Most of our journey through Kazakhstan thus far has been one of huge cities, modern architecture, mountainous landscape, snow capped peaks. However, being the 9th largest country in the world, there is of course very diverse geography. Most of Kazakhstan is in fact a desert. Very arid, flat plains with not so much as a bump in the ground. Way off in the distance there might be a bluff or a little hill, but for the most part, the horizon sits as a very flat line.
Two hours north from Shymkent is the small, historic town of Turkistan. Hosting one of Kazakhstans few UNESCO World Heritage sites, Khoja Ahmed Yasawi’s Mausoleum, the town has little else to offer in the very dry desert land surrounding it. Inhabiting most of the flat, desolate land is one of natures most suited creatures. Able to retain its water for a very long time and bear exorbitant amounts of weight in the heat over long distances, the camel seems to be the livestock of choice. Whether they are wild, or being herded, you will begin spotting camels along the side of the road as you approach Turkistan.
Once we arrived at our destination, as most tourists, we headed straight to the towering mausoleum. The turquoise and blue tiled domes jut out above the rest of the towns muted architecture. Rose gardens surround the tomb bringing extra color and serenity to the place. However, what first caught my true attention was not the mausoleum, but the camel caravan walking behind it. The Mausoleum will always be there, but witnessing these camels being herded by two boys on their bikes is something that is completely foreign to me and may never cross my path. I ran through the fields to catch up to my anthropological interest. The camels followed each other one by one and led me across town directly to one of the prominent mosques. The line of camels and distinct architecture offered me many beautiful photographs of the unique culture of this city. Eventually the camels arrived at their destination where they were milked and led to their troughs of water. I had heard of camel milk before, but had never seen it produced or thought of the people who rely on it for their source of calcium. Unfortunately, I stayed around a little too long and was offered to try some of the milk straight from their utters. I am not a huge fan of milk, let alone warm milk, let alone milk in a strange country from a strange animal, but I couldn’t say no to such a kind offer.
As I travel I never cease to be amazed by how different peoples lives can be from mine. When I was 12, I was riding my bike around the neighborhood with my friends, not through the desert to round up our families camels so we could milk them. Yet, that is this kids normal and he won’t become aware of other ways of life until he gets the opportunity to explore beyond his small little village.