to express how I feel about it.

I realise that during my short time here I have been occupied with professional work, whereas most of my free time has been spent exploring the Tian Shan Mountains and other vast natural environment on offer in the country. Therefore, I have not had much time to study all those aspects that need to be taken into account before the civic, social, and political life of this place can be truly appreciated. However, that probably cannot undermine my verdict on the city because I do have strong feel of the city. When it comes to appreciating places or understanding the cultural characteristics that reside in the soul of a people, I tend to discard the conceptual or analytic approach and rely mainly on my inward sense of understanding. When I wanted to explore the Tian Shan Mountains around Almaty, I decided to be with them, being in their company, off the beaten track and at night rather than during the day. It was not just about seeing the natural beauty in the visual sense or capturing its glamour in photographs, it was about discovering them at a time when my senses might least interfere with the truth of my perception. I have always wanted to live with the nature, to make a way deep into every place’s inner significance that lies in its bosom. This helps establish a communion between my inner being and the outer surroundings which I am out to explore and appreciate. Hence, after providing the initial data, I try not to allow the senses to obstruct this communion with the beauty of the creation. Consequently, it is as a man who feels people and places rather than as a man who knows them that I would let my mind ruminate over the rich harvest of emotional experiences from my days (and nights) in Almaty.

 

 

Almaty and Astana are the two cities of significance in Kazakhstan, but they belong to two different worlds within a young country. There is something wonderfully psychic about Almaty which it is hard to describe. On the other hand Astana is a young city which presents no colour, no individuality, and no gusto. Its population is amorphous, lacking in homogeneity and social cohesion. It is dull and mechanical like many other purposely created capitals around the world. Almaty, on the other hand, presents itself as a unified whole with its population sharing a commonality. It is like those cities which have a personality over and above all that can be discerned with the mere senses. I felt that Almaty seems to have a traditional dimension to it as a city that is rooted in the past and intently looks to the future. In this respect, life in Almaty is richer and more human than it is in Astana. The cultural perspective that the streets of Almaty present to you is more vivid and vital than the kind of academic knowledge that could be acquired from the books or the internet.

It is true that Tashkent has played an important role in the history of Central Asia. There stand many of the monuments, mausoleums, and shrines that consecrate many of the things known about the history of Central Asia. Founded less than hundred years ago, Almaty is not a historical city in that sense. But the city bears a colourful testimony to the Soviet era. Its entire history coincides with the Soviet reign.

Almaty is delightfully green. Most of its major arteries are bordered by at least two rows of trees on both sides. The city’s tall, graceful trees seem to greet you everywhere you go and its spacious parks and flower beds welcome you wherever you turn. And then mountains and lakes surround the city. Here I have lived in intimate relationship with nature. So often have I rambled in the valleys and orchards around the city, feeling as though I were in another world. On top of this earthly splendour of wonderful colours and ubiquitous flowers, Almaty boasts a beautiful weather. Here one can live all four seasons in their full magnificence and sun shines almost round the year except when it is raining or snowing. Most nights offer the all-clear sky ever so full of stars. The sunrise and the sunset moments conspire with the hills on the horizon glowing with the colours of the season to add a heavenly lustre to the start and the end of the day. Of course, in this context, I am not referring to the spectacle of new housing schemes, malls, and other projects springing up in Almaty. My romance with the city resides in the lofty, beautiful, and green surroundings that envelope Almaty to the eternal delight of those who love to venture into them.

Having lived in some of the greenest landscapes on earth, I arrived in Almaty highly sensitive to the world of beautiful colours that you find wrought and fashioned in the rich texture of greenness one sees spread out here right in the middle of the vast arid and barren territory of steppes. Thus the impression that Almaty’s verdure has made on me is that densely wooded mountains surrounding a city characterized by endless array of tall and graceful trees is a sight rarely to be met with in steppes.

My stay in Almaty also made me glaringly aware of the fact that all this grandeur and sublimity so generously lavished by nature on Almaty could be considerably improved if only the people who live within its fold and are responsible for the management of its affairs could care more about making this beautiful city more beautiful. Poorly planned new housing societies are an eyesore, for instance. It is up to the citizens of Almaty and the Almaty Oblast administration to realise what an earthly paradise Almaty can be if only they care more and help nature to assert itself more in the city. As I mentioned above, the climate of Almaty is refreshing, exhilarating, and wonderfully charming. Hence, for mental workers, it is far superior than extremely cold, dry, and (in winter) depressing climate of Astana. Yes, extreme temperatures are sometimes reached in Almaty too but thermometer is not the deciding authority in the assessment of its climate. Given the candour about Almaty’s weather, each season can be purposefully dealt with on its own terms. The nature allows human body ample time to adjust itself to this seasonal concourse of thermal conditions.

I have met many wonderful people here in Almaty. I have made some great friends and benefited from the company of some exceptionally gentle, kind, and affectionate people. While many of them are expatriates here, perhaps some of the kindness in them was inspired by the remarkable beauty of the environment where they pass their days.

I have felt these things in Almaty and for that I offer the city and its citizens my gratitude.


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